Diane Long Hoeveler, