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Sacred Engagements

Interfaith Marriage, Religious Toleration, and the British Novel, 1750–1820

Alison Conway

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A revelatory reading of the British novel that considers interfaith marriage, religious toleration, and the ethics of sociability.

Bringing together feminist theory, novel criticism, and religious studies, Alison Conway's Sacred Engagements advances a postsecular reading of the novel that links religious tolerance and the eighteenth-century marriage plot. Conway explores the historical roots of the vexed questions that interfaith marriage continues to raise today. She argues that narrative wields the power to imagine conjugal and religious relations that support the embodied politics crucial to…

A revelatory reading of the British novel that considers interfaith marriage, religious toleration, and the ethics of sociability.

Bringing together feminist theory, novel criticism, and religious studies, Alison Conway's Sacred Engagements advances a postsecular reading of the novel that links religious tolerance and the eighteenth-century marriage plot. Conway explores the historical roots of the vexed questions that interfaith marriage continues to raise today. She argues that narrative wields the power to imagine conjugal and religious relations that support the embodied politics crucial to a communal, rather than state-sponsored, ethics of toleration.

Conway studies the communal and gendered aspects of religious experience embedded in Samuel Richardson's account of interfaith marriage and liberalism's understandings of toleration in Sir Charles Grandison. In her readings of Frances Brooke, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Maria Edgeworth, Conway considers how women authors reframe the questions posed by Grandison, representing intimacy, authorship, and women's religious subjectivity in ways that challenge the social and political norms of Protestant British culture. She concludes with reflections on Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the costs of a marriage plot that insists on religious conformity.

By examining the complex epistemologies of the interfaith marriage plot, Sacred Engagements counters the secularization thesis that has long dominated eighteenth-century novel studies. In so doing, the book recognizes those subjects otherwise ignored by liberal political theory and extrapolates how a genuinely inclusive tolerance might be imagined in our own deeply divided times.

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Alison Conway

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Reviews

Reviews

Scholars of the history of the novel have traditionally approached it to seek signs of increasing secularization, rather than to document the ways religion, politics, and individuals came into contact and conflict in the genre. Conway's groundbreaking book, in turning close attention to the interfaith marriage plot, both helpfully expands and productively complicates the stories we've told about the realist novel. Sacred Engagements is original, admirably researched, and beautifully written.

Sacred Engagements reveals the history of religious toleration hiding in plain sight in novels by Richardson, Brooke, Inchbald, Edgeworth, and Austen, where interfaith marriage tests what it means to tolerate painful religious difference in the private sphere without demanding conversion. Conway reframes a postsecular account of novelistic ethics in the wake of Sir Charles Grandison that foregrounds women's voices and religious claims of conscience.

Conway's necessary readings of interfaith marriage in British novels from Richardson to Edgeworth show how mechanisms of toleration make room for, and interweave with, faith traditions. This is an exquisitely crafted and cogently theorized book, sure to reorient future histories of literature, religion, and secularization.

Conway advances a perceptive and original claim with far-reaching implications—that the interfaith marriage plot centers on the misfit between the religious autonomy guaranteed both sexes by toleration theory and the need for the curtailment of women's religious rights to maintain uniformity in the home. Sacred Engagements's bold feminist argument will make waves in work on the postsecular eighteenth century as well as on the early novel.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Novel Intimacies
Chapter 1. Religious Toleration and Interfaith Marriage, 1640-1720
Chapter 2. Sir Charles Grandison's Religious Disturbances
Chapter

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Novel Intimacies
Chapter 1. Religious Toleration and Interfaith Marriage, 1640-1720
Chapter 2. Sir Charles Grandison's Religious Disturbances
Chapter 3. Frances Brooke's Civil Disputes
Chapter 4. Elizabeth Inchbald among the Cisalpines
Chapter 5. Maria Edgeworth's Jewish Enlightenment
Conclusion: Mansfield Park Closes Its Gates
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Alison Conway

Alison Conway (KELOWNA, BC) is Associate Dean of Research, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. She is the author of Private Interests: Women, Portraiture, and the Visual Culture of the English Novel, 1709-1791 and The Protestant Whore: Courtesan Narrative and Religious Controversy in England, 1680-1750.