One of the distinguishing characteristics of Victorian preaching is the frequent, often uneasy juxtaposition of the oral and literary traditions. This conflation provides the subject of The Victorian Pulpit: Spoken and Written sermons in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Susquehanna UP, 1998). This is the first book-length study of the Victorian sermon since Eric Mackerness' The Heeded Voice: Studies in the Literary Status of the Anglican sermon, 1830-1900 (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1959). It is also the first to employ the methods of orality-literacy scholarship in the study of nineteenth-century British homiletics.

Abstract: The first chapters of The Victorian Pulpit present three ways in which Victorian preaching conflated oral and written practice. The first conflation appears in homiletic theory; Chapter One shows that sermons were expected to be both orations and essays, persuasive discourses crafted in the language of literary prose.

Chapter Two deals with methods of delivery, analyzing the debate over whether sermons should be read from manuscript or delivered extempore.

Chapter Three is concerned with orality-literacy in the public's reception of the sermon; it examines practices of attending preaching services on Sunday and reading and writing about sermons during the week.

The latter chapters discuss the rhetoric of three well-known Victorian pulpiteers. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, pastor of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle, was the most famous extemporaneous preacher; his sermons resemble classical orations even after being revised for publication.

John Henry Newman, vicar of St. Mary's Church in Oxford, represents preachers who mastered oral and written homiletics: his Anglican sermons contain both the orator's earnestness and the literary sophistication of a master of prose style.

George MacDonald preached some sermons and published others. When he spoke extemporaneously, he constructed his sermons like speeches; when he wrote for publication, he worked in accordance with the conventions of the written word.

The book ends with a comparison of sermons Spurgeon, Newman, and MacDonald published on Lazarus's death and resurrection and a brief conclusion suggesting other ways of uniting orality-literacy studies and Victorian scholarship.

Adaptations available in The Victorian Web


Victorian Overview Religion sermons: An Overview Genre, Mode, and Technique

Last modified 1998