Introduction: Victorian Crusades Literature

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Introduction: Victorian Crusades Literature


In an 1840 article entitled "Chivalry and the Crusades," the American periodical The Knickerbocker asserted that "The chivalrous spirit . . . instead of having gone long since to its cemetery, yet lives and abides in every young mind" (1-2). According to this author, chivalry's impact moves far beyond the medieval; it is replicated not only in each nation approaching a civilized state, but also in the mind of each individual member of that society. The presence of chivalric instincts within the young mind, the author argues,
indicate[s] an elementary state, where the passions are in conflict both with each other, and with the actual world without, and yet a state full of hope; for it evinces that the soul's powers are in a healthful ferment and stir, and that its several elements, through collusion among themselves, and conflict with the exterior world, are gradually expurging whatever is factitious and false, and tending toward a state of fit subordination and concurrent action.  This history of chivalry, then, is not merely the history of a particular institution of a particular age.  The philosopher also sees in it a type of the tumultuous yet interesting youth of the individual mind, in every age. (2)

The Knickerbocker’s analysis of chivalry’s role is representative of broader nineteenth-century thought on the importance of the Middle Ages in nineteenth-century culture.  Many writers and thinkers believed that, by reverting to the values that they associated—however mistakenly—with the Middle Ages, they could return their own society to a kind of pre-industrial purity.  As Critics such as Elizabeth Fay, Claire Broome Saunders, Claire A. Simmons, Florence Boos, Roger Simpson, Inga Bryden, and Debra Mancoff have indicated, medievalism therefore played a central role in shaping nineteenth-century culture. Chivalry, as The Knickerbocker indicates, played a particularly key role in nineteenth-century reinterpretations of the medieval period. In order to transform society, the author of this article suggests, it is first necessary to espouse chivalric ideals.  

And many Victorians did ardently desire to transform their society. While both Victorian and modern critics have frequently associated medievalism with escapism, many authors employed medieval texts, characters, and historical figures to open a window into their own society.  In Abbeychurch, Charlotte Yonge's heroines discuss the relative merits of medieval knights in order to establish the ideal male role model for mid-Victorian society; the heroine of the novel is "searching out all the characters who come up to my notion of perfect chivalry, or rather of Christian perfection” in order to compile a "book of true knights" to inspire modern readers. Medievalism did, of course, suggest role-models for women as well: Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott has, for many modern audiences, become the iconic image of a Victorian woman. Indeed, Jennifer Gribble’s The Lady of Shalott in the Victorian Novel suggests that, in both conscious and unconscious imitation of Tennyson, Victorian novelists constantly reproduce the image of the confined, embowered lady in their works.  For many nineteenth-century writers and thinkers, including William Morris, medievalism countered England’s increasing industrialization: it offered a model of society in which the laborer and the product remained unalienated by mechanical labor. Events such as the Eglinton Tournament, in which re-enactors attempted to replicate medieval jousts in the pouring rain, offered broader scope for the romantic imagination than did mills, factories, and paperwork. 

Because chivalry and the crusades play a key role in the nineteenth-century social and moral imagination, nineteenth-century representations of the crusades are central to understanding nineteenth-century medievalism and its broader social impact. Elizabeth Siberry's comprehensive The New Crusaders offers a key introduction to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century crusades literature and art.  The very breadth of this work, however, precludes a detailed treatment of any of the works that it mentions.  Nineteenth-century literary representations of the crusades cover a broad spectrum of generic and thematic territory. They range from relatively well-known works by Sir Walter Scott and Benjamin Disraeli to an unstudied opera entitled The Fair Crusader.  Scott’s highly romanticized medieval knights certainly dominate the literary scene, and yet crusaders also appear in William Makepeace Thackeray's satire and in a turn-of-the-century Punch cartoon by Linley Sambourne. These works, whether romantic or satirical, employ the motif of crusading to engage with a wide range of issues that are of central concern to students of nineteenth-century medievalism: nationalism, imperialism, domesticity, race, gender, and chivalry. 

