Victorian literature and bringing the body back from the dead

Francis O'Gorman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

Fantasies of the body’s return have long been the common property of human imaginings. Rituals of death and resurrection, known in ancient religions, have been indispensable to systems of, in particular, Western religious beliefs from Osiris to Persephone to Jesus. They retain their allure. But for the Victorians, contemplating the Christian doctrine of resurrection, the theological world was changing rapidly. St Paul’s words — ‘if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain’ (1 Cor xv, 17) — reminded them of what was at risk in the culture’s increasingly widespread discomfort with the Gospels’ account of the tomb. The challenges of the Higher Criticism, the New Geology, and the new scientific materialism that claimed to privilege experimental knowledge over mere authority exposed faultlines in the substance of a faith that now entered a new phase of insecurity. ‘A Christian afraid of death!’ declared the Reverend Thomas Paddon in 1875: how ‘utterly groundless are such fears; and how greatly dishonouring to Him who took upon Him our nature, that He might deliver us from the fear of death!’1 But others could not share such conviction. Matthew Arnold, conscious of a national want in moral leadership in the 1860s and 1870s, saw little that was serviceable in a religion that made from the miraculous its central claims to significance: moral authority needed more than that. At the close of the century, James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890) unnerved readers by confirming what the tradition of Victorian comparative mythology had long taught — that Christianity drew on other systems of ‘magical’ thought.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Body and the Arts
EditorsCorinne Saunders, Ulrika Maude, Jane Macnaughton
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780230234000
ISBN (Print)9780230552043
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2009


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