Private devotion, common prayer, and the British novel, 1700-1815
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Despite the cultural, social, and political influence of the established church in Britain during the eighteenth century, existing scholarship on the rise of the novel largely focuses on its secular contexts. This dissertation returns that literary history to its religious contexts, using debates about private devotion and the Anglican common prayer tradition as lens through which to approach the eighteenth-century novel. Those debates played out in a vast body of pamphlets, essays, and devotional manuals, and demonstrated a struggle to resolve the tension between the emphasis on individual authority in Protestant theology and the standardized devotional practice that the Book of Common Prayer prescribed. Putting novels by Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding in conversation with such theological texts, this dissertation argues that these novelists used the Anglican liturgy as a way to negotiate questions of authenticity, accuracy, and sincerity in their writings. It also demonstrates how the challenges raised by private devotional practices mirror and intensify the questions about the plausibility of the period's fiction that previous critics have identified. The final chapter then focuses on Mary Brunton, a novelist not well known today but popular in her own time, in order to show how her work extends this tradition of writing within the context of private devotion into the nineteenth century. The dissertation's conclusion then briefly gestures to the continued influence of private devotion in novels of the later nineteenth century from Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy.
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