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Imagining Methodism in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Enthusiasm, Belief, and the Borders of the Self

Misty G. Anderson

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In the eighteenth century, British Methodism was an object of both derision and desire. Many popular eighteenth-century works ridiculed Methodists, yet often the very same plays, novels, and prints that cast Methodists as primitive, irrational, or deluded also betrayed a thinly cloaked fascination with the experiences of divine presence attributed to the new evangelical movement. Misty G. Anderson argues that writers, actors, and artists used Methodism as a concept to interrogate the boundaries of the self and the fluid relationships between religion and literature, between reason and...

In the eighteenth century, British Methodism was an object of both derision and desire. Many popular eighteenth-century works ridiculed Methodists, yet often the very same plays, novels, and prints that cast Methodists as primitive, irrational, or deluded also betrayed a thinly cloaked fascination with the experiences of divine presence attributed to the new evangelical movement. Misty G. Anderson argues that writers, actors, and artists used Methodism as a concept to interrogate the boundaries of the self and the fluid relationships between religion and literature, between reason and enthusiasm, and between theater and belief.

Imagining Methodism situates works by Henry Fielding, John Cleland, Samuel Foote, William Hogarth, Horace Walpole, Tobias Smollett, and others alongside the contributions of John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield in order to understand how Methodism's brand of "experimental religion" was both born of the modern world and perceived as a threat to it.

Anderson's analysis of reactions to Methodism exposes a complicated interlocking picture of the religious and the secular, terms less transparent than they seem in current critical usage. Her argument is not about the lives of eighteenth-century Methodists; rather, it is about Methodism as it was imagined in the work of eighteenth-century British writers and artists, where it served as a sign of sexual, cognitive, and social danger. By situating satiric images of Methodists in their popular contexts, she recaptures a vigorous cultural debate over the domains of religion and literature in the modern British imagination.

Rich in cultural and literary analysis, Anderson's argument will be of interest to students and scholars of the eighteenth century, religious studies, theater, and the history of gender.

Reviews

Reviews

The fruit of wide and perceptive reading, Imagining Methodism is not only forensically incisive, but (as one might expect from a Professor of English) written in a readable and pithy style with some nice turns of phrase. She has tapped and mastered a considerable range of relevant literature, historic and contemporary... Imagining Methodism brings refreshing and challenging insights to the area.

Anderson's prose is witty, and she brings welcome rigor to a collection of squibs, rants, and sermons too often dismissed as incapable of sustaining serious thought. This is an important intervention—Imagining Methodism in Eighteenth-Century Britain will need to be reckoned with by all students of 'spirituality', enthusiasm', and 'secularity' in the long eighteenth century.

...[T]he range of sources Ms. Anderson brings to her study is impressive, as is her ability to navigate between the anti-Methodist literature and the philosophical discussions during the period.

This is both a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration, scrutinizing the ways in which perceptions of Methodism 'worked' in the British imagination...

Perhaps the highest praise I have for Anderson's worthy volume is that it prompts reflection on not just eighteenth- but also twenty-first-century strategies for performing secular statehood.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
296
ISBN
9781421404806
Illustration Description
21 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Longing to Believe: Methodism and Modernity
1. Historicizing Methodism
2. The New Man: Desire, Transformation, and the Methodist Body
3. Words Made Flesh: Fanny Hill and the

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Longing to Believe: Methodism and Modernity
1. Historicizing Methodism
2. The New Man: Desire, Transformation, and the Methodist Body
3. Words Made Flesh: Fanny Hill and the Language of Passion
4. Actors and Ghosts: Methodism in the Theater of the Real
5. "My Lord, My Love": The Performance of Public Intimacy and the Methodist Hymn
6. A Usable Past: Reconciliation in Humphry Clinker and The Spiritual Quixote
Afterword: 1778 and Beyond
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Misty G. Anderson

Misty G. Anderson is an associate professor of English at the University of Tennessee and author of Female Playwrights and Eighteenth-Century Comedy: Negotiating Marriage on the London Stage.