Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



A critical approach to understanding the analytical power of realism and its representational claims in the late nineteenth-century is to examine the relationship between realism and a common cultural concern that opposes the very tenets of realism, one that necessarily pervaded all aspects of class, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, or other classifiable subsets of society typically linked with various schools of literary theory: the subject of religion. In fact, religion, with its disembodied immaterialism, surely the antithesis of realism, represents a unique cultural problem that tests the conceptual biases of the realist mode. One basic issue is that religion itself is a nebulous concept that resists neat explanation in American culture. One might ask what are the ways in which religion was perceived, whether it be considered in relation to a system of ethics, law, or religious practices, or more abstractly, in relation to spiritualism, idealism, or supernaturalism? Can such a metaphysical concept even be located in realist writing and how do realist writers materialize it, particularly in relation to social ethics, an inherent concern of realist writing? Changes in economics, industry, race, and immigration necessarily affected the religious culture of America, and realism, as a literary mode, should be well-suited to capturing such sociological changes; nevertheless, religion in realism is intensely problematic, particularly since realist writers were reacting against earlier modes of sentimental and religious fiction. Examining how prominent practitioners of realism dealt with the religious subject will shed a new understanding on the practice of literary realism as a critical mode and address competing claims of textual authority in relation to the Bible and the realist text in the mediation of social ethics. This project comprises six chapters, which are: 1) Introduction to Religion and Realism: “Let Fiction Cease to Lie”; 2) Rebecca Harding Davis and Sentimental Literary Realism; 3) William Dean Howells as Writer and Critic of American Literary Realism; 4) Mark Twain and the Bible: “I See It Warn’t Nothing but a Dictionary”; 5) Harold Frederic and Realism: The Damnation of Religion; and 6) Conclusion.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Kennedy, J. Gerald