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English 9099B
The Conventual Life:
Female Catholic Writers and the Consolidation of Roman Catholic Community, 1687-1829

Professor Coby Dowdell
Winter Half Course.

From Aphra Behn’s politically expedient celebrations of the Duke of Monmouth and Mary of Modena, to Jane Barker’s patchwork re-assemblage of post-1715 Jacobitism, to Sydney Owenson’s strangely pro-imperialist recuperation of Irish Catholic nationality, to Elizabeth Inchbald’s representation of the erstwhile libertine as Catholic priest, female Catholic authors negotiated the restrictions placed on their social, political, and cultural circulation by the male Protestant majority by adopting a rhetoric of political resistance modeled on the conventual lives of Roman Catholic nuns. This course considers the imaginative representation of the Catholic and of Catholicism by predominantly female adherents and critics during the Restoration and eighteenth century in an effort to balance Protestant representations of the so-called “Catholic menace” alongside ostensibly positive images of their faith and followers. What permitted British Catholic authors to capitalize on the paranoia and political terror of a Protestant public by forging a counter-public identity that appropriated prevailing views of Catholicism as “an unconquerable threat of externality, an unassimilable other”(Tumbleson, 1-2)? How did the Roman Catholic community of eighteenth-century England transform the foundational characteristics of “the Catholic Menace”(moral depravity, superstition/idolatry, dogmatic parorchialism, etc.) into a recuperative and salutary intra-national identity? ┬áContextualizing our discussion with attention to key historical developments from the Popish Plot (1678) to the Catholic Relief Act (1829), this course focuses on the prolific output of a predominantly female cohort of Catholic writers to ask a broad set of questions about Catholic identity as a gendered subject position, about the confluence of domesticity and conventual life, and about female sexuality as marker of religious/political affiliation, as a way of assessing how a society modeled on the conventual lives of Roman Catholic nuns might produce a viable and fully-operative counter-nation


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