The Ramonat Seminar: Catholic Fiction in the 19th Century

Hello everyone! I hope your new year was wonderful, and your holidays festive. You can view a full outline of what I and my cohort will be doing for the Ramonat Seminar this semester here.

Now, I come to the purpose of this blog post. Since reading a book entitled Faithful Passages: American Catholicism in Literary Culture, 1844–1931 by James Emmett Ryan (containing Catholic authors such as Jedediah (or Jedidiah) Vincent Huntington, Anna Hanson Dorsey & Mary Anne Sadlier), I’ve been really hooked on the idea of Catholic lit. Seeing as I’m a writer and am going to school so that I can write full time in the future, it’s no surprise this topic interests me so much! I’m a big fan of typography and book cover design, so used one version for Flowers of Love and Memory found below for the header image.

That all said, I’ve decided to study Catholic fiction literature, roughly around the time period spanning 1850 to 1890. I have not decided if I will do a selection of novels (which I’m leaning towards but would limit how many I can realistically read and analysis fully), or a combination of short stories and poetry (which I have found some examples of already). But, this broadly defined research topic brings up many questions still.


Flowers of Love and Memory

By: Mrs. Anna H. Dorsey

As much a I love the idea, a good research paper begins with a spark, then morphs into a concise question it seeks to answer. I have yet to find one topic to focus on. However, I have found many questions I feel can morph into central themes.

  1. How do the authors treat female characters and gender roles, in a medium seemingly dominated by (at least audience wise for popular fiction by today’s standards), and seemingly “corrupting” said group?
  2. What role does conversion to the Catholic church play with who writes and what they write about?
  3. Who was publishing Catholic authors? Were there more successful ventures than others and why is that?
  4. What made an author a “Catholic” writer? Did faith, the majority of their works subject matter, and so on play a role?
  5. And, finally, what was the political, social, environmental, etc. issues of the time? What about the literary atmosphere and general literacy rates? Who was reading and what were they reading? What might have been considered when writing to an audience? (Ex. Rising nativism so instilling a sense of belonging to the American tradition, Catholic exceptionalism, etc.)



Mary Anne Sadlier

In my preliminary research thus far to collect primary sources, I have found HathiTrust most useful for digital copies of the books. It is where I think I will find the bulk of my primary sources, especially if I end up concentrating on a few novels and authors in the end. Tomorrow, I will begin scanning this catalogue claiming to contain all published Catholic literature up to its time, in hopes of finding more fiction authors as well. I will be looking at Loyola’s own archives and shelves in the coming days (mostly for contemporary works aka secondary sources), and am just beginning to look to Notre Dame’s archives as a potential source of knowledge, and the Catholic Research Resources Alliance via the advise of my professor and peer.

I think my main struggle in the coming weeks will be deciding what my area of focus will be. Now that I know online versions of these books, etc. are still around, I am feeling a lot more content. By February 16th, I should have a tentative bibliography to go off of, with sources and the ways in which I will go about reading them outlined in a new post. You can follow the progress of my research paper on the blog (and leave comments if you have any tips or advice), as I update the first iteration along the way!

Till then, I leave you with a reading of The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin (who was raised Catholic but is disputable she remained so, and is more known for her feminist, etc. message than overtly “Catholic” tone). I do not know if she will be one of the people I study for many reasons but, she is the first successful “Catholic” author that comes to my mind as a non-Catholic.


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