Paradoxical Pastors; or, What the Novelist Imagined

Karin E. Gedge

in Without Benefit of Clergy

Published in print November 2003 | ISBN: 9780195130201
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835157 | DOI:

Series: Religion in America

 Paradoxical Pastors; or, What the Novelist Imagined

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Nineteenth-century American readers regularly encountered powerful and paradoxical images of clergy and women in many fictive genres, a reflection of the cultural tensions manifested in the contemporary pastoral relationship. Sensational novelists such as George Lippard exposed the monstrous incongruity of the “reverend rake.” Sentimental novelist Susan Warner constructed a romantic clerical hero who was both benevolent and despotic in his relationship with the female protagonist, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s minister was impotent, dependent on the women who supported him. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s enduring Scarlet Letter portrayed the pastor as an unworthy saint and Hester Prynne as the worthy sinner. Even pious memoirs and parsonage novels acknowledged the intrusion of sexuality, “something peculiar and insidious” in Stowe’s words, which inevitably corrupted the spiritual relationship between pastors and women. Only transforming it into a marital relationship could, to some degree, resolve the inherent sexual tension.

Keywords: nineteenth-century American literature; sensational novels; sentimental novels; pious memoirs; parsonage novels; pastoral relationship; sexuality; George Lippard; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter.  15961 words. 

Subjects: Christianity

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