A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians

A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians

by Timothy Larsen
     
 

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Although the Victorians were awash in texts, the Bible was such a pervasive and dominant presence that they may fittingly be thought of as 'a people of one book'. They habitually read the Bible, quoted it, adopted its phraseology as their own, thought in its categories, and viewed their own lives and experiences through a scriptural lens. This astonishingly deep,… See more details below

Overview

Although the Victorians were awash in texts, the Bible was such a pervasive and dominant presence that they may fittingly be thought of as 'a people of one book'. They habitually read the Bible, quoted it, adopted its phraseology as their own, thought in its categories, and viewed their own lives and experiences through a scriptural lens. This astonishingly deep, relentless, and resonant engagement with the Bible was true across the religious spectrum from Catholics to Unitarians
and beyond.

The scripture-saturated culture of nineteenth-century England is displayed by Timothy Larsen in a series of lively case studies of representative figures ranging from the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry to the liberal Anglican pioneer of nursing Florence Nightingale to the Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon to the Jewish author Grace Aguilar. Even the agnostic man of science T. H. Huxley and the atheist leaders Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were thoroughly and profoundly preoccupied
with the Bible.

Serving as a tour of the diversity and variety of nineteenth-century views, Larsen's study presents the distinctive beliefs and practices of all the major Victorian religious and sceptical traditions from Anglo-Catholics to the Salvation Army to Spiritualism, while simultaneously drawing out their common, shared culture as a people of one book.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Larsen's careful research and accessible style will make this one of the classic works on the period for many years to come." —American Historical Review

"A learned and engaging book." —Journal of Modern History

"Larsen's book provides a well-researched study of the range of Victorian approaches to the Bible, enabling readers to grasp its centrality in private devotions, family worship, preaching, and public life."—International Bulletin of Missionary Research

"The contemporary lack of biblical knowledge in Western societies is not fully appreciated until contrasted with another era when familiarity with the Bible was commonplace even among the fiercest critics of religion. In this insightful and well-researched volume, Larsen provides such a vantage point by exploring the prominence of the Bible in the cultural milieu of nineteenth-century Great Britain. . . . Larsen elucidates the place of the Bible in the lives of both believers and nonbelievers, and he convincingly argues that the biblical text functioned as the dominant cultural reference point for the Victorians."—Religious Studies Review

"Larsen's book brilliantly and engagingly illuminates the extent to which the Victorians were 'a people of one book' by exploring the hold of the Bible in the lives and writings of 12 representative figures. Commendably and refreshingly more than half his case studies are of women."—History Today

"In this compelling volume, Larsen strives to reclaim the Bible as a central text among Victorians... Larsen helps us to consider them [Victorian stories] wih fresh perspective." —Journal of British Studies

"This adroitly constructed work demonstrates the centrality of Scripture to nineteenth-century England, tracing this through the representatives of the rival traditions of Victorian Christianity and its critics, with a particular emphasis on women. . . . Here is a salutary reminder to historians of the Victorian era that they may know little about the Bible which was the very foundation of the culture that they are studying: a little like researchers of ancient Rome not knowing Latin."—Journal of Theological Studies

"In this superb book [Timothy Larsen] . . . challenges our assumptions, breathes new life into a stale historiographical orthodoxy and paves the way for important future research. That's quite a hat-trick but even more impressive is the fact that his book is sufficiently witty and accessible to appeal to a very broad readership. . . . This is an outstanding book. The biographical studies are pithy, the learning is worn lightly, and many lazy assumptions are punctured."—Catholic Herald

". . . An exceptionally rich and nuanced account. . . "—Christianity Today, five star review

"These chapters not only shed fascinating light on the people considered, together they provide a valuable overview of the religious history of 19th century Britain. . . . Larsen has something fresh and original to say about everyone he discusses."—The Church of England Newspaper

"...an exceptionally rich and nuanced account..."—John Wilson, Christianity Today

"...Larsen amply demonstrates the ubiquity of Biblical language even in the work of those who most distrusted or deplored the messages they found in the scriptures."—Elisabeth Jay, Literature & Theology

"This splendid volume on the religious thought of the Victorians . . . is hardly less extraordinary than the Book of which it speaks and the people who derived 'their common cultural currency' from the Book."—Heythrop Journal

"...insightful...well-balanced, Larsen critiques not only men and women, but also representatives works of people from many different theological and intellectual persuasions."—CHOICE

"A People of One Book is far-ranging. Larsen has chapters on what a vital role the Bible played among Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, Methodists, Quakers, Unitarians, Dissenters, Agnostics, even Atheists. And what is more impressive, he manages to show each of these different traditions true critical sympathy."—The Weekly Standard

"A People of One Book issues a compelling call not to ignore the Bible's role in shaping the thought and expression of Victorians of all persuasions from devout to skeptical. Presenting deeply informed but not pedantic close readings of archival as well as published material, it asks us not to set aside their Bible reading as ancillary, unsophisticated, and unimportant to their public and private lives. Rather, Larsen invites us to let the figures speak for themselves, to hear them as they give emphatic pride of place to the Bible in their thought and lives."—Fides et Historia

"This book will be much appreciated by anyone interested in the religious world of nineteenth-century Britain."—The Historian

"Larsen's research is impressively detailed, and this, combined with a genuine skill in writing his subjects, makes Larsen's study a fascinating personal account of Victorian public and religious figures."—New Blackfriars

"In this excellent study the author succeeds in displaying the sheer variety of ways in which the Bible permeated Victorian life and thought. His chosen methodology is to provide case studies of 'representative' figures from a wide range of religious and sceptical traditions, and the results are hugely rewarding...Larsen has given us a rich work which shows how Victorian culture and society was characterised by its 'sustained engagement with this singular text'."—Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"A worthwhile project by a prolific and insightful scholar. Many of us have probably grown skeptical of the promotional language on dust jackets, but, in this case, the claim that the book is a story of religious "diversity" told through a "series of lively case studies" is not far off the mark."—The Catholic Historical Review

"This is a powerful book, engagingly and often amusingly written."—Brian Stanley, Expository Times

"This book will be much appreciated by anyone interested in the religious world of nineteenth-century Britain."—The Historian

"Larsen defends his choices well...the book adds another dimension to our knowledge."—Church History

"Larsen's study of the Bible in Victorian England defends a compelling thesis with professional historical research and meticulous detail." —Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"This is a rich and thoroughly enjoyable book." —English Historical Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780191614330
Publisher:
OUP Oxford
Publication date:
01/27/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
4 MB

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Meet the Author

Timothy Larsen is McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has been a Visiting Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books including Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford University Press), which was named Book of the Year by Books & Culture.

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