Sponsor: Studies in Medievalism and Medievally Speaking
Organizer: Megan Morris
In the nineteenth century, the Crusades and their history acquired a newly material force. As Patrick Brantlinger notes, the growing tourist industry drew increasing numbers of British citizens out of England and into the East. In both conscious and unconscious imitation of their crusading ancestors, they visited the Holy Land and its surrounds, placing their modern pilgrimage in the imaginative context of the medieval past. Travelers writing back from the East transferred the Crusades’ imaginative immediacy to their audiences at home. Consequently, the cultural resonance of the term "crusade" spiraled far beyond its medieval context. Within both British and American culture, the term frequently assumed an internal, domestic significance that is meant to invoke the transformation of a society from within. Suffragettes, proponents of the temperance movement, and other social reformers frequently appropriated crusading imagery in order to lend their causes historical weight. England’s crusading history becomes a necessary backdrop to the evolutionary development of modern
Victorian society. Historians, writers, and thinkers re-imagine the Crusades, allowing it to simultaneously serve as a representation of England’s semi-barbaric past—and thus a suitable locus for the restitution of an active Victorian masculinity—and a bridge to modern social reform. In the nineteenth-century imagination, the Crusades, as an 1840 article published in The Knickerbocker suggests, were “justifiable wars,” the “culmination of chivalry,” and yet, as Charles Dickens indicates in A Child’s History of England, also an embodiment of England’s barbaric past that caused strife abroad and disunity at home.
As a result, nineteenth-century literary representations of the Crusades cover a broad range of generic and thematic territory. They range from relatively well-known works by Sir Walter Scott and Benjamin Disraeli to an all-but-unstudied libretto by H. R. Bishop. Scott’s highly romanticized medieval knights certainly dominate the literary scene, and yet crusaders also appear in William Makepeace Thackeray’s satirical Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo and in a turn-of-the-century Punch cartoon by Linley Sambourne. Although much Crusades-themed literature, including the works of G. A. Henty, Paul Creswick, Emily Sarah Holt, and Charlotte Yonge, is aimed towards a young audience, others, including Disraeli’s Tancred and Major John Richardson’s erotic The Monk Knight of St. John, attempt to capture the fancy of an older demographic.
All of these works employ the motif of crusading to engage with a wide range of issues that are of central concern to students of nineteenth-century medievalism: nationalism, imperialism, domesticity, race, gender, and chivalry. Nonetheless, nineteenth-century representations of the crusade have received relatively little modern critical attention. This session invites panelists from a broad range of disciplines, including literature, history, music, and art history, to examine the Crusades’ place in the nineteenth-century historiographical imagination.