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The Fabulous Dark Cloister

, 248 pages

8 b&w illus.

October 2011



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The Fabulous Dark Cloister

Romance in England after the Reformation

Romances were among the most popular books in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries among both Protestant and Catholic readers. Modeled after Catholic narratives, particularly the lives of saints, these works emphasized the supernatural and the marvelous, themes commonly associated with Catholicism. In this book, Tiffany Jo Werth investigates how post-Reformation English authors sought to discipline romance, appropriating its popularity while distilling its alleged Catholic taint.

Charged with bewitching readers, especially women, into lust and heresy, romances sold briskly even as preachers and educators denounced them as papist. Protestant reformers, as part of their broader indictment of Catholicism, sought to redirect certain elements of the Christian tradition, including this notorious literary genre. Werth argues that through the writing and circulation of romances, Protestants repurposed their supernatural and otherworldly motifs in order to "fashion," as Edmund Spenser wrote, godly "vertuous" readers.

Through careful examinations of the period’s most renowned romances—Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembrokes Arcadia, Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, William Shakespeare’s Pericles, and Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania—Werth illustrates how post-Reformation writers struggled to transform the literary genre. As a result, the romance, long regarded as an archetypal form closely allied with generalized Christian motifs, emerged as a central tenet of the religious controversies that divided Renaissance England.

Tiffany Jo Werth is an assistant professor of English at Simon Fraser University.

"A fresh appraisal of the romance in post-Reformation England, presenting this genre as the site of contested Protestant and Catholic influences and reading practices... Werth enriches scholarship on the religious dimensions of early-modern culture and on romance literature particularly."

"The payoff in this smart and convincing study is a rich sense of how deeply these four authors wrestled with their genre’s Catholic past. The ‘‘ongoing, incomplete reformation’’ that this study finds in literary and religious culture will influence future scholarship on these and other literary romances."

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