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Religious Prose

JASPER CRAGWALL


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405188104.2012.x


Extract

‘Religious prose’ is something of a lost category in Romantic studies. It is not widely present in undergraduate anthologies, and it has not always received the same level of scholarly attention given to other, ostensibly secular, prose forms, such as the novel or the critical essay. Yet much of what was actually read in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries might now be classified as ‘religious prose’, which formed a baseline for cultural competence: even people with very few books were likely to own John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress , first published in 1678 but constantly in print to the present day, the Bible, and, if members (as most people were) of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer. The fact that many of the most-read religious books of the Romantic period were not exactly indigenous to it complicates neat periodization – the seventeenth-century prophecies of Christopher Love enjoyed a resurgence in the 1790s, for example, and many moral lessons, songbooks, and sermons from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were enduringly saleable. But the era also devoured its own productions: the Journal of John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, was published serially from 1738 to 1789, and, stretching to more than a million words and somewhere between 80 000 and 180 000 copies, was one of the most popular autobiographies in English. Respectable ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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