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Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Matthew Rowlinson


In this project, I argue that during the late-Victorian period a revived form of paganism developed in response to an emerging kind of secularity. My first chapter engages post-secularism as a framework for understanding how paganism responds to this new sense of secularity, which I demonstrate formed alongside developments in geology, archaeology, and anthropology. In chapter two, I show how ideas of “primitivity” and “animism” put forth by John Lubbock and E. B. Tylor influence what Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater debate as “the pagan sentiment.” The rest of the project concerns forms of what I call “pagan affectations,” authorial personae which cultivate counter-secular, pagan modes of subjectivity that make room for kinds of feelings such as ecstasy, “primitivity,” and a sense of immersion in an ecology of animistic agencies. Chapter three situates the popularity of the goat-god Pan within this developing paganism. I argue that Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen, and George Egerton offer Pan as an icon of competing pagan masculinities within the context of the contrast between Victorian secular ways of being worldly and pagan revivalist ways of being earthly I set out in the previous chapter. My fourth chapter examines how Richard Jefferies adopts and adapts a unique form of pagan affectation. I argue that Jefferies affects a paganism grounded in intimate connections to the Wiltshire landscape that is in conflict with Victorian secularist ideas of archaeological and ecological relationality. Chapters five, six, and seven turn to questions of “Celticity” and the Victorian racialization of Celtic peoples. In these chapters I focus on Robert Louis Stevenson’s engagement with Celticity and the ways in which he challenges Anglo-Saxonist claims of aesthetic and epistemic superiority. I argue that Stevenson queries Celticity as a means of access to a deeper, transancestral Paterian “universal pagan sentiment.” Throughout these chapters, I will also demonstrate the importance of affectations of pagan Celticity to his genre fiction, style, and theories of Romance. Overall, my research contributes to Victorian scholarship by showing how creative writers from the 1860s to the 1890s participated in the revival of paganism in ways that respond to and challenge Victorian secularity.

Summary for Lay Audience

My research focuses on the revival of paganism in Victorian literature. I demonstrate the ways in which Richard Jefferies and Robert Louis Stevenson leverage the iconography and themes of paganism against emerging Victorian ideas of secularity. The specific form of paganism I discuss drew upon traditional notions of ancient myth and spirituality, while also incorporating contemporary understandings of native British forms of prehistoric “animism.” My project contributes to scholarship in my field by locating paganism as a reaction to Victorian secularity and, specifically, by tracing how writers associated with pagan revivalism developed unique creative projects by engaging with contemporary archaeology, anthropology, and racial "science." Pagan revivalists both participated in and challenged these assertions by championing “prehistoric” modes of feeling and experience over and against Victorian secularity. Throughout, I explore the importance of pagan revivalism to Victorian concerns with gender, human-ecological relationality, the reception of the prehistoric past, and new notions of “race.” I begin by surveying traditional notions of the “secular” and “secularization,” which I demonstrate historically re-invoke fallacious paganisms as a foil to changing ideas of secular worldliness. Then, I delve into the works of Victorian archaeologists and anthropologists to present prehistoric pagan “animism” as yet another form of pagan falsehood, but one which appeals to revivalists as a counter-secular way of being earthly. I explore the ways in which this form of animistic paganism catches hold in the imagination of Walter Pater, Richard Jefferies, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I show the importance of this clash between secular worldliness and pagan earthliness in famous texts such as Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance; Jefferies’ Wood Magic, The Story of My Heart and After London; or Wild England; and well-known books by Stevenson such as Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and lesser-known works such as his folk horror stories “Thrawn Janet” and “The Merry Men.”

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.