- Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England
The role of Catholicism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England has been a subject of growing critical interest in the last decade, and Arthur F. Marotti's new book, Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy: Catholic and Anti-Catholic Discourses in Early Modern England is a fascinating and important addition to this body of work. Marotti draws from an impressive array of religious writings, letters, and devotional texts in order to show what ordinary and extraordinary English Catholics said and did during the solidification of England's Protestant national identity, and what Protestants said about their religious opponents. His book is more a collection of essays than a single thesis-driven argument, and this loose rhetorical structure is well suited to one of Marotti's underlying points: that early modern England's religious situation was multifaceted. As Religious Ideology amply demonstrates, the relationship between English Protestants and English Catholics was not a matter of a simple opposition or an antagonism between a progressive Protestantism and a regressive Catholicism. It was instead an intricate and complex dialogue.
Marotti brings a respectful sensitivity to the writings of English Catholics. In chapter 1 especially, Marotti allows these voices to speak for themselves, providing [End Page 267] long block quotations that show English Catholics discussing their religious allegiances and their hopes and fears for the future. He brings lesser-known texts and historical figures into the light of critical scrutiny. For example, he tells the stories of Catholic figures such as William Alabaster, Francis Walsingham (nephew to Elizabeth's spymaster), and Sir Toby Matthew. He also provides a fascinating account of James Wadsworth, Sr., an anti-Catholic Anglican minister who converted to Protestantism, and his son James Wadworth, Jr., who was brought up Catholic in European Jesuit schools but then converted to the Church of England. By narrating these often-overlooked stories, Marotti is able to show convincingly how religious conversion "meant shifting one's social affiliation from one community to another" (95).
Over and over again, Marotti comes at a subject from an interesting and unusual angle. It is refreshing, for example, to find a discussion of Andrew Marvell that focuses on his Account of the Growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government in England instead of on his poetry. The freshness of Marotti's approach appears again in chapter 2. Although his subject, English recusant women, is familiar to those who have read Frances Dolan's Whores of Babylon or Anne Dillon's The Construction of Martyrdom, Marotti lays special emphasis on the role of the Jesuits. Although the Jesuits symbolized the most feared aspects of Catholicism, their role in early modern England has been relatively neglected, and so Marotti's contribution is especially valuable. Marotti also admirably canvasses the entire seventeenth century and even moves into the eighteenth. By discussing writings from the 1580s as well as Catholic religious texts of the 1680s, Marotti is able to show how the history of English Catholicism developed "from the story of (economic and other) persecution of a sizable and persistent body of believers holding on to the 'old religion' to that of a seigneurially centered, fragmented, and small minority church" (132). Marotti remains aware of the differences between Catholicism as an international religio-political institution and Catholicism as a domestic phenomenon.
The acknowledgements page notes that three of the five articles have already appeared in print in 1997, 1999, and 2000. It is true that these three reprints — forming, respectively, chapters one through three — make points which are by now generally familiar to those who stay abreast of scholarship on religion in early modern England. But it is also true that the first half of Marotti's book is familiar largely because his earlier articles helped set the terms of debate. Those readers who want more cutting-edge material will be...