De Quincey and the Christian Experience: The Feeling of Struggle, Depravity, and Doubt
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Abstract The essayist Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) produced texts that span the literary periods the Romantic and Victorian and a major shift in the Church of England: he was an Evangelically educated youth and an emerging author when Evangelicalism was a sect, the 1790s-1830s, the Romantic period; and he was an established author when moderate Evangelicalism was the dominant force, the mid-1830s-1850s, the Victorian period. This dissertation argues that Romantic Evangelicalism and the belief in the divine component of the self, which would become central to Victorian Evangelicalism, shape De Quincey’s interpretation of the Christian experience. Like Romantic Evangelicalism, he situates depravity as the essential consideration; he extends the divine to humans, like Victorian Evangelicalism; and he identifies the struggle between the depraved and the divine components of the self as a defining characteristic of the Christian experience, establishing a duality that emphasises depravity in a way that approaches Romantic Evangelicalism. The body chapters contend that if De Quincey employs a version of Romantic Evangelicalism’s interpretation of the Christian experience—experience as the feeling of struggle, depravity, and doubt—key texts will be marked by the absence of the divine component and the positive experience of God’s love, and they will contain doubt about the self, other humans, and a loving God. These key texts include the texts on Christianity (1839-1846); the texts on the literature of power, “Letters to a Young Man Whose Education has been Neglected” (1823) and “The Works of Alexander Pope” (1848); the famous autobiographical texts, Confessions of an English-Opium Eater, “Suspiria De Profundis,” and “The English Mail-Coach”; the ground-breaking texts on Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1834-1835); and the texts “Joan of Arc” (1847) and “The Nautico-Military Nun of Spain” (1847), which he ranked highly among all his texts. The body chapters also consider the role of addiction in shaping De Quincey’s interpretation of the Christian experience. The second chapter addresses Evangelical education, the third the literature of power, the fourth the civil war of the self, the fifth doubt in a loving God, and the sixth despair at and hope in Providence.