MacDonald’s Antiphon : literary traditions and the "lost church" of English worship.




Bear, Bethany J.

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This dissertation examines the ways in which Victorian novelist and fantasist George MacDonald re-imagines Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ideas about the religious function of literary traditions. Each chapter of this project argues that Coleridge and MacDonald confront the problems of post-Kantian subjectivity with visions of literary tradition that, in turn, revitalize the idea of a universal Church in English life and letters. Chapter One begins with a study of Coleridge’s participation in the “reinvention of tradition” in the nineteenth century. Chapter Two argues that Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection (1825) is predicated upon the idea that literary recreations of the past can resolve many of the philosophical, historical, and moral challenges to the authority of the Bible. Thirty years after the publication of Aids to Reflection, in Phantastes (1858) and England’s Antiphon (1868), MacDonald developed Coleridge’s ideas into a vision of literary traditions as “chapels” through which readers might enter the Church Invisible. Chapter Three considers why MacDonald writes fairy-tale “parables” in response to those who would reduce the Bible’s meaning either to the empiricism of textual criticism or to the “single plain sense” of plenary-verbal inspiration. Similarly, in Antiphon, MacDonald responds to Coleridge’s problematic theories of allegory with his own narrative of allegory’s importance in the English literary tradition. Chapter Four concludes this study by examining why both Coleridge and MacDonald believe the writers of the seventeenth century--an era of violent religious division in England--hold the key to nineteenthcentury religious unity and to the revitalization of English literature. In St. George and St. Michael (1876), MacDonald modifies Coleridge’s elevation of natural symbols in order to demonstrate that the highest forms of poetry lead to the transformation of conscience and history. Throughout this study, it becomes clear that MacDonald offers a resounding and creative challenge to other nineteenth-century readings of Coleridge, particularly Matthew Arnold’s notions of literary culture. Arguably, it is MacDonald who comes nearest to fulfilling Coleridge’s own hopes for his philosophical labors, namely, providing a theory of literature that could sustain the Church in the face of division and doubt.



Samuel Taylor Coleridge., George MacDonald., Tradition., Nineteenth-century literature., Literature and religion., British literature.