Critical Evaluation

Loss and Gain is John Henry Newman’s first novel; he wrote only one other, Callista: A Sketch of the Third Century (1856), during his long and controversial life as Victorian England’s most celebrated convert to Roman Catholicism. Newman was a distinguished member of the Oxford community and a well-known preacher. His involvement with the Tractarian Society, a group seeking to return the Anglican Church to its apostolic roots, eventually led him to leave the Church of England; like his protagonist, his defection caused a significant stir. In Newman’s time, the Roman Catholic Church was viewed as anathema by most English people, who considered it an anti-intellectual religious sect that promoted superstition and blind obedience to a foreign potentate, that is, the pope in Rome.

Loss and Gain was the first work Newman published after leaving the Church of England. It was written in part to explain his reasons for converting, in part to counter the many anti-Catholic tracts being published at the time. Predictably, the novel evoked many hostile critiques from non-Catholics, but Newman was pleased that he had laid out in plain language why people of intellect could follow the path to Rome.

Much attention has been paid to establishing the novel’s genre, since doing so often provides some guide to explaining characters’ motivations and to illuminating important themes. Although the protagonist, Charles Reding, shares affinities with Newman on several matters of faith, the novel is not strictly autobiographical. Rather, Newman uses Charles to illustrate how a thinking person could come to the conclusion that the only true church is the Roman Catholic Church, which speaks with authority on matters of faith and morals in a way that other religions cannot. Loss and Gain also has been described as a bildungsroman in...

(The entire section is 768 words.)