Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism

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University of California Press, 1994 - Literary Criticism - 500 pages
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Roads to Rome is a cultural, literary, and religious history of Protestant attitudes toward Roman Catholicism in nineteenth-century America. Jenny Franchot recounts the response of native-born Protestant Americans toward the "foreign" practices of the "immigrant church" - a response characterized by both dramatic hostility and fascination. Franchot begins by analyzing romantic Protestant historiography; she includes an extended treatment of the century's major historians of American empire, William Hickling Prescott and Francis Parkman. Their stories of America's historical development returned obsessively to the question of Catholicism, as it was carried in the minds of cultures of Mesoamerican and North American Indians and as it manifested itself among the Europeans who came to conquer and convert them. From historical accounts of Catholicism and Indian captivity, Franchot turns to the hugely popular tales of convent incarceration, narrative exposes that spawned the mob destruction of an Ursuline convent outside Boston in 1834. Such improbable tales of Protestant "maidens" who escaped the lecherous tyranny of mother superiors and father confessors extend the tradition of the Indian captivity narrative into the ethnically, theologically, and sexually charged discourse of Protestant nativism - a development central to the captivity fiction of Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. The final two sections of Roads to Rome investigate the discourse of pro-Catholicism. Franchot discusses writers of the American - Stowe, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Lowell - who profoundly sympathized with "Romanism" and used its imaginative properties in producing their own fiction. She ends with a discussionof the lives and writings of four important converts to Catholicism, each of whom surveyed and negotiated the fraught terrain between "Romanism" and Roman Catholicism: Mother Elizabeth Seton, the first American-born woman saint; Sophia Ripley, who turned from Brook Farm utopianism to charitable works as a lay member of a Catholic sisterhood; Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers; and Orestes Brownson, who abandoned Unitarian Transcendalist circles and became a prominent critic of liberal Protestantism. The Catholic discourse these and other writers imposed on preexistent modes of perception and articulation yielded innovations that both paralleled and subverted those of American romanticism and utopian thought. Roads to Rome seeks to explain religious violence, artistic engagement, and finally psychological embrace by reconstructing the symbolic logic of antebellum Protestant attitudes toward Catholicism. In so doing, it contributes to our understanding of American national character as it was shaped by religious forces. These forces manifest themselves in powerful forms of popular expression - the riot and the best-seller - as well as in theological debate and arts and letters.

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About the author (1994)

Jenny Franchot is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.

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