Cruise, Colin (1986) Oscar Wilde and Frederick Rolfe: two Catholic converts in 1890s' english literature. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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This thesis begins with an examination of a theme crucial to the understanding of the role of Catholicism - its drawbacks and attractions - for the English would-be convert. I choose to look initially at two converts, Thomas Arnold jnr and 'John Oliver Hobbes', one a predecessor, the other a contemporary of Wilde and Rolfe. In their work the theme of truth is important because, I claim, they are reacting to the chief prejudice against Catholics in 19th century England.
From this examination I turn to my two main subjects separately, beginning with the work of Oscar Wilde. My starting point is in the fascination that truth has for Wilde. I concentrate on three works: The Sphinx, which introduces ideas of duality: the spiritual and the physical, Dorian Gray, which further develops these themes, and the short 'soul' stories in which I see Wilde preoccupied by duality and the separation of the soul from the body. In these works I stress Wilde's borrowing from both classical and Christian traditions. I bring these observations to bear upon my analysis of De Profundis and Wilde's identification with Christ as the Man of Sorrows.
In looking at Rolfe my starting point is again truth. I take each of the major novels and see that Rolfe's awareness of his own truthfulness is in opposition to the prevailing feeling in England of the inherent untruthfulness of Catholicism. Rolfe is at pains, I claim, to invent a personalized Catholicism in which he draws, like Wilde, on classical mythology to unite his English Protestant background to the 'foreign' elements of Catholicism. The key to this process I find in Hadrian the Seventh and with it I unlock the Toto stories and the complexities of Don Renato and The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, in which a personal vision of Catholicism is given a universal application and which unites the duality of soul and body.
I append a chapter on John Gray and Aubrey Beardsley in which I take up points covered in my writing on Wilde and Rolfe. I see similarities in their approaches to the problem of individual conversion to Catholicism in the 1890s.
The thesis seeks to show that there are similarities in the writings of Wilde and Rolfe which are connected to their religious beliefs: attitudes to truth and to continuity in religious beliefs from classical antiquity which finds expression in Catholicism. Conversion allows these writers to reconstruct their identities in a society hostile to them as individuals. I attempt to complete this argument by claiming that the personality reconstruction, by Wilde in De Profundis and by Rolfe in the autobiographical sketches in his novels, unites both men in a new, hybrid, aesthetic Catholicism.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Contributors: Gomme, Andor (Thesis advisor)
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2019 10:08
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2019 10:08

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