This is a critical study of the reinscription of biblical parables in Victorian realist fiction. The familiar stories of the good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and Lazarus and the Rich Man were part of the cultural currency in the nineteenth century, and Victorian authors drew upon the figures and plots of biblical parables for a variety of authoritative, interpretive, and subversive effects. However, scholars of parables in literature have often overlooked the 19th-century novel, assuming that realism - the fiction of the probable and the commonplace - bears no relation to the subversive, iconoclastic genre of parable. But the Victorian literary engagement with the parable genre was not merely a matter of the useful or telling allusion. Susan E. Colon shows that authors such as Charles Dickens, Margaret Oliphant, and Charlotte Yonge appreciated the power of parables to deliver an ethical charge that was as unexpected as it was disruptive to conventional moral complacency.
Against the common assumption that the genres of realism and parable are polar opposites, this study explores how Victorian novels, despite their length, verisimilitude, and multi-plot complexity, can become parables in ways that imitate, interpret, and challenge their biblical sources. This series aims to showcase new work at the forefront of religion and literature through short studies written by leading and rising scholars in the field. Books will pursue a variety of theoretical approaches as they engage with writing from different religious and literary traditions. Collectively, the series will offer a timely critical intervention to the interdisciplinary crossover between religion and literature, speaking to wider contemporary interests and mapping out new directions for the field in the early twenty-first century.
Susan E. Colon is Associate Professor of Literature at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, USA. She is the author of The Professional Ideal in the Victorian Novel: The Works of Trollope, Disraeli, George Eliot, and Gaskell (Palgrave, 2007).
1. Parables and Literature; 2. Parables and Nineteenth-Century Literary History; 3. Realism and Parable in Charlotte Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe; 4. Prodigals and Pharisees: Waywardness in Oliphant's The Perpetual Curate; 5. "The Agent of a Superior": Stewardship Parables in Our Mutual Friend; References; Index.