The Problem of Pleasure: Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion

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Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2010 - History - 300 pages
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This book traces the rise and fall of the evangelical movement, the powerhouse of Victorian religion, via its preoccupation with pleasure. If an ability to excite 'the affections' enabled evangelicalism to transcend the inertia of eighteenth-century religion, a corresponding suspicion of 'worldly' pleasures slowly brought it down to earth. As instinctive suspicion developed into the set-piece hostility of the early nineteenth century, a movement premised on freedom became coercive and alienating. It was here, in the wounded conscience, that the crisis of Victorian religion began. It is generally held that the mid-Victorian turn to recreation and sport solved the problem, 'justifying God to the people' through the 'soft-hearted benevolence' of cricket, cycling and football. This book argues otherwise - that the problem of pleasure was inflamed by the ecclesiastical remedy. Just as the early Victorians came to identify sin with 'vice', their successors came to associate salvation with an increasingly social and physical sense of 'virtue'. The problem of overdrawn boundaries between church and world gave way to a new and subtle confusion of gospel and culture. Historians have praised the mood of engagement and adaptation but the costs were profound. Sport came as an invigorating tonic but it could neither sustain its new patrons nor fulfill the missionary task. Instead, it became the perfect vehicle for that humanistic, 'unmystical' morality that defines the secularity of the twentieth century. Secularisation did not wait for the Dionysian rebellions of the 1960s: it emerged - almost a hundred years earlier - in the Victorian transformation of religion into ethics. Central to the process was the problem of pleasure.

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