|GR: enthusiasm and shifting mores
Written by Janette K
(11/14/2003 3:52 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, GR: Religion, penned by Line
] I hope this isn't overstepping any Pemberley guidelines, but AV mentions the "unenthusiastic religion" and the "absence of religious fervour" of the era more than once. This coincides with what I've always felt in JA's novels. . . . among other things, it seems as if in her books, being a clergyman was just another job, and I still remember being a little shocked when I first read P&P (many, many years ago) that Mr. Collins would play cards for money!
As Line points out, "enthusiasm" had a bad name in the 18th Century. This was in part a reaction against (a pendulum swing away from) the religiously motivated Civil War in England in the 17th Century. In a church history class I took, I heard that during those decades times of religious debate and warfare there were lots of rather wild sects that developed, and English society became quite chaotic as a result. When order was restored, I guess at the Restoration, it was a relief, and people for a good while mistrusted religious "enthusiasm." This was part of the reason John Wesley did become a controversial figure because his more emotionally charged religious practices brought up fears of that kind of social chaos. The fact that he was especially popular among the working classes probably added to those fears.
In English society, being a clergyman was one of several acceptable vocations for a gentleman, and to that degree was "just another job" in both the 18th and 19th century. There is an element of this in Trollope's church-oriented books, which treat the clergy as generally sincere in their work but--again--just as human and fallible as any other men. Still, there was a sense in which people regretted seeing the church and its ministry exploited just as a convenient job market.
You can get a little sense of this in JA. In P&P, although there is the ridiculous clergyman, Mr. Collins, perhaps a blot on the landscape created by an irresponsible patron such as Lady Catherine who does not know how to choose a deserving candidate, on the other hand Mr. Darcy feels that Wickham's vicious behavior make him peculiarly unsuited to be clergyman, which is why he agrees to Wickham's proposal to take cash rather than the living promised him by the elder Mr. Darcy.
JA treats all these themes more explicitly in Mansfield Park, which she said was about "ordination." In there, Mary Crawford regards the church as just a handy place for a job, but despises clergymen because she seems to assume that they must have to practice hypocrisy as part of their job, plus she seems to assume they won't really do any work for their income. She may be drawing on the examples of clergymen she has known. On the other hand, Edmund Bertram, who was destined for the church simply because he was the younger son, takes the job seriously and intends to devote himself to it with all his energy and in all sincerity. Here we may see the influence of the Evangelical movement in spite of the ongoing mistrust of enthusiasm.
Finally, I believe there was a social shift about card playing by clergymen. In Barchester Towers (or is it in a later book in the same series?), Archdeacon Grantley, whose father had been a bishop in the previous generation, offends the current bishop by reminiscing about how many games of whist he had seen played in the episcopal palace. On the way home, his wife scolds him for his tactlessness, saying that he knew very well times had changed, that he himself does not play cards and would no longer approve of clergymen doing so. This is in the Victorian age.
Also, in George Eliot's Middlemarch, Rev. Farebrother plays cards specifically because he does hope to win money because his living is insufficient for his needs. This book was written in the Victorian age but is set in the 1830s(?), just on the cusp of the Reform bill and the railroads and all the societal changes they brought about. But when Mr. Farebrother later receives a more generous living, he gives up card playing because he's really sensed all along that it was inappropriate for a man of his calling and now he has the means to do without it.
By the way, Middlemarch also deals with ordination as a convenient job for gentlemen. Farebrother is portrayed as a man who missed his calling, who would have been happier as a scientist or something but became a minister because that was his option. At the same time, the Vincy family, owners of a factory, have sent their son to college and want him to be ordained so that he can make the step from bourgeois to gentleman. So all kinds of issues and motives were swirling around the role of the clergy.
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