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Women, Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s-1900sThe Victorian Period$
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Alexis Easley, Clare Gill, and Beth Rodgers

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474433907

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474433907.001.0001

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Gender and Genre in Reviews of the Theological Novel

Gender and Genre in Reviews of the Theological Novel

(p.442) 27 Gender and Genre in Reviews of the Theological Novel
Women, Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s-1900s

Anne DeWitt

Edinburgh University Press

In this essay, Anne DeWitt focuses attention on the press reception of novels by Mrs Humphry Ward (1851–1920), whose writing career began at Macmillan’s Magazine (1859–1907) prior to her becoming one of the bestselling novelists of the 1880s. The gendering of the reception of Ward’s two theological novels, John Ward, Preacher (1887) and Robert Elsmere (1888), is bound up with broader concerns about women writers’ engagement with theology. As DeWitt explains, ‘Reviews of theological novels were a crucial site for the articulation of diverse and often opposed positions on the question of whether women could contribute to theology, and the related question of whether theological issues could be examined in fiction, especially fiction by women’ (p.443). Where some reviewers ‘stressed feminine inability to grapple with theology,’ others ‘often challenged female authors’ attempts to engage in theological debate’ (p. 445). Either way, the sheer volume of column inches devoted to the debate over Ward’s contribution to theological discourse accorded her work a ‘significant measure of intellectual respect’ and, ultimately, sales (p. 397).

Keywords:   Mrs Humphry Ward, Macmillan’s Magazine, theological novel, theology, reviews, reviewers

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