Quarrels without God: Nineteenth-Century American Literature in the Age of Secularism
thesisposted on 2021-08-01, 00:00 authored by Sarah Buchmeier
Quarrels without God investigates the linked emergence of literary realism and secularism, showing that secularism was never primarily interested in eliminating religious belief or in disguising religion as something more neutral. Rather, secularism produced an epistemological order predicated on the opposition between the secular and the religious, an opposition made possible only by the survival of religion. From this standpoint, I argue that from Hawthorne’s Custom-House preface and Wilson’s Our Nig through Phelps’s The Gates Ajar and Melville’s Billy Budd, realism preserves the romance by continually producing it as one of its own modes of representation. The literary texts, when read in this light, also come into view as something of a shadow archive of secularism in the nineteenth century. The authors constellated together here, as they grapple with the secularizing society, end up giving formal shape to what critics of secularism have so far found ethereal. The figure of the narrator, moreover, emerges as a potent tool, which authors will use to critically examine and challenge the emerging secularist formation of the public by linking the literary text to questions of embodiment, conversion, and epistemology.