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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 8, Issue 2 (June 2010) : 341--64
Reinventing the Marian Persecutions in Victorian England

Miriam Elizabeth Burstein
Rubric A: Literature and Ideology

Abstract

 

For nineteenth-century Protestant authors, the reign of Mary I (1553--1558) epitomized the horrors of a world in which Roman Catholics were in charge. Catholic Emancipation (1829) stimulated new Protestant anxieties about the threat to British stability posed by the nationís Catholic residents -- and abetted by dangerously liberal Protestants. Protestant novelists and poets thus turned to the Marian persecutions, often by adapting narratives from John Foxeís Book of Martyrs, to warn their audiences that violent martyrdom might well be on the brink of return.  In particular, their fictions staged a conflict between the treatment of Queen Maryís body and the martyrís body, especially the female martyrís body: Mary Iís excessive passion for Philip of Spain and her false pregnancy emblematize the pathologies that underlie religious persecution and threaten English nationhood itself, whereas the injuries inflicted on the female martyrís body testify to the universal truths of Protestant faith. As the articleís first section demonstrates, Victorian representations of Mary I and her body frequently originate from the work of the Catholic historian John Lingard; even Evangelical visions of Mary draw heavily on Lingardís and Agnes Stricklandís accounts of a virtuous but ultimately frail Queen. But for Protestants, this sentimental Mary threatens the nation through her perverse sexuality and equally perverse religious obsessions.

            The second half of the essay turns to the role of the popular martyr Rose Allin in novels by Anna Eliza Bray and Emily Sarah Holt.  Allinís resistance to torture suggested how heroic women could counteract the moral threat posed by the queenís weakness.


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