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Faithful Passages

American Catholicism in Literary Culture, 1844–1931

James Emmett Ryan

Publication Year: 2013

Roman Catholic writers in colonial America played only a minority role in debates about religion, politics, morality, national identity, and literary culture. However, the commercial print revolution of the nineteenth century, combined with the arrival of many European Catholic immigrants, provided a vibrant evangelical nexus in which Roman Catholic print discourse would thrive among a tightly knit circle of American writers and readers. James Emmett Ryan’s pathbreaking study follows the careers of important nineteenth-century religionists including Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker, Anna Hanson Dorsey, and Cardinal James Gibbons, tracing the distinctive literature that they created during the years that non-Catholic writers like Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson were producing iconic works of American literature.
    Faithful Passages also reveals new dimensions in American religious literary culture by moving beyond the antebellum period to consider how the first important cohort of Catholic writers shaped their message for subsequent generations of readers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Perhaps most strikingly, Ryan shows that by the early twentieth century, Roman Catholic themes and traditions in American literature would be advanced in complex ways by mainstream, non-Catholic modernist writers like Kate Chopin and Willa Cather.
    Catholic literary culture in the United States took shape in a myriad of ways and at the hands of diverse participants. The process by which Roman Catholic ideas, themes, and moralities were shared and adapted by writers with highly differentiated beliefs, Ryan contends, illuminates a surprising fluidity of religious commitment and expression in early U.S. literary culture.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-viii

Warm friendships and generous assistance have helped me during the research for this project. The English Department at Auburn University has been a congenial scholarly home, and I am grateful to colleagues and students there for their support. My research assistant, Sydnee Doolittle, did important work in tracking...

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pp. 3-20

This study aims to bring attention and analysis to a neglected dimension of American religious discourse and literary history: episodes in Roman Catholic literary life as it was conducted during a century of the nation’s rapid development into an industrialized print culture, beginning with the first significant wave of professional authorship...

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1. Orestes Brownson in Young America: Popular Books and Catholic Criticism

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pp. 21-44

More than any other American writer, Orestes A. Brownson (1803– 76) worked at the intellectual confluence of nineteenth- century Protestant and Catholic literary cultures. In a career that spanned numerous religious conversions and produced a daunting body of publications, Brownson during his most productive...

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2. Print Evangelism: Father Hecker’s American Mission

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pp. 45-76

Like his close friend Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker (1819–88) was a convert to Roman Catholicism. Hecker had been influenced early by experiences and exchanges with the close circle of key players in the antebellum New England intellectual, philosophical, and religious ferment that came to be known...

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3. Entering the Mainstream: The Fiction of Jedediah Huntington and Anna Hanson Dorsey

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pp. 77-116

Although the religious activism of Hecker and Brownson was acknowledged and even admired in some quarters of the educated Catholic elite, it would be misleading—given the rather limited audience for their work—to construe their literary production as anything like a comprehensive guide to...

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4. Sentimental Catechism: James Gibbons and Literary Devotionalism

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pp. 117-144

Novels that addressed Christian religious experiences were an extremely important aspect of literary culture in the nineteenth century, but a broader view of religious writing is necessary in order to follow the ways that Roman Catholicism adapted itself to the literary tendencies of the period. Turning from analysis...

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5. Trading Religion for Feminism: Kate O’Flaherty Chopin’s Bayou Catholics

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pp. 145-163

A striking but seldom examined aspect in the fiction of Kate O’Flaherty Chopin (1850–1904) is its linkage of Catholic themes and characters with the picturesque conventions of local- color- writing: her religiously tinged evocations of regionally specific dress, mannerisms, dialect, patterns of thought...

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6. “A Kind Woman in Heaven”: Willa Cather’s Religious Aesthetic

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pp. 164-181

At the turn of the twentieth century, the era of the didactic religious pamphlet camouflaged as a novel had clearly ended. Sophisticated American readers, apparently no longer so susceptible to tendentious literary evangelism, continued to peruse local- color fiction and novels that featured important strains...

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pp. 182-187

In reviewing the literary terrain surveyed by this study, it should be apparent that during the period from 1844 to 1931 favorable representations of Roman Catholicism, although often deployed for evangelical purposes, were consequential in many different ways and for many different reasons. Anti- Catholic fiction and nonfiction had been a staple...


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pp. 189-223

Works Cited

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pp. 225-240


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pp. 241-247

E-ISBN-13: 9780299290634
E-ISBN-10: 0299290638
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299290641
Print-ISBN-10: 0299290646

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 828720547
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Faithful Passages

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Catholic authors -- History and criticism
  • Christian literature, American -- History and criticism.
  • Catholics -- United States -- Intellectual life.
  • Catholic Church -- In literature.
  • Catholics in literature.
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