Transatlantic Anti-Catholicism: France and the United States in the Nineteenth Century.
Discussions of transatlantic anti-Catholicism usually stress the shared religious and political interests of Protestants in England and the United States during the nineteenth century. Making a case for anti-Catholic cooperation between French and American citizens is much less common, due in large part to the historical, linguistic, and religious barriers that seem to block the possibility for such an ideological bond. In his book Transatlantic Anti-Catholicism." France and the United States in the Nineteenth Century, Timothy Verhoeven makes the convincing argument that there was indeed room for some residents of France and the United States to corroborate their disdain for Catholicism, especially in the context of print culture, and disclose similarly gendered anxieties about national identity.
The documentary evidence for Transatlantic Anti-Catholicism is comprised almost entirely of published books, magazines, journals, and newspapers. The result is an extensive catalog of anti-Catholic literature that reached literate audiences in both the United States and France during the nineteenth century. Underlying Verhoeven's literary analysis is an emphasis on the gendered content of anti-Catholic media that was "often construed in terms of femininity, masculinity, and domesticity" (14). Verhoeven introduces his bi-partite interest in literature and gender by telling the story of Father Hyacinthe, a French Carmelite monk who became a national sensation in the United States in 1869 after he abandoned the priesthood and spoke against the Catholic Church's promotion of ecclesiastical celibacy. Then, in a sweeping if somewhat convoluted first chapter, Verhoeven sprints through a panoply of American and French intellectuals--Samuel F. B. Morse, Robert Baird, Jules Michelet, Martin John Spalding, Orestes Brownson, Edouard Laboulaye, William Ellery Channing, Fe1icite Lammenais, and Charles Montalembert, to name a few--who "formed the basis of what might be termed the Transatlantic case against the Church" (55).
For the remainder of the book, Verhoeven uses four case studies to reinforce the claim that anti-Catholicism, like Catholicism, was a transnational movement that brought some French and American intellectuals into some agreement over the dangers of the Catholic Church. First, Verhoeven points to the so-called Mortara Affair of 1858, which involved the Vatican forcibly removing a six-year-old boy who had supposedly undergone Catholic baptism from his adopted Jewish family in Bologna. A rhetoric of enslavement and domesticity permeated anti-Catholic literature in the United States and France as a result of this event, with the Catholic Church assuming the role of slave master and home wrecker. Second, Verhoeven examines how French and American doctors opposed ecclesiastical celibacy on medical and ideological grounds. "The priest stricken with seminal emissions, or the nun prey to hysteric fits," anti-Catholic doctors of the nineteenth century agreed, "served to underline the perverse nature of Catholicism" (88). Third, in writings about the "Jesuit menace," Verhoeven finds American and French portrayals of the Jesuit as an androgynous servant of the Catholic Church with both masculine and feminine characteristics. Based on the sources, Jesuits enjoyed "an aura of potent manliness" and martial power underneath a veil of "passivity and subservience" to the pope (103). Verhoeven makes a fourth and final case for transatlantic anti-Catholicism by recounting the French and American coverage of the supposed captivity of Barbara Ubryk in an Austrian convent in 1869. The Ubryk expose was not unlike the well-known case of the Canadian Maria Monk in its description of the Catholic convent as a site of imprisonment, punishment, and sexual perversion.
Verhoeven concludes Transatlantic Anti-Catholicism by recounting the controversy of papal infallibility in the First Vatican Council and by returning to the provocative tale of Father Hyacinthe's estrangement from the Catholic Church and marriage to an American widow. Indeed, one of the chief strengths of the book is Verhoeven's ability to bracket the history of Franco-American anti-Catholicism with a discussion of how the case of Father Hyacinthe encapsulated many of the gendered themes that run throughout the rest of the chapters. Verhoeven's insight into how Protestant Americans and anticlerical French republicans shared a discourse of suspicion and contempt for Catholicism is another significant contribution to the study of religion and transnationalism. But perhaps most important of all, Verhoeven proves that the development of an anti-Catholic tradition in the United States (less so in France) was susceptible to international conventions for imagining and attacking the Catholic Church.
Louisiana State University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2011|
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