- Puritanism & Modernist Novels
IN HER FIRST BOOK, The Renaissance, English Cultural Nationalism, and Modernism, 1860–1920 (Palgrave, 2009), Lynne Hinojosa explores the echoes of the Italian Renaissance in modernist art, showing us how the reclamation of the Renaissance as a concept became central to “England’s quest for cultural identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” Hinojosa’s Puritanism and Modernist Novels builds upon her interest in the legacy of Renaissance modes of religious allegory to consider the resonance in the modernist literary imaginary of a different cultural, ethical, and textual movement: that of the group of English Reformed Protestants of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often known pejoratively as the Puritans. In this focused contribution to the study of religion in literature, Hinojosa complicates modernism’s self-asserted rupture with its Victorian past, claiming that prewar fiction maintained a more active and dialectical relation to Puritanism than has been previously acknowledged.
More than simply pointing to the obvious intimacy between a movement and that which it claims most loudly to reject, Hinojosa is specifically interested in the way early modernist novels recuperate Puritan typological Bible-reading practices even as they repudiate Puritan modes of public morality. This multivalence has to do with the way the term “Puritan always has two points of reference” for the modernists; Hinojosa explains: “It refers to the historical early modern Puritan cultures and Bible-reading practices from which the novel emerged in England and which survived historically into the late nineteenth century [End Page 399] and beyond. It also refers to a fictionalized Victorian Puritanism seen to be dominant in the social morality with which modernist novelists engaged but that may have been quite different from what nonconformist Christianity actually was.” Hinojosa identifies the scaffolding that holds up this “fictionalized Victorian Puritanism” in the work of influential mid-nineteenth-century thinkers such as John Henry Newman—who caricatures Puritanism for its association with “individualism; self-sufficient rationality … and political power, all of which need to be critiqued and dismantled”—and Matthew Arnold, who finds fault with “Puritanism’s hermeneutics of rational certitude, epistemological narrowness, and moral simplicity.”
It takes the introduction and several chapters surveying the historical context and theoretical climate for Hinojosa to fully explore the intricacies of Puritan hermeneutics and to dismantle the caricature of the Puritan as a sneering antisensualist, replacing it with a more nuanced view of how Puritans understood the contemporary material and social order through complex forms of biblical exegesis. At the heart of the matter is the way Puritans understood the hermeneutic and ethical value of recognizing character types in the biblical text, which they saw as an essential precondition for self-recognition. For Hinojosa, the solicitation to read texts typologically does not end with the eighteenth century; instead, “all of the novels treated in this book are full of such clues.” Understood in this way, typological reading promises not only to illuminate individual texts; it charts an alternative to the notion that modernism foregrounds encounters with alterity, the defining trait of what Hinojosa identifies as the “New Ethical Theory” espoused by thinkers such as Martha Nussbaum and Richard Rorty and an integral aspect of literary criticism indebted to the ethical turn in deconstruction charted by the likes of Judith Butler, J. Hillis Miller, and Gayatri Spivak.
With this penumbra illuminated in Part One of the volume, Hinojosa turns to the core of her argument in Part Two, comprised of four chapters that each bring a single work by a major novelist under the lens of sustained close reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Room with a View, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and The Good Soldier. The strongest case for the influence of Puritan hermeneutics on modernist praxis lies in Hinojosa’s reading of Dorian Gray as Hegelian tragedy. In her analysis of this well-known novel, Hinojosa wrestles with Wilde’s pairing of the two, increasingly divergent Dorians: the wretched Dorian of the painting and the eternally attractive Dorian...