Transatlantic geographies of faith in the long eighteenth century
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] Noting the thousands of books that American colonists imported from the British Isles, scholars have imagined America as a satellite of British literary culture in the long eighteenth century. However, we have yet to consider the impact colonial books made on British culture. This dissertation studies colonial accounts, many published in the British Isles, to discover the British response to the unique spiritual and material situations of colonial life. Placing these books alongside some of the most innovative works of British fiction, poetry, and prose of the eighteenth century illuminates how early American devotion deeply influenced the development of British religious literary culture. In chapters devoted to the novels, poems, and correspondence of four British writers, I uncover their substantial references to colonial books and accounts. In her novel, Oroonoko, Aphra Behn draws on West Indian beliefs about slave baptism, while Christopher Smart, in his poem, Jubilate Agno, creates a space for English prayer akin to missionary depictions of Christian Indian conversion. Similarly, Samuel Richardson identifies his fiction, Clarissa, with colonial forms of practical devotion, as Mary Wollstonecraft reforms the English language of romantic love in response to the American topography of her lover, Gilbert Imlay. I argue that because many colonists had separated from the Church of England, accounts of colonial faith represented narratives capable of revising English devotion at a remove from Anglican authority, in fiction, poems, and letters. These works, considered part of the rise of secularism in English culture, participated in a devotional reform continuous with the Protestant Reformation.
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