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From the editor.

In this issue, we are pleased to publish four essays that focus on the relation between women, faith, and writing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century England, France, and America. The essays focus on poetry and fiction and explore the themes of transgression, incarnation, spirituality, sexuality, and the relation of the female artist / writer / poet to literary and religious tradition.

In her essay, "'Mine Earthly Heart Should Dare': Elizabeth Barrett's Devotional Poetry" Heather Shippen Cianciola examines Barrett's 1838 volume, The Seraphim and Other Poems. Barrett's willingness to challenge the poetic and religious establishments by publishing poetry in the devotional mode reveals her courage, conviction, and talent. In her "Preface" to The Seraphim, Barrett questions Samuel Johnson's influential argument that religious poetry was not "poetical:' In doing so, Barrett not only pushes the boundaries of poetic discourse, she also carves out new ground for female poets. Barrett daringly injects the sacred into her poetry, despite the social mores of her time that excluded women from theological discourse. The very title of her collection, The Seraphim, claims the sacred as subject matter. Barrett's call for a new language in poetry and her implied critique of gender discrimination provided a groundbreaking path for generations of women writers.

Tracing the influence of Alphonse de Lamartine upon Therese of Lisieux, Mary Frances Dorschell argues that Therese both absorbed and transformed Romantic themes into her own spiritual vision, a vision deeply inflected by her faith. Raised in a pious Catholic household, Therese would listen to her father, Louis Martin, sing and recite poetry each evening. Lamartine's book of poems, Meditations poetiques, was one of his favorites. Dorschell argues that Therese was influenced by these poems and by Romantic poetic tradition, but that Therese's very different understanding of God, of nature, and of love resulted in a poetry that comes out of the Romantic tradition, yet is more akin to the Song of Songs or the work of St. John of the Cross. Because Therese lived a cloistered life in a Carmelite Monastery, her poetry re-envisions relationships between lovers as those between Christ and his bride (Therese), the natural world, time, and the afterlife.

The "split between body and soul" that Edith Wharton deplores in the religious practices of her time is at the heart of Laura E. Rutland's examination of Wharton's novel Summer. Charity, the novel's main character, is raised by a guardian whose initial motive is to rescue Charity from poverty. As the novel ends, however, Charity, pregnant with the child of her lover, marries her guardian. Rutland explores the hypocrisy and spiritual bankruptcy of the community that surrounds Charity. The sight of her mother's corpse "becomes a terrifying word" for Charity, a word that signifies extreme poverty, suffering, and death; after the funeral, Charity decides to marry her guardian. Like her mother, Charity makes the ultimate sacrifice so that her child may have a better life.

George Eliot's writing signifies her "dual commitment" to represent ordinary life and beauty connected to "deep human sympathy." Marilyn Orr, in her essay, "Incarnation, Inwardness, and Imagination: George Eliot's Early Fiction" shows the ways in which Eliot's "complex understanding of the doctrine of incarnation" inflects Eliot's early work. Although Eliot was not a confirmed believer, it is possible to understand her work as deeply engaged in questions of faith. Using Kathleen Norris's definition of incarnation, Orr traces Eliot's struggles over its "implications" in Eliot's life and work, then turns to the theme of "inwardness" in Eliot's fiction, an inwardness that alters the reader's sensibility resulting in an "increased moral sensitivity"

There is much to ponder in these essays about the relation of the woman writer to her material, to her culture, and to religious tradition. Elizabeth Barrett helped to make possible the opening of minds that would later enable George Eliot to become one of the major writers of the late nineteenth century. Therese would reshape the French Romantic tradition to express her relation to God. Edith Wharton, like Barrett, would offer a critique of society that calls into question the hollowness of institutional religious practice. Each of these writers, in her own way, allows us to understand the relation between Christianity and literature more deeply.

As does the work of Marilynne Robinson, especially in her most recent novels Gilead and Home. In December 2008, Ms. Robinson was awarded the CCL Lifetime Achievement Award; in this issue, we are pleased and honored to present Rebecca Painter's revealing interview with Ms. Robinson, one of the finest novelists of our time.
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Author:Mullins, Maire
Publication:Christianity and Literature
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 22, 2009
Words:749
Previous Article:The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar: Redeeming the Soul, Redeeming the Mind.
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