[Adapted from Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought, 1980. Full text]

Since Evangelicals habitually salted their conversation with scriptural quotation and paraphrase, writers sometimes include types merely for realistic effect. Similarly, when imitating or describing Evangelical sermons, writers also naturally cite types because Evangelical preachers so frequently employed them. For instance, Browning's "Christmas Eve" (1850) in part uses such citation of typology for purposes of verisimilitude, and so does George Eliot's "The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton" from Scenes of Clerical Life (1858). Eliot relates how poor Barton tried without much success to instruct the paupers in the local workhouse about the mysteries of typological exegesis:

He talked of Israel and its sins, of chosen vessels, of the Paschal lamb, of blood as a medium of reconciliation; and he strove in this way to convey religious truth within reach of the Fodge and Fitchett mind. This very morning, the first lesson was the twelfth chapter of Exodus, and Mr Barton's exposition turned on unleavened bread. Nothing in the world more suited to the simple understanding than instruction through types and symbols! But there is always this danger attending it, that the interest or comprehension of your hearers may stop short precisely at the point where your spiritual interpretation begins. And Mr Barton this morning succeeded in carrying the pauper imagination to the dough-tub, but unfortunately was not able to carry it upwards from that well-known object to the unknown truths which it was intended to shadow forth. (ch. 2)

Unlike Brontë's use of types, the applications made in this delightful passage serve almost entirely the purely mimetic function of representing a character engaged in a daily activity. Of course, Eliot's citation of typology does not take the form of dialogue, but it differs most from Brontë's by not containing explicit or implicit judgments of the character who states them in typological terms. After reading Eliot's description of this Evangelical's complete inability to "bring home the gospel", we realize that Barton is sadly unsuited to the practice of his profession. But our recognition does not receive the additional assistance of Barton's misinterpretation of particular types, for we are told only that he failed to convey any gospel truths by means of the dough-tub.


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Last modified 14 October 2002