One’s views on and practice of religion revealed a great deal about one’s social standing. The nineteenth century was time of varied and sometimes extreme schisms in religious belief, from the political implications of the Catholic Relief Bill, to the sociological and economical effects of the Protestant work ethic, to the scientific impact of early nineteenth-century geologists and evolutionists like Charles Lyell, Jean-Baptist Lamarck, and Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of the more famous Charles).

In the silver fork novels, the most fashionable characters tend to reveal a cynical outlook on religion. This was, on the part of the authors, a way to satirise the aristocracy as immoral, or to connect the upper classes to the older and more conservatively clinical philosophies of the Enlightenment and thereby imply the aristocracy was outdated, or (more positively) to imply a high level of education and freedom from superstition.

"The Evangelical Young Lady" getting re-baptised. (illustrated by Hablot Browne, aka 'Phiz', in Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswell, aka 'Quiz'). 1837.

“The Evangelical Young Lady” getting re-baptised.
(illustrated by Hablot Browne, aka ‘Phiz’, in Sketches of Young Ladies by Edward Caswell, aka ‘Quiz’). 1837.

Fashionable Advice on Religion

  • Religion should be “of a kind well calculated for worldly wear. Like the best coat of a London shopman, it made its appearance only on a Sunday, and was carefully laid by on the intervening week days . . . religion was a good thing, and ought to be kept up, and that, like cheap soup, it was ‘excellent for the poor’” (Granby 1:54-55).
  • “’Do you know what made her such a violent Anti-Catholic? She was disappointed at Rome – ill used, she says, about a front place at one of the ceremonies in the Holy Week!’” (Granby 3:194).
  • “a faint shriek burst from Lady Ormington’s lips at the announcement. The horror of being mother to a parson! – a licensed dealer in sermons” (Cecil 1:12).
  • “Religion was made on purpose for women and children” (Cheveley 48).
  • “she is a most respectable and honourable lady. She goes to church of course: she would fancy the Church in danger if she did not” (The Book of Snobs 28).
  • “religion . . . means the possession of a well-curtained, well-cushioned, well-carpeted pew in a fashionable chapel” (Sayings and Doings, or, Danvers 55).
  • “Frederic did not like Sunday, he thought it a dull day . . . it was so insufferably tiresome to hear every body you meet talk about going to church . . . He never went to church, excepting accidentally when at home” (Country Houses 1:70).
  • “’Oh, after church there is no objection to diverting one’s-self innocently; it is impossible to read and pray all day: besides I like to make the Sunday, on principle, a gay, chearful [sic] day’” (The Exclusives 1:154).
  • “’those papists are queer folks’” (Country Houses 3:1-2).
  • “’A Methodist,’ sneered the Duchess . . . ‘If there be one character more detestable than another, it is a Puritan or a Pharisee of this kind’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 2:5).
  • “’A female atheist seems to me not only a monster, but an anomaly’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 3:177).
  • “’It reminds me of an Irish lady, who turned Protestant because there are no pews in the Catholic churches, and that all ranks are mingled together without respect to persons’” (The Two Friends 1:12).
  • “Fortunately, as society is now constituted, morality and religion are not so unfashionable but that some appearance of both is often thought desirable, even by those who do not possess the least of either. This was precisely Sackville’s view of the case. Had atheism been fashionable he would probably have professed it’” (Herbert Lacy 1:227).
  • “He would not have a single Catholic emancipated for all the value he placed on his eternal salvation, because he knew for certain, that if such an innovation were ever admitted, the Pope would very soon become Archbishop of Canterbury, and a general conflagration of all Protestants would be the natural consequence” (The School of Fashion 1:3).

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