Throughout the nineteenth century, religious identity, national identity, and domesticity converge in the depiction of broken homes, foreign invaders, and homeless converts which abound in anti-Catholic literature. This literature imagines conversion to Roman or Anglo-Catholicism as simultaneously threatening the English home and the English nation through the adoption of the anti-domestic practices of celibacy and monasticism. However, constructions of conversion as a rejection of domesticity and English identity were not limited to anti-Catholic propaganda: mainstream novelists made use of stock anti-Catholic tropes for rather more complicated purposes. In light of this convergence between religion, nation, and home, this dissertation explores novels by John Henry Newman, Margaret Oliphant, Charlotte Yonge, and Charlotte BrontÌÇ in the context of mid-century journal and newspaper articles, court cases, religious tracts and popular anti-Catholic fiction.
I argue that in literature concerned with Catholic conversion and the Tractarian movement, the trope of finding a home became a tool for imagining new domestic, religious, and national communities. Victorian constructions of English national identity and domesticity were always mutually constitutive, as domesticity was understood to be one of the identifying markers of “Englishness," while the home served as a microcosm of the nation. At the same time, as recent critics have shown, religious identity was an essential part of English national identity, and anti-Catholic literature used Roman Catholicism as an Other against which to construct a Protestant and domestic English identity. Pro-Catholic or pro-Tractarian novels, on the other hand, often sought to reshape English national identity, incorporating alternative versions of domesticity and alternative conceptions of the role of the church.
While religion and domesticity are both firmly connected to national identity, the literature of Roman Catholic or Tractarian conversion was also invested in constructing transnational identities. The concept of Catholicity offered mid-century novelists a means through which to explore the possibility of communities that transcended national and denominational boundaries. From Newman’s Catholic cosmopolitanism to Yonge’s view of the communion of saints, religious conceptions of the universal allowed mid-century authors a way to construct identities that, while remaining firmly grounded in English identity, also reached beyond it.