This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Representations of Catholicism in American Literature, 1820-1920




Rygiel, Mary Ann

Type of Degree





This dissertation examines the representation of Catholics and Catholicism in literature by non-Catholic authors in nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century American prose fiction and travel narratives. Moving roughly chronologically, it identifies notable images of Catholicism, describes their presentation, and, finally, offers evidence of and accounts for a meaningful change in the presentation. The introduction reviews the contributions to this field made by Susan Griffin, David Reynolds, and Jenny Franchot. It adapts and builds on historical analysis by Jay Dolan of the relationship of Catholics to America. It concludes by proposing grounds for concluding that the trend in the presentation of Catholicism in American literature from 1820 to 1920 by non-Catholic writers is toward more positive depiction: notably in the change in literary emphasis from romance to realism and in the change in the key elements of “narrative theology” to “narrative aesthetics.” It contextualizes these changes within the enhanced cultural position of the American author and within a concern with modernism. It considers what American writers’ portrayals of Catholics say about American belief in separation of church and state, compromise, and optimism.