Shell, Alison. "Review of Arthur F. Marotti,
Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses
in Early Modern England." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.2
(September, 2006) 14.1-6<URL:http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-2/revmarot.htm>.
Polemic can have counter-productive effects, not deterring readers but
engendering their sympathetic interest in the object of abuse. This is certainly
what has happened in Renaissance studies in recent years. While new historicism
was never particularly interested in religious issues as such, its exploration
of historical contingency was bound to render these more visible to a later
generation of scholars; and once the anti-Catholic agendas of poets like Spenser
and dramatists like Webster had attracted systematic investigation, it was
the natural next step to investigate the literary worlds of real Catholics.
Anti-Catholicism and Catholicism are the uneasiest of bedfellows, but neither
can be adequately explained without the other - or, indeed, the Other, given
the moral panics which popery inspired in true Protestants.
As Peter Lake put it several years ago in his essay 'Anti-popery: the structure
of a prejudice', popery was seen as a 'perfectly symmetrical negative image
of true Christianity'. Marotti's own essay 'Recusant women, Jesuits and Ideological
Fantasies', is explicitly inspired by Lake's, but goes beyond it in drawing
out the gendered implications of the divide; here, as so often elsewhere,
binary oppositions between good and evil mapped all too easily onto those
between man and woman. This need not have been simply a polemical construct,
since recent scholarship has established a real and close association between
Jesuits and aristocratic women; but then, polemic so often takes facts and
gives them a cynical or lubricious twist. For instance, the phrase 'collapsed
ladies', so often used to refer to female Catholic converts, suggestively
equates religious apostasy with sexual yielding.
The association between Catholics and women continues, since Catholics
are, so to speak, the new women in Renaissance studies - long dismissed or
sidelined, now more fashionable, but still in the process of acquiring canonical
solidity. When recovering any minority literature whose practitioners, whether
for reasons of gender or religion, felt obliged to be secret or discreet,
then bibliographical and - especially - palaeographical detective work remains
part of one's job; and those familiar with Marotti's earlier work will not
be surprised that this study makes unusually heavy use of manuscript sources.
The chapter 'Performing Conversion' demonstrates that self-conscious, literate
conversion was by no means a Protestant prerogative; Marotti makes particularly
stimulating use of William Alabaster's remarkable and under-studied conversion
narrative, recently transcribed and edited by Dana Sutton. Alabaster can rival
any puritan in his religious self-absorption -- as Marotti points out, 'one
of the odd things about Alabaster's story is how little the recusant community
figures in it' - and his self-construction as a confessor allies his narrative
to Catholic martyrdom accounts, the subject of another chapter. Circulated
by manuscript in a highly systematic manner, these were designed above all
to stir up the zeal of the British and foreign Catholic communities who read
Robert Southwell's poetry, with its intolerance of everything which does
not tend towards religious edification, further illustrates the utilitarian
priorities of post-Reformation British Catholic literature. Southwell's work
is currently attracting a good deal of attention, with ground-breaking recent
studies by Brian Cummings and Scott Pilarz, and Peter Davidson and Anne Sweeney's
forthcoming edition of the verse from Carcanet Press. The metaphor of a relic
pervades Marotti's chapter on Southwell's literary legacy, reminding the reader
how necessary it is to read Catholic literary culture against Catholic material
culture - indeed, a few illustrations of recusant relics would have been helpful.
Robert Southwell and Edmund Campion share the honour of being the most literary
Elizabethan martyr, and both accordingly attracted literary tributes from
their contemporaries; Gerard Kilroy's Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription
sadly appeared too late for Marotti to use, but both scholars can be pleased
that each set of conclusions reinforces the other.
The final, and by far the longest, essay in this book discusses the anti-Catholic
construction of Protestant English history. While concentrating on the Popish
Plot and its aftermath, it suggests some broader questions: in particular,
why an over-Protestantised version of English history has been the default
one to such an extent that the corrective narratives of earlier generations,
such as John Lingard's and William Cobbett's, have been forgotten and rediscovered
in their turn. If historians as different as Eamon Duffy and Edwin Jones (in
The English Nation: The Great Myth) are now identifying this amnesia
and the reasons for it, one hopes there is no longer any need to reinvent
the wheel. Marotti's book is a superbly well-informed one from the historical
point of view, and complements these revisionist historical studies; but --
perhaps because of its author's dual roots in English literature and history
-- it is content to chart the co-existence of overlapping worlds, rather than
seeking a totalising explanation for them.
Yet this should not be taken as indicating a lack of ambition. Despite
being composed of five discrete essays, the book's coverage is broad; and
though several of these essays have been reprinted from previous collections,
they have a striking unity of purpose. An interest in post-Reformation British
Catholic literature is growing steadily, but for a body of material that has
been ignored in the mainstream for so long, a comprehensive survey is necessarily
some years off. Meanwhile, Marotti's study is probably the nearest thing we
have to a survey: proudly anti-canonical, but also looking towards a new canon.
Cummings, Brian. The Literary Culture of the Reformation. Oxford:
Oxford UP, 2002.
Jones, Edwin. The English Nation: The Great Myth. Stroud: Sutton,
Kilroy, Gerard. Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription. Aldershot:
Lake, Peter. 'Antipopery: The Structure of a Prejudice'. Conflict
in Early Stuart England. Eds. Richard Cust and Ann Hughes. London: Blackwell,
Pilarz, Scott R., S.J., Robert Southwell and the Mission of Literature,
1561-1595: Writing Reconciliation. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
Sutton, Dana F., ed. Unpublished Works by Wiliam Alabaster (1568-1640).
Salzburg Studies in English Literature. Salzburg: Salzburg Poetry, 1997.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.