Tonya Moutray. “Remodeling Catholic Ruins in William Wordsworth’s Poetry.” European Romantic Review 22.6 (2011): 819-831.
Moutray examines some of Wordsworth’s lesser-known religious poetry, including “Tuft of Primroses” (1808), Ecclesiastical Sketches, (1822), “St. Bees, Suggested in a Steam-Boat Off Saint Bee’s Heads” (1835), and “At Furness Abbey” (1845) to argue that Wordsworth’s focus on monastic culture indicates his approval of the institution and its mission of service to local needs. Moutray argues that these poems and the Prelude (1850) indicate the poet’s interest in and support of social practices which “have the potential to revitalize local communities and their natural resources” (819). The article links Wordsworth’s treatment of monastic ruins and religious practices with ecological concerns. Moutray claims, “In placing the monastery within a mutually accommodating natural landscape” in “Tuft of Primroses” Wordsworth argues that “with proper care, nature becomes an ongoing source of spiritual and material replenishment,” a source which, like the institution of the monastery, is endangered in an industrial, secular society (822). The monastery functions as an example of communal practice which integrates social and natural realms; Moutray argues that these poems demonstrate Wordsworth’s support of the development of similar social institutions, such as the Anglican Sisterhoods.
I find this argument fairly compelling, but I’m most interested in the connection between Romantic eco-criticism and religious poetry. Moutray claims that Wordsworth’s depiction of the Catholic monastery functions as a model for ecological preservation. This claim dovetails convincingly with Wordsworth’s position on the role of the Anglican Church in a parish-based approach to social problems in the nineteenth century. Few critics have produced recent work on the religious issues of Romanticism. This article engages the politics of developing religious orders in the Anglican Church, and Michael Tomko explores the ramifications of the movement for Catholic Emancipation in British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: religion, history, and national identity, 1778-1829 (2011). These texts demonstrate some useful approaches to the subject of religion. Religion is as hotly contested and conflicted an issue in the Romantic period as in earlier centuries, though specific issues changed; nevertheless, critics seem content to bypass religious objects of study. Why is that? What might be gained by closer attention to the period’s religious movements and debates? Or to texts like sermons, primers, and hymns, as well as devotional poetry and religious conduct tracts? What might these genres add to our understanding of, for instance, Ecclesiastical Sketches, and thus to our understanding of Wordsworth’s oeuvre and Romantic poetry more generally?