This project is intended to be representative rather than comprehensive in its selection of texts.  The works that I have chosen span the century; Sophie Cottin’s Matilda and Malek Adhel, originally published in French in 1805, is the earliest included here; others, such as Paul Creswick’s With Richard the Fearless, were published in the early years of the twentieth century. I have included a number of novels that were originally written as children’s literature (Yonge’s The Prince and the Page, for instance) alongside works with more adult themes, such as H. Rider Haggard’s The Brethren. While a number of the novels that I consider, including Gertrude Hollis’ A Slave of the Saracen, concentrate on young boys’ struggles to attain the Victorian ideal of chivalric masculinity, works such as Emily Sarah Holt’s Lady Sybil’s Choice focus on the roles of women and their impact on the crusades. There is also considerable generic diversity in this project; novels appear alongside the poetry of Felicia Hemans and Sir Lewis Morris. The works that I examine are chiefly British, but, given the transatlantic circulation of many of these works, I have chosen not to strictly limit the scope of the project by nationality.  Thus, Sophie Cottin's Matilda and Malek Adhel was originally written in French, but circulated widely in England. Much of this literature, despite its popularity, was difficult to obtain until quite recently; Google’s digitization projects and the increasing popularity of print-on-demand editions are, however, dramatically increasing the availability of nineteenth-century crusades romances.

Particularly in the wake of Sir Walter Scott's Tales of the Crusaders series, which includes The Betrothed, The Talisman, and Ivanhoe, chivalry and the crusades became all but synonymous in the nineteenth-century British and American popular consciousness.  The Knickerbocker's "Chivalry and the Crusades" argues that, in the aftermath of the crusades, "[Chivalry's] course thenceforward was one of decline.  It had fulfilled its mission, and like all outward vehicles of human energy, must needs go down to its dust" (11). The author of the article asserts that "in the crusades, we behold the culmination of chivalry" and compares the crusades favorably with both the Thirty Years War and the Napoleonic Wars (11).  He argues that the crusades, unlike these secular inter-European conflicts, could be justified on both religious and humanitarian grounds: these were “justifiable” wars, aimed to “wrest from a barbarous race a territory which they held only by the right of the sword, and roll back from Europe the encroaching tide of aggression, by a people whose invariable alternatives to the conquered were the Koran, bondage, or death” (11).  The author of this article thus posits the crusade as a liberating imperial force that is designed to protect England from foreign incursions, and yet simultaneously fulfills an evangelical mission.

Not all nineteenth-century representations of the crusades are positive; works such as Charles Dickens’ A Child’s History of England, for instance, deplore the violence of the crusades and the rifts that they create in England’s families.  Nonetheless, the crusades were central to the nineteenth-century’s conceptualizations of its own social experiences and imperial ventures.  Literary works, periodicals such as The Contemporary Review, The Nineteenth Century, and The Knickerbocker, history texts, and cartoons, to name a few media, frequently suggest that the nineteenth-century citizen assume the mantle of the Crusader.  Francis Oakeley, for example, argues for a Crusade that is transformed to fit the nineteenth-century notions of beneficent imperialism.  He contends that "to those who from distant lands descry its approach, [the banner of the cross] shall no longer seem the standard of war and desolation, but the harbringer of glad tidings, and the symbol of universal peace" (107). Re-imagining the crusades, my analysis of texts such as H. Rider Haggard's The Brethren and Sophie Cottin's Matilda and Malek Adhel suggests, allowed nineteenth-century writers and thinkers to re-contextualize their concerns about the impact of imperialism and the British Empire on their own culture. Although explicit connections between contemporary British imperial ventures and medieval crusades are relatively rare in nineteenth-century novels and periodical literature, the two clearly overlapped in the popular consciousness.  During the nineteenth-century, direct contact between Eastern and Western cultures increased dramatically, as any history of the nineteenth-century British Empire will clearly demonstrate.  Victorian merchants and soldiers travelled regularly to the East, bringing back stories and goods from the east.  In the hands of translators such as Edward Lane and Richard Burton, The Thousand and One Nights gained popular currency. Furthermore, as Patrick Brantlinger notes, the growing tourist industry drew increasing numbers of British tourists out of England and into the East, visiting the Holy Land in both conscious and unconscious imitation of their crusading ancestors (135).  As Eastern landscape became a primary site of Victorian romance, therefore, crusades romances proliferated within nineteenth-century culture. 

