Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Judged as a philosophical novel, JOHN INGLESANT is a product of Tractarianism, deriving from the Oxford Movement of mid-nineteenth century England. For his Victorian audience, Joseph Henry Shorthouse attempts to mediate between the conflicting claims of Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. He provides a historical perspective for the conflict by setting the novel in the seventeenth century, a period of great religious upheaval, to show that it is possible to bridge the gap between the two religions and their underlying cultures. In a letter to his friend Dr. Abott, Shorthouse writes that perhaps the chief object of his novel is to “promote culture at the expense of fanaticism.”

His spokesman for tolerance, John Inglesant, is trained as a Jesuit by Father St. Clare but is permitted freedom to exercise his own religious conscience. During the course of his adventures, Inglesant meets representatives of different Christian viewpoints, from those of the High Anglican monastic colony under John Ferrar at Little Gidding to the “Quietist” followers of Michael de Molinos; from Puritans hostile to King Charles I to followers of the Benedictine Order directed by Hugh Paulin Cressy. He comes to understand the intricate politics of electing a Pope and discovers secrets of the Jesuits. Wherever he goes, he meets Christians of principle, conviction, and dignity. Devoted to the “ideal of Christ,” he remains to the last a member of the Church of...

(The entire section is 493 words.)