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Willful Submission

Sado-Erotics and Heavenly Marriage in Victorian Religious Poetry
Amanda Paxton

BUY Cloth · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813940779 · $45.00 · Jan 2018
BUY Ebook · 240 pp. · ISBN 9780813940786 · $45.00 · Jan 2018

Victorian England: a Jesuit priest writes of wrestling with God at night, limbs entangled; an Anglican sister begs Jesus, her divine lover, to end her aching anticipation of their union; a clergyman exhorts nuns to study the example of medieval women who suffered on the rack in order to become "brides" of Christ. Alongside the march of nineteenth-century progress ran a seemingly paradoxical fascination with a dark, erotically suggestive side of religious devotion: the figuration of the Christian God as a heavenly bridegroom who doles out punishment to his bride, the individual soul.

Through innovative case studies of Victorian religious poetry, Amanda Paxton reveals that while the punitive model proved a convenient rhetorical tool with which to deflate burgeoning nineteenth-century campaigns for women’s rights and challenges to Church authority, in the hands of several writers it also provided a means of resisting patriarchal institutions and interrogating distinctions between science and religion. Willful Submission is the first full-length volume to examine the interplay of sex, suffering, and religion as a touchstone in Victorian culture and verse.


An extraordinary book. Integrating a variety of discourses with innovation and sophistication, Willful Submission is a unique and superior work in Victorian studies

Frederick Roden, University of Connecticut, author of Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture

Amanda Paxton’s Willful Submission: Sado-Erotics and Heavenly Marriage in Victorian Religious Poetry is one of two books concerned with faith in relation to gender. The erotic depiction of the soul as bride of the divine, so common in medieval culture, enjoyed a resurgence in nineteenth-century discourses, where, Paxton argues, the language of submission to the divine was often used to comment on earthly hierarchies. After offering a prehistory of the bridal metaphor and demonstrating its affinities with the ambiguities of poetry, Paxton examines the politics of its use in Broad Church writing[.]

SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

Willful Submission is a thorough and sensitive treatment of the bridal motif; thorough in its historical, critical, and theoretical underpinnings and sensitive in its treatment of literary texts. Due to the admirable mix of grand historical and cultural trends and specific literary pay-offs, it satisfies readers with a general interest in the history of sexuality, those interested in religious poetry, andthose interested in any of the particular authors under scrutiny.

Religion and the Arts

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