[Adapted from Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought, 1980. Full text]
Since all types bear a heavy burden of meaning, they do not often appear in dialogue or indirect discourse without releasing some of it, and, therefore, they rarely play such a neutral role in creating character. The typological image or event readily generates multiple meanings because, by definition, it exists in at least two contexts, times, and senses: that of the literal historical type and that to which the type refers. The ability to perceive such meanings serves as a handy gauge of a character's general discernment, since a type provides author and audience with something whose meanings have been established by convention. Types, therefore, provide the author with a means of dramatizing a characterıs understanding or misunderstanding of commonplace, if also often complex, materials. The reader observes a character interpreting a known type and bases his judgment of that character upon the result.
For example, we first meet Amos Barton as he walks home alone after dinner with the local squire and his family. The threadbare parson, whose inadequate stipend does not permit him to purchase a coat that will keep off the chill, strolls along, "meditating fresh pastoral exertions on the morrow", the most important of which is to set
going his lending library; in which he had introduced some books that would be a pretty sharp blow to the Dissenters -- one especially, purporting to be written by a working man, who, out of pure zeal for the welfare of his class, took the trouble to warn them in this way against those hypocritical thieves, the Dissenting preachers. The Rev. Amos Barton profoundly believed in the existence of that working man, and had thoughts of writing to him. Dissent, he considered, would have its head bruised in Shepperton, for did he not attack it in two ways? He preached Low-Church doctrine -- as evangelical as anything to be heard in the independent Chapel; and he made a High-Church assertion of ecclesiastical powers and functions. Clearly, the Dissenters would feel that "the parson" was too many for them. Nothing like a man who combines shrewdness with energy. The wisdom of the serpent, Mr. Barton considered, was one of his strong points. (ch. 2)
Barton, a disciple of the Evangelical greats Venn, Newton, and Simeon, has come under the influence of Tractarian thought, and however his belief has developed since his days at Cambridge, he remains a fierce partisan of the established Church. Unlike many Evangelical Anglicans, he does not try to build bridges to similar dissenting denominations and clearly considers them agents of the Evil One. His judgment in these matters is characterized by his application of the passage from Genesis 3:15 about bruising the serpent's head to his attempts to conquer the dissenters in Shepperton. Like preachers of all parties, he accepts that the Christian bruises the serpent's head by advancing spiritual doctine, and also like preachers of all parties, he defines spiritual doctine, naturally enough, as that in which he believes. Keble, we recall, pronounced fasting to be a Christian's means of bruising the serpent's head, whereas the Cambridge Evangelical Clayton found it to lie in preaching the Gospel. (3) Barton, on the other hand, makes not just the general battle against dissent, but his particular use of tracts directed at the labourer the fulfillment of this prophetic type. The reader's recognition that Barton and his opponents share a great many basic tenets immediately casts into doubt his judgment here, for the reader soon realizes that the minister's interpretation of this central biblical type is as ill-founded as his belief that a working man wrote his favorite tract or his confidence that he has the wisdom of the serpent.
Last modified 1998