1st Edition

The Maternal Image of God in Victorian Literature

By Rebecca Styler Copyright 2023
    226 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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 primarily by women 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 also to writers including Charlotte Brontë, 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 explores its cultural roots. The book reveals a new way in which Victorian writers creatively negotiated between religious tradition and modernity.



    Rebecca Styler is Associate Professor 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 Brontë, Josephine Butler and Elizabeth Gaskell, as well as on feminist utopias and religious life writing.

    "This excellent new book by Rebecca Styler shows us what is at stake when we look to gendered language to think about God. Exploring work by a series of authors who connected the idea of God with motherhood, Styler reveals the capacity of literature to do theology and change the way we think about the world. The Maternal Image of God in Victorian Literature makes a compelling intervention in our understanding of religion and literature."

    -- Mark Knight, Professor in Literature, Religion, and Victorian Studies, Lancaster University