This book is a comparative study of the French and English Catholic literary revivals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These parallel but mostly independent movements include writers such as Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, J. K. Huysmans, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton and Lionel Johnson. Rejecting critical approaches that tend to treat Catholic writings as exotic marginalia, this book makes extensive use of secularisation theory to confront these Catholic writings with the preoccupations of secularism and modernity. It compares individual and societal secularisation in France and England and examines how French and English Catholic writers understood and contested secular mores, ideologies and praxis, in the individual, societal and religious domains. The book also addresses the extent to which some Catholic writers succumbed to the seduction of secular instincts, even paradoxically in themes which are considered to be emblematic of the Catholic literature.
In this chapter we will attempt to synthesise some of the most common accounts of the history of secularisation in France and England during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Our aim is to arrive at some understanding of the nature of individual and societal secularisation in England and France, and assess, in spite of the vast differences, what correlations can be drawn between the two countries. This will help us understand more clearly the preoccupations of the French and English Catholic authors and the conditions of belief under which they
MUP FINAL PROOF – <STAGE>, 08/13/2013, SPi
Secularisation, religion and the state
This chapter introduces a discussion of a fundamental paradox concerning
contemporary society and government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland (UK) – that while there is strong evidence of continuing
trends towards a more secular and less religious society and pattern of social
behaviour, at the same time, religious doctrines, rituals and institutions are
central to the legitimacy, stability and continuity of key elements of the constitutional and
The aim of this book has been to cast light on the paradox of French Catholic literary resistance to secularisation in the period 1880–1914, and on its coincidental parallels among English Catholic writers of the same period. The task of remapping these writings against an analytical grid of secularisation theory was prompted by the weaknesses which we argued were inherent in approaching these writings simply under the confessional label of ‘Catholic’. This process has meant not discarding the category of Catholic literature, however
This book has so far sought to explore the writings of the French and English Catholic literary revivals in the context of the secularisation of the individual and society. The aim has been to get beyond the limitations of confessional labels and to explore some of their inner dynamics in ways that cast more light on the confrontation between secularisation and resistance to it.
One possible objection, however, to the critics of secularisation is that the indices of religiosity in society show that
This book is based on a paradox and a coincidence. The paradox is that at the end of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period of profound secularisation in France, there emerged a generation of Catholic writers and intellectuals who were convinced that the rumours about God’s death had been greatly exaggerated. The coincidence is that, in the same period, English literature too saw a significant revival in Catholic writing. In France, the late novels of Joris Karl Huysmans, the plays of Paul Claudel and the religious
The conditions of unbelief, according to Taylor, are affected by the pluralisation of worldviews and the multiplication of alternatives to erstwhile Christian certainties. 1 It is logical, therefore, that in responding to secularisation many French and English Catholic writers should subject such worldviews and alternatives to sometimes far-reaching scrutiny.
As we saw in Chapter 1 the secularisation of mentalities in France and England was denoted by the shift towards a more anthropocentric conceptualisation
The conditions of individual secularisation described in Chapter 1 posed two sets of moral problems for believers in France and England at that time. The first concerns how human behaviour is to be mapped out if belief in God has become deistic or has collapsed into atheism. The second concerns the alternative moral criteria to counter the anthropocentrism transmitted by individual secularisation. These two sets of problems provide vital perspectives from which to read French and English Catholic literature in the late nineteenth and
The figure of the buffered individual takes on a different meaning when we move from the realms of psychology, moral choice and belief into the public domain. As French and English Catholic writers explore political, social and economic issues, the stakes of secularisation become societal in nature.
As we saw in the Introduction, Cavanaugh’s essay on the secular State emphasises two trends of particular note. The first is that theories of politics in the early modern period posited the radical autonomy of the
. Its model lies in the incarnation of Christ in the world, for just as Bethlehem brought forth its Saviour, so France too must participate in the bringing forth of saints. Péguy’s Jeanne laments over the France of the Hundred Years War in words which serve as a commentary on the secularised condition of modern France: ‘Vous, Chartres […] Saint-Michel […] Tours […] Paris […] Orléans […] Grandes villes, villes illustres, villes de chrétienté […] vous vous attardez à produire des saintes et des saints, et pendant ce temps-là Jésus est le saint de cette paroisse-là.’ 8