Literary Criticism

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Figures of Heresy

Radical Theology in English and American Writing, 1800–2000

Author Text to Follow

‘God is dead’, Nietzsche famously declared in The Gay Science; but this book will investigate God’s surprising persistence and resurrection in the works of even the most seemingly atheistic of writers, who continue to deploy Judaic and Christian narratives and tropes even as they radically rewrite them in the face of new cultural, political and scientific imperatives.

Contributors explore the range, power and implication of Christian and Jewish heresies in canonical Anglo-American writers – including Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, T. S. Eliot, John Steinbeck and Jim Crace – as well as in some less familiar texts: the Mormon Scriptures of Joseph Smith and various Victorian rewritings of the Book of Esther. A polemical essay by Michelene Wandor reflects on conceptions of Jewishness, which she finds in need of heretical renewal. Valentine Cunningham’s provocative introduction argues that the acts of literary writing and reading are necessarily heretical.

A coda to the book, ‘Between Heresy and Superstition’, takes as its motto Thomas Huxley’s observation in 1881 that ‘It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.’ Contributions offer readers a rare opportunity of witnessing an extended academic exchange – exploring the process by which former heresies may indeed risk ossification as new kinds of doctrinal conformity. In debating the politics and theology of Bob Dylan’s “Christian Albums”, Bryan Cheyette and Kevin Mills also raise important questions of orthodoxy and dissent in our critical practice. The revitalisation of heresy in literary interpretations, as well as in our religious thinking, forms the guiding objective of this exciting critical book.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-026-2
Hardback Price: £47.50 / $67.50
Release Date: November 2005
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



The Contributors

Introduction:The Necessity of Heresy
Valentine Cunningham

I Angels of the Odd

1. Christianity for the Multiverse: The Uses of Heresy in the Writings of Joseph Smith
Martin Corner

2. On Cosmology, Heresy, Abbott and Poe
Jonathan Taylor

3. Theological Legacies: Jews, Heresy, Race
Jo Carruthers

4. Hardy the Heretic and Jude the Obscure: Reciting the Bible, Reforming the Church and Refiguring Jesus
Terry R. Wright

5. Stevenson’s The Ebb-Tide: Missionary Endeavour in the Islands of Light
Roger Ebbatson

6. T. S. Eliot’s Brown God
Amanda Dackombe

7. “Curiousest grace I ever heerd”: Christian and Marxist Heresies in The Grapes of Wrath
Andrew Dix

8. “So, here, be well again”: The Human/Divine Body of Jesus in Jim Crace’s Quarantine
Andrew Tate

9. “Will the Hebrew turn Christian?”: Jewishness, Identity and Cultural Appropriation
Michelene Wandor

II Coda: Bob Dylan between Heresy and Superstition

10. On the “D” Train: Bob Dylan’s Conversions
Bryan Cheyette

11. Bob Dylan’s “Broke Down Engine”: A Response to Bryan Cheyette
Kevin Mills

12. Secular and Religious Criticism: A Reply to Kevin Mills
Bryan Cheyette


Taking its cue from Valentine Cunningham’s excellent introductory essay on the necessity of heresy, this volume is far more than simply a collection of essays around a common theme. Rather it is a series of interrelated exercises in the study of literature and theology, recognizing the underlying hermeneutical issue and problem – that as all reading involves making choices, therefore all reading is, in a true sense, heretical. Furthermore, in the wide range of texts addressed – from Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon, to the novels of Thomas Hardy, R. L. Stevenson, John Steinbeck and Jim Crace, the poetry of T. S. Eliot and the lyrics of Bob Dylan, and more – and in the crossing of boundaries between the Christian and the Jewish, these essays explore the issues of openness and closure, of movements from heresy to orthodoxy, and the way in which the forms of literature can both replicate and disturb the forms of theological doctrine. It is to be highly recommended as a serious and innovative contribution to contemporary debates about theology and literature.
David Jasper, Professor of Literature and Theology, University of Glasgow

A spirited and variegated set of essays, ranging from Mormon founder John Smith to convert Bob Dylan, showing convincingly how close heresy and orthodoxy may be in radical thinkers, as well as how intricately and passionately the literary imagination tries to reclaim from dogmatic religion what it considers to be its own domain.
Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, Yale University

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