Mark Knight is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English & Creative Writing at Lancaster University. His research interest focuses on the intersection between religion and literature, particularly the literature of the nineteenth century. His 2009 book, An Introduction to Religion and Literature, looks at essential tenets of Christian doctrine and theology through the lens of such diverse works as Paradise Lost, Frankenstein, Bleak House, Donne’s Holy Sonnets, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. His forthcoming monograph is entitled Good Words: Evangelicalism and the Victorian Novel.
His paper, “Wilde’s Uses of Religion,” looks at Wilde’s De Profundis as a theological text, arguing that the “uses” to which Wilde puts Christianity in terms of form and ritual aids in authenticating the beliefs themselves. This is opposed to previous scholarship that, in Knight’s view, does not take Wilde’s beliefs into as serious a consideration as it should. Ultimately, Knight argues that “using” religion—making practice, ritual, and social activity central to theological understanding—does not make it utilitarian, or strip from it the purity of its spiritual essence.
Oscar Wilde. Ravenna: Recited in the Theatre, Oxford, June 26, 1878. Oxford: Thos. Shrimpton and Son, 1878.
This volume contains the Oscar Wilde's inscription on the front cover: “Robert Browning./from/the author.”
Letter from Hugh Walker to [James Marchant]. 19 July 1905.
This letter refers to Walker’s article “The Birth of a Soul / Oscar Wilde: the Closing Phase,” from The Hibbert Journal, July 1905.
Charles Dickens. Bleak House. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1853.
Bleak House is considered by many scholars to be Dickens’s most mature, complex, and socially aware novel. In his Introduction to Religion and Literature, Mark Knight explains how this novel offers the greatest proof of Dickens’s Christian humanism through Esther and John Jarndyce’s semi-Gnostic belief “that salvation is revealed to the spiritual element of humanity and that the material world is fallen and incapable of redemption” (59). According to Knight, this "confidence in an unmediated spiritual feeling" is best illustrated by Esther’s praise of Allan Woodcourt,
We spoke of Richard and Ada the whole way. I did not thank him, in words, for what he had done—my appreciation of it had risen above all words then—but I hoped he might not be without some understanding of what I felt so strongly.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Robert Browning. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1906 [c1903].
In Chesterton and Evil, Mark Knight argues that one of the reasons for Chesterton’s apparent marginalization in Academia and academic writing is the difficulty scholars have in categorizing his work. To many academics, Chesterton defies categorization; and as we can see from the introduction to this text (annotated by Dr. A.J. Armstrong, founder of the Armstrong Browning Library), Chesterton felt the same way about Browning,
It was a lucid and public and yet quiet life, which culminated in one great dramatic test of character, and then fell back again into this union of quietude and publicity . . . . His work has the mystery which belongs to the complex; his life the much greater mystery which belongs to the simple.
Oscar Wilde. Salome: A Play. New York: For the trade, 1907.
Of Oscar Wilde, Mark Knight argues that not nearly enough attention is paid to the writer’s faith. Of particular interest to Knight is Wilde’s much-debated return to Catholicism during his imprisonment. As a fin-de-siècle re-interpretation of a biblical story (in which much of the original is changed), we might ask if Wilde is “using” religion to promote his own personal views. Yet, Knight may argue that the form of the play itself may be much more religious than the casual reader imagines. Regarding Salome, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has this to say,
…the play was banned from performance by the lord chamberlain for infringing protestant Reformation legislation against medieval miracle or otherwise religious plays. The play's censor, Edward Frederick Smyth Pigott (1824–1895), was in no doubt that however pagan Wilde might currently be feeling, he was too Catholic to be staged. That the play was in French no doubt made matters worse: that was half-way to Latin.
Julia Wedgwood. John Wesley and the Evangelical Reaction of the Eighteenth Century. London: MacMillan and Co., 1870.
In Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature, An Introduction, Mark Knight and Emma Mason trace the movements of and variations on Anglican Dissent that occurred throughout the era. The text mentions Wesley’s conversion as a “momentous event in the preacher’s life” (31). It is the description of this conversion experience that we find in Wedgwood’s biography,
It was during this Oxford visit that Wesley underwent that change which in the phraseology of his school is denominated ‘conviction of sin,’ that he awoke, we should say, to a sense of his immediate need of some supernatural influence such as the spirit of the time had removed to a region beyond the grave.
- Exhibition Text by Chris Dickinson