Although few writers draw direct comparisons between the crusades and nineteenth-century British imperial ventures, the connections frequently influence their analysis of these events.  Nearly inevitably, this literature, whether fictional, historical, or some combination of the two, ultimately focuses on the impact of the crusades on England.  Much of the crusades' appeal in the nineteenth century stems from their supposed ability to unite persons of different classes and nationalities.  As the British Quarterly Review reports, "The distinctions of race and country were postponed, in 'the holy war,' for the one name of 'soldier of the cross;' and the natives of France or England, Germany or Italy, went forth, not to uphold his national banner, but that standard which bore the patriarchal cross of Jerusalem, 'the mother of us all'" (100).  Frances Oakeley's "The Influence of the Crusades on the Art and Literature of Europe," for instance, argues that political and military turmoil stimulate the intellectual character of nations; this turmoil serves as the catalyst for more refined and sustained developments. Accordingly, Oakeley contends that the crusades were key to the development of the modern era: "The attempt of the Christians in Western Europe to recover the Holy Land was the first great subject, after the fall of the Roman empire, which inflamed the passions, and transformed the characters of men, too powerfully to admit of a relapse into apathy and its attendant ignorance" (94-95).  Oakeley therefore argues that the crusades should be considered in light of their intellectual effects, which, according to his analysis, were more fundamental and lasting than their political and social impact. He directly contrasts the violence and bloodshed of the crusades' militarism with its intellectual impacts: "Amid scenes of plunder and bloodshed, in the country of infidels or enemies, were sown, unconsciously, the seeds of intellectual greatness, which were ultimately to ripen into an abundant harvest" (107). 

The cultural resonance of the term "crusade" spiraled far beyond its medieval context in the nineteenth century.  In both nineteenth-century British and American culture, the term Crusade frequently assumed an internal, domestic significance that is meant to invoke the transformation of a society from within.  The novelists considered in this study almost inevitably label their works "crusades romances": Holt’s Lady Sybil’s Choice, for instance, is subtitled A Tale of Crusades, and Creswick’s With Richard the Fearless bears the additional title A Tale of the Red Crusade.  Several novels, including Scott's Ivanhoe and Yonge's The Prince and the Page, make explicit connections between Robin Hood and the novels’ heroes in order to link the crusade to social revolution.  Likewise, the nineteenth-century periodical press uses the ideological associations of the crusade to introduce numerous articles on social reform.  Particularly in the American periodical press, the term "temperance crusade" looms large, but temperance is only the tip of the iceberg. Henry Frank's "The Crusade of the Unemployed," published in the American periodical The Arena in 1894, begins with the provocative statement that "An irresistible tide of moral and reformatory thought is sweeping over all the lands of Christendom.  The cry of the poor and downtrodden, out of the depths of social iniquity, is at last heard even by the unwilling ears of potentates and prelates" (239). Although the term "crusade" does not recur in the essay, Frank's insertion of this charged ideology into his title allows him to combine moral, racial, martial, and religious imagery to underlie the broad structures of his arguments. The later pages of Frank's article describe the creation of an "army" that accomplishes social reform; Frank himself becomes its general.  In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement also adopted crusading iconography.  The signification of this iconography, however, was unstable: members of the movement employed crusading terminology to describe both the suffragettes and their opponents.  In 1868, the London-based Victoria Magazine published an article entitled "The Latest Crusade," which addressed the "perfect whirlwind of invective [which] arose in the columns of a notorious critical journal," all of which targeted women's supposed vices.  The unidentified author of the article further remarks that "Such bitter and ungenerous criticism has been dignified with the title of 'the crusade against women;' we would rather denominate it, 'the persecution of women,' evidencing a total want of humanity, chivalry, and philosophical reflection" (194).

