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The Novel as Church

Preaching to Readers in Contemporary Fiction

David Dickinson

Publication Year: 2013

Reading the likes of Updike, Dickens, and Faulkner with a preacher's eye, David Dickinson offers an instructive examination of the role of the sermon as a literary element and, most strikingly, of literature as a modern sermon. Popular perceptions of religion, religious authority, and the practice of preaching have changed significantly during the past century, so much so, Dickinson argues, that fiction writers have a surprising and unique ability to preach to readers through their own fictionalized sermons and the characters who deliver them. The Novel as Church analyzes the context and intent behind these messages, uncovers the dissonance between "novel" and traditional preaching, and illuminates how readers' attitudes toward preaching (and those who preach) may be influenced—or not—by the sermon writers themselves.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Series: The Making of the Christian Imagination


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pp. 1-1

Half Title Page, About the Series, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Series Introduction

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pp. 2-11


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pp. xi-13

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pp. xiii-xiv

Although my name stands alone on the title page and work on The Novel as Church has included many solitary hours in the study, I am conscious that writing is not an isolated task; as an act of communication, it is at heart a communal exercise. I am aware, therefore, of my indebtedness to the implicit and actual...

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pp. 1-7

The fictional preacher appears in novels in many guises. A study of preachers in English fiction of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries shows how fictional preachers have shaped contemporary readers’ understanding of Christianity. Their sermons, as foregrounded authoritative performed texts...

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1. Sounding the Depths of Dissonance

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pp. 9-22

The cultural dissonance of sermons in contemporary fiction finds expression in two of John Updike’s stories.1 A sentiment expressed in the sermon-like interior monologue that constitutes John Updike’s short story “Lifeguard,” in which the lifeguard preacher remarks, “I don’t know why people no longer go to church,” is reminiscent of a...

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2. Have We Heard the End of the Sermon?

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pp. 23-42

Pictures of two preachers hang above the desk upon which this book was written. One, a cheap souvenir bought with a few drachmas, is a small crudely painted figure of a Greek priest; the other, much more valuable, is a specially commissioned Edward Ardizzone print of a pen-and- ink drawing of Mr. Slope from the...

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3. Amen: The Assumption of Authority

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pp. 43-63

No one has more authority over a text than its author, until the publisher’s editors make their marks. From then on the author lets it go. Once the text is published, the author’s authority over the text has diminished to the extent that it is no greater than that of its readers and its critics. readers can read it in any way they choose...

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4. Keeping Faith: The Troubled Preacher in Updike and Lodge

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pp. 65-82

The troubled “man of God”1 struggling with faith issues and wrestling with spiritual, vocational, or intellectual doubt appears in many guises in contemporary novels. he appears as Father Angwin in hilary Mantel’s Fludd,2 Barney Hardstaff in Catherine Fox’s The Benefits of Passion...

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5. Heaven in Ordinary: Religious Experience in Fictional Sermons

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pp. 83-101

Commentators sometimes complain about the preachiness of Marilynne Robinson’s nonfiction in contrast with her fiction in which “she avoids any kind of preaching in favour of delicately eavesdropping on the spiritual and domestic travails of her characters.”1 Those who make this complaint miss the irony that her two...

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6. Words: Poison in the Ear, a Game with Language, or Naming Truth?

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pp. 103-126

Fictional sermons stand out prominently from their surrounding contexts on the page not only by their presentation within speech marks, in italics, or some other visual cue but also by their use of differentiated language in the form of direct address, specialist vocabulary, or other indications of orality...

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7. Shaping Paradise through Preaching

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pp. 127-152

The various communities that gather around fictional sermons are conflicting in their expectations, diverse in their form, and imprecisely defined. Above all else, they are imagined. That in itself is not a problem. Despite the apparently gloomy sociological prognosis that the only viable communities in contemporary society are imagined communities, this pessimism is more...

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8. Memory and Imagination

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pp. 153-171

With such potential for dissonant chords—clashing authorities, jarring linguistic repertoires, the conflict between realism and spiritual experiences, the gathering of diverse communities with different expectations around a text, and the tense balancing act of keeping faith in a complex world—why do British and American...

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pp. 173-175

Gentle reader, as John Updike’s Thomas Marshfield addresses you in A Month of Sundays, if you are naught but a reader, then the simplicity of your life is incredible. You are probably much more. You are probably also a Christian believer—or curious about religious belief. Why else would you be reading a book in the...


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pp. 177-196


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pp. 197-212

Index of Biblical References

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pp. 213-228

General Index

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pp. 214-218

E-ISBN-13: 9781602586840
E-ISBN-10: 1602586845
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602586826
Print-ISBN-10: 1602586829

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Series Title: The Making of the Christian Imagination
Series Editor Byline: Stephen Prickett, general editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 829905888
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Novel as Church

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • English fiction -- 21st century -- History and criticism.
  • Preaching in literature.
  • Sermons in literature.
  • Religion in literature.
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