The Maternal Image of God in Victorian Literature
Divine Mother Nature
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This book is the study of a religious metaphor: the idea of God as a mother, in British and US literature 1850-1915. It uncovers a tradition of writers for whom divine motherhood embodied ideals felt to be missing from the orthodox masculine deity. Elizabeth Gaskell, Josephine Butler, George Macdonald, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Charlotte Perkins Gilman independently reworked their inherited faith to create a new symbol that better met their religious needs, based on ideal Victorian notions of motherhood and ‘mother nature’. Divine motherhood signified compassion, universal salvation, and a realised gospel of social reform led by women primarily to establish sympathetic community. Connected to Victorian feminism, it gave authority to women’s voices and to ‘feminine’ cultural values in the public sphere. It represented divine immanence within the world, often providing the grounds for an ecological ethic, including human-animal fellowship.
With reference to writers including Anna Jameson, Charles Kingsley, Elizabeth Charles, Theodore Parker, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Baker Eddy and authors of literary utopias, this book shows the extent of maternal theology in Victorian thought, and its cultural roots. The book reveals a new way in which Victorian writers creatively negotiations between religious tradition and modernity.
Rebecca Styler is Principal Lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln, UK. Having received her PhD from the University of Leicester, she has published in nineteenth-century literature, religion and gender, including a monograph Literary Theology by Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century (2010) and numerous articles and book chapters on writers including Anna Jameson, Anne Bronte and Elizabeth Gaskell, as well as on feminist utopias and religious life writing.