Poetry and piety : the role of verse in mid-Victorian Sunday reading

Scott, Rosemary (1992). Poetry and piety : the role of verse in mid-Victorian Sunday reading. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d523


Mid-Victorian poetry of piety is verse concerned to propagate and sustain simple faith in an age frequently characterised by doubt. The proliferation of 'Sunday verse' may itself be a response to doubt. Section I (Chapters 1-2) establishes the verse's context, and its role within the respectable occupation of Sunday reading.

The primary material examined in Section II (Chapters 3-6) establishes the value Victorian writers placed on verse as a means of religious communication. Dependence on the common cultural heritage of the Bible broadened the verse's appeal, especially through cheaply available hymns and periodicals (Chapters 4 and 5).

Pious verse is seen as a didactic tool, frequently consolatory, a means of imaginatively exploring difficult concepts in a Manner accessible to the emotions. The developing readership for Sunday verse originates in children's reading (Chapter 6), which stresses social and moral training.

Section III (Chapters 7-9) shows the influence of pious verse on a young reader, Marianne Farningham (Chapter 7). From" humble origins, Farningham became self-supporting by her writing, showing how women could gain some independence in this sphere. A broader survey of women's writing (Chapter 8 - principally A.L. Waring, Charlotte Elliott and F.R. Havergal), reveals a strong affinity between women and pious verse, with 'its social and sexual stereotyping. Characteristic aspects of language are more fully explored in Chapter 9. Essential simplicity is related to the argument that language is inadequate to communicate the divine, actively encouraging the less educated as readers and writers of Sunday verse, which thus has a wider readership than other types of verse. In conclusion, pious verse is seen as an egalitarian genre, assisting literacy, supporting respectability and countering doubt. It is a valuable resource for the study of Victorian culture.

The thesis is supported by a listing 'of periodicals publishing pious verse, 1850-1875 (Appendix A)j work towards an annotated bibliography of pious verse, 1851-1860 (Appendix B); an analysis of pious verse in the marketplace (Appendix C). Together these demonstrate the widespread availability and commercial viability of Sunday verse.

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