Labors of Attention: The Parish Novel, Parochialism, and George Eliot’s Endearing Parsons

Labors of Attention: The Parish Novel, Parochialism, and George Eliot’s Endearing Parsons
J Ling
9/21/19 10:38
Victorian Literature and Culture
Tenure, the Anglican practice of residing and ministering within the small bounds of a parish, became the basis for a surprisingly wide range of Victorian novels. Its plot, which begins with the clergyman’s arrival in a parish and ends with his leave-taking or death, echoes throughout the work of Gaskell, Oliphant, Trollope, and Eliot, but its origins and most condensed form lie in a minor, midcentury genre that I call the parish novel. In taking the parameters of tenure—its duration and its modest ambit—as their own, parish novels turned reading into a form of pastoral labor: a close, laborious, yet seemingly unproductive attention that simultaneously suffused everyday life with latent meaning and rendered such meaning a function of residence. The following essay traces the rise and fall of this genre against Anglicanism’s reorientation from a set of beliefs to a formal activity whose goals aligned closely with the work of reading. Unlike earlier religious narratives, the parish novel offers a model of reading in which spiritual meaning is secured neither by a sense of providence nor by religious allegory but by the sustained exercise of faith.
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture/article/labors-of-attention-the-parish-novel-parochialism-and-george-eliots-endearing-parsons/CC4CA98369D49A357EE8610BBFFCC226
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