Although the associations of crusading remained religious in the nineteenth century, the virulent anti-Catholic spirit that dominated Victorian England caused many Victorian writers to distance the crusades from the papacy.  These attempts to de-emphasize the crusades' catholic origins appear in both literary works and in nonfictional articles.  While they acknowledge that the heroes and heroines of the crusade were invariably Catholic, the novels which take a strong religious tone, including Holt's Lady Sybil's Choice, position their protagonists in opposition to central tenets of the faith.  Frequently, they focus on their hero or heroine’s conversion to a proto-Protestant faith that eliminates the need for a priest and focuses on direct, personal religious experience.  Many nineteenth-century periodical articles on the crusades use different means to achieve the same end; they frequently attempt to root the origins of the crusade in popular sentiment rather than in papal dictates.  The British Quarterly Review, for example, after giving many excerpts from medieval chronicles, attempts to define the "true spirit of the crusades":
That these great expeditions did not originate in 'deep policy,' as Fuller asserts, is obvious, because we do not find either monarchs or pontiffs unremittingly affording them aid. In some instances, it is true, the preaching of the crusade followed the mandate of the pope, but in more instances it preceded. . . What were the crusades, then, but a mighty popular movement, originating the peculiar circumstances of Christian Europe, and carried on by appeals to that devotional spirit, which, though debased by superstition, flowed warmly in the breasts of a rude, but impulsive race? (99)

By depicting the crusades as a popular movement rather than a church-decreed military invasion, the writer of this article renders the crusades far more accessible for adoption into nineteenth-century ideology. 

The religious associations of the crusades significantly increased the importance of women’s roles in nineteenth-century crusades literature. Many of the novels considered in this study follow the traditional trajectory of the hero's quest: the male hero, guided by older men, must negotiate between domestic and martial versions of nineteenth-century masculinity.  In these romances, the female characters alternately inspire and thwart the hero's attempts to engage in chivalric battle. There are, however, a few notable exceptions.  Emily Sarah Holt's Lady Sybil's Choice features a first-person female narrator, and Sophie Cottin's Matilda and Malek Adhel bestows considerable power and agency upon its female narrators.  In both of these novels, the female characters transform the definition of crusading.  Military victories become irrelevant; the novels center on conversion narratives that become the novel's true crusade.  It matters not at all that Richard’s armies are defeated in Matilda and Malek Adhel, for instance; Islam and Saladin’s armies have been symbolically defeated in the person of Adhel, who succumbs to the heroine's charms and converts to Christianity. Celestia A. Bloss's Heroines of the Crusades, published in 1853, also highlights the role of women; she suggests that the crusades could offer a model of heroic femininity as well as masculinity to a nineteenth-century audience that was seeking foundations for its gendered behaviors.  Bloss dedicates her volume "To My Pupils, the 'Heroines of the Crusade.'"  This dedication paradoxically invests her nineteenth-century students with all the virtues of the past, and yet simultaneously defines the heroines of the past through their conformation to the virtues of the present day.  The object of her work, she writes is "In some measure to supply a deficiency which common history cannot obviate, to make the period of the Crusades interesting, but giving to it the tangible thread of authentic narrative, these biographies of the 'Heroines' who inspired the troubadour, animated the warrior, or in person 'took the cross,' have, with much care and labor, been selected and compiled" (ix).  Her study, which includes chapters on Adela of Blois, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Violante of Jerusalem, and Eleanora of Castile, merges historical record with imaginative recreation of the heroine's thoughts and actions. 

Representations of alterity are, of course, a critical element of nineteenth-century crusades literature. Indeed, Stanley Lane Poole's The Age of Saladin, published in the Quarterly Review in 1896, indicates that this direct encounter with the Other should be the principle purpose of crusades studies.  He remarks that, although "The Crusaders stand out clearly enough in their heroic, if barbaric qualities [and] many of them are living personalities in the reader’s imagination," representations of the Eastern armies had heretofore been inadequate: "Of the Saracens, however, their foes in principle, but often their friends and allies in practice, our historians seem to have no distinct ideas" (163).  Several of the crusades romances that were aimed at an adult audience employ the erotic potential of miscegenic relationships to craft their audiences’ response.  Madame Sophie Cottin's Matilda and Malek Adhel, H. Rider Haggard's The Brethren, and Felicia Hemans' De Chatillon all exemplify this phenomenon.  The crusades romance’s engagement with eroticism, however, is not limited to romantic relationships.  As Sir Richard Burton’s introduction to his 1885 translation of the Arabian Nights suggests, nineteenth-century writers and readers saw literary encounter with the East through literature as a critical foundation for the imperialist venture. Therefore, as Lane-Poole's comments indicate, a need to "know" the Saracen emerges in nineteenth-century crusades literature: “Some grasp of the nature and changes of Muslim civilization is necessary before one can understand the character and achievements of the men our ancestors vainly attempted to subdue" (165).  Lane-Poole’s comments engage with a crucial objective of nineteenth-century crusades literature; it aims to make history readily legible to its modern inheritors.  For understanding the crusades, Lane-Poole argues, comprehension of the Eastern Other is particularly critical: "Perhaps in few periods is the want of a really thorough Mohammaden history felt more keenly than in that of the Crusades, for it is obvious that a narrative of a war which inadequately appreciates the character and resources of the enemy can hardly be called a history" (165).

In attempting the grasp the "nature and changes" of Muslim civilization, however, the Victorians simultaneously performed a similar analysis of their own society.  Nineteenth-century crusades romances, despite their roots in imperialism, conquest, and exoticism, are ultimately inward-looking.  The dangers to British society nearly inevitably come from within: Rosamund, the half-Eastern heroine of Haggard’s The Brethren, could never have been captured by Saladin without the eager assistance of a corrupt British knight.  In Scott’s The Talisman, both Sir Kenneth and King Richard find far more common ground with Saladin than they do with their European counterparts; the Third Crusade is repeated imperiled not by conflict with the East, but instead through conflict within the army.  Knights who abandon their homes to go crusading, as Felicia Hemans, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, and Scott all demonstrate, risk further undermining the domestic stability of England’s homes.   Crusading's positive associations in the nineteenth-century nearly invariably stem from the crusader's ability to transform her- or himself into a model of chivalric virtue that ultimately strengthens England’s national unity and domestic tranquility.
Bibliography
Bloss, Celestia. Heroines of the Crusades.

Brantlinger, Patrick. "The New Crusades." Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988: 135-171.

"Chivalry and the Crusades." The Knickerbocker 15 (January 1840): 1-16

Dickens, Charles. "England Under Richard the First, Called the Lionheart."  A Child's History of England. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1898. 94-102

Gribble, Jennifer. The Lady of Shalott in the Victorian Novel. London: Macmillan, 1983.

Frank, Henry. "The Crusade of the Unemployed."  The Arena 10 (1884): 239-44.

Lane Poole, Stanley. "The Age of Saladin."  The Quarterly Review 183 (1896): 163-164.

"The Latest Crusade." Victoria Magazine 11 (1868): 193-201.

Oakeley, Francis. "The Oxford English Prize Essay for 1827: The Influence of the Crusade upon the Arts and Literature of Europe." The Classical Journal 38 (September- October 1826): 194-107.

Siberry, Elizabeth. The New Crusaders: Images of the Crusades in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Burlington: Ashgate, 2000.

Yonge, Charlotte Mary. Abbeychurch. Abbeychurch: Or, Self-Control and Self-Conceit.  Miami: Hardpress Publishing, 2010. [Originally printed 1844.]