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Religious fanatics in romance fiction

 
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 2064

PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 3:28 pm    Post subject: Religious fanatics in romance fiction Reply with quote

I just started reading Anne Gracie's The Rake, with the religious fanatic of a grandfather beating the girls and calling them heathen.

I've seen the same trope in quite a few Regencies.

Except . . . he sounds like a stereotype of a New England Puritan. But in England, all these gentry and nobility were adherents of the Church of England. During the Regency, Dissenters weren't yet allowed to hold public office and participate in civic life.

With all due respect to the CofE/Anglican communion, it's not really famous in the history of religion or theology or doctrine for producing religious fanatics.

Did the authors pick this up from later 19th century English writers, after the laws had been changed? But even then, very few of the landed gentry became adherents of non-CofE denominations.

Does anyone know why this is, just offhand? I can try to do research, but am not sure where to find historical information about what was going through the minds of authors as they wrote.
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Maggie AAR
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Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 4:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've seen this too and would be really interested in source as well. Many of them do sound more like Puritans than Anglicans and I am surprised to see the landed gentry virtually riddled with them. They sound very much like Calvinists to me but the historical period isn't right for that, is it?

maggie b.
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NoirFemme



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmm...maybe a personal agenda? Or perhaps just another case of historical authors unintentionally writing anachronistic because they don't know about those tiny details of English social/history.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

maggie b. wrote:
I've seen this too and would be really interested in source as well. Many of them do sound more like Puritans than Anglicans and I am surprised to see the landed gentry virtually riddled with them. They sound very much like Calvinists to me but the historical period isn't right for that, is it?

maggie b.


No, it's the wrong historical period for any strong Calvinist influence in England. That was in the late 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, mainly. Methodism developed during the 18th century, but had most of its adherents among the working and middle classes. The 19th century split into high/low/broad church in Anglicanism was still in the future.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 3:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

+IHS+

I thought the portrayal of the confessor as an incredible lecher in Jo Beverley's Dark Champion was completely over the top . . . except at the end, when he is given his own hermitage and reluctantly grumbles that it is probably for the best. Laughing

I mean, evil religious people who think it is everyone else who is evil have becom such a cliche, but flawed religious people who are as in need of redemption as the hero and heroine are great as supporting characters. (Well, I like them.)

As for the Methodists and the Anglicans . . . I'm no expert, but I thought the heroine of Mary Jo Putney's Thunder and Roses was completely convincing as a Methodist preacher's daughter who had never felt the inner light (?) that the people of her faith are supposed to feel.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 6:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Schola wrote:
+IHS+

I thought the portrayal of the confessor as an incredible lecher in Jo Beverley's Dark Champion was completely over the top . . . except at the end, when he is given his own hermitage and reluctantly grumbles that it is probably for the best. Laughing


Many of the lines attributed to the priest in Dark Champion were based on actual passages in early medieval confessionals. The manuals provided for them to use directed confessors to ask those questions (among others) and give much of that advice to penitents. The long list of "prohibited" seasons and days when married couples were to abstain from intercourse is also genuine for the period from the 8th through the 11th centuries.

The manuals were mainly compiled by monks, of course. I've used excerpts from them, back in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was teaching intoductory courses in medieval history at the college level. They are very helpful (along with Beowulf, in its own way), in conveying to students the concept that "the past is a foreign country."

The next trick is to prevent students from assuming that everybody agreed and conformed to any particular set of prescriptive writings. Introductory courses in any topic serve as examples of the warning that "a little learning is a dangerous thing."
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've had confessors who've asked embarrassing questions (though admittedly not in such detail . . . then again, my saying "No" early on must have meant skipping some steps in the flowchart). Anyway, the questions themselve are not the issue for me. It's possible to take a scalpel to another's sins while remaining detached--one might even say professional. That was clearly not the case with the heroine's confessor--and for most of the novel he seemed very much like a Jack Chick caricature.

At least the way his own little story worked out at the end showed that he was as plausible a twelfth century figure as the hero and heroine.

I know I also have problems with what he is even doing in the story. Confused We know that the heroine is terrified of sex because she witnesses a loved one being brutally raped at the very beginning of the novel. Her being scared of sex thanks to a confessor who sees demons in every sexual act is kind of redundant. I guess he was the medieval equivalent of an "Aubusson carpet" in many ways. Laughing There's no way he would have shown up in any other era, even though there's no point in him having shown up here at all.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 10:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I didn't see that character in The Rake as a religious zealot. Like noirfemme, I thought his characterization a revelation of a paranoid psychopath rather than a portrait of either a Calvanist or a Puritan, even though the actions it brought forth mimicked a zealot of either of those sects.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 3:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
I didn't see that character in The Rake as a religious zealot. Like noirfemme, I thought his characterization a revelation of a paranoid psychopath rather than a portrait of either a Calvanist or a Puritan, even though the actions it brought forth mimicked a zealot of either of those sects.


He was a psychopath, but I'm pretty sure it was based on religious fanaticism. There's the idea of red hair as a mark of the devil; the association of left-handedness with evil (sinistra/sinister), etc. They are quite traditional motifs.
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Susan/DC



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 5:04 pm    Post subject: Gracie's "The Perfect Rake" Reply with quote

I agree with dick on this. It's been several years since I read the book, but my recollection is that he wasn't part of an organized religious movement but was a psychopath whose beliefs were his own. They may have been based on ideas from an earlier era, but his mind seized on them. I think of it as analogous to certain religious fanatics today, who may be on their own or have very small but very dedicated followers. And, frankly, even if my memory is faulty (no surprise there) and it turns out to be an anachronism in the book, I adored the hero and his utter belief in the heroine's inner and outer beauty so for once I don't care.
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Elizabeth Rolls



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Red hair as the mark of the devil, along with left-handedness are common motifs in religious fanaticism, yes. I read the grandfather in Perfect Rake as a psychopath whose mind had latched onto what he saw as a number of excellent excuses for abusing his granddaughters.
Religious fanaticism and/or bigotry has never been confined to one historical period, or absent from any form of religion or denomination. A psychopathic mind will grab onto anything that appears to justify its delusions. It's the sort of thing that gives God a very bad press.

Looked at logically I think you could argue that there was a fair bit of bigotry and even fanaticism in the early 19th century Church of England. For example attitudes towards Roman Catholics were pretty extreme, and the Merridew girls had been reared in Italy. Catholicism was frequently denounced as heathen idolatry. Left-handed children were usually forced to write with their right hand as being left-handed was still seen as bad, tending towards evil. Red hair was also supposed to denote temper, and in promiscuity. Jonathan Swift refers to the latter belief in Part Four of Gulliver's Travels.

The motifs were still there in society and its beliefs for the grandfather to latch onto and in those days every educated child would have been given a grounding in scripture as part of their education. Given the existence of religious fanaticism in every era I don't quite see how Dereham can be viewed as anachronistic. He's not portrayed as a Methodist or any other specific sect, just a crank. I don't think it's that uncommon for psychopaths to use religious imagery to justify themselves either. Messianic delusions of grandeur I guess. Just look at Hitler.

Elizabeth
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LindaC



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As far as the left hand issue, my grandmother, who was born in 1895, was left handed. The teachers tied her left hand to her belt and forced her to write with her right hand. She wrote with her right hand all her life and had beautiful penmanship. She did everything else with her left hand.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Back to the original topic:

Does the heroine's father in The Gilded Web by Mary Balogh count? I'm not sure exactly which denomination he is, though, or whether that detail would matter to his characterisation.
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"To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance." (G.K. Chesterton)
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