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CHAPTER 33. Introduction

Elisabeth Jay

Subject Literature, Religion

Key-Topics Bible

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131605.2009.00033.x


The Bible may well have been Victorian literature's chief intertext. It was a treasure trove for book titles: for novels of sensation such as Rhoda Broughton's Cometh Up as a Flower (1867); for domestic sagas such as Margaret Oliphant's A House Divided against Itself (1886); as well as, more understandably, Ruskin's social intervention, Unto this Last (1862). It could be mined for small jokes: as in Trollope's naming of the philoprogentive Mr Quiverful. The choice of a biblically derived name could also provide useful plot clues: the hero of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876) is, so to speak, set up from the start to be recognized as a Jewish leader in exile. It was invoked as a short cut for establishing certain kinds of moral framework. Thackeray relies upon quoting the words of the preacher – “Vanitas Vanitatum” – for a suitably pious ending to Vanity Fair (1848), reminding readers that their business is not with the sentimental Amelia and the scheming Becky but with a world beyond. Browning uses the same phrase for his opening salvo in “The Bishop orders his tomb at St Praxed's Church” to provide the reader with the moral bearings from which to judge this particular purveyor of the Word. It is quoted at moments of high drama: Dickens particularly favored it as a short cut to moral solemnity at the moment of death. Miss Barbary, of Bleak House (1852), responds ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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