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Title: Newman's 'Lesson of the Marriage Ring'
Subtitle: Celibacy and Marriage in the Thought of John Henry Newman
Author(s): CERE, Daniel
Journal: Louvain Studies
Volume: 22    Issue: 1   Date: spring 1997   
Pages: 59-84
DOI: 10.2143/LS.22.1.542292

Abstract :
Newman's views on marriage have not received a very sympathetic hearing. Newman's detractors argue that character flaws undermine his ability to address this topic in a meaningful way. There are complaints about his individualism, ingrained chauvinism, and morbid sensitivity. Perhaps the most curious critiques are those which target Newman's 'perversity,' 'effeminacy,' and his homosexuality. Rumours of this type were floated by the Queen's chaplain, Charles Kingsley, during his public controversy with Newman in the 1860s. Kingsley had become a leading spokesman for the tradition of 'Muscular Christianity' in Victorian religious thought. For this 'manly' Christian Englishman the choice of a celibate life-style would automatically raise suspicions. Newman did little to rebut such personal attacks aside from noting how deeply this 'prejudice' against celibacy was engrained within popular Protestant culture. Ward's classic biography unwittingly fuelled suspicions by accenting Newman's sensitive or 'feminine' side. Geoffrey Faber's Oxford Apostles welded these hints and whispers of possible deviance into a Freudian exploration of Tractarian sexual abnormality. The echoes are still found in contemporary literature. However, the relevance of these stereotypes to the study of Newman's contribution are dubious at best. First, the evidence supporting such theories is weak. Ian Ker's acclaimed biography successfully contests Ward's emphasis on Newman's 'femininity' and draws out the 'highly ‘masculine' side of his temperament.' However, even more problematic is the loaded nature of this whole controversy about Newman's 'femininity' or 'masculinity.' Oliver Buckton warns that this debate reveals more about the gender biases of Newman's critics (and sympathizers?) than anything of significance concerning Newman himself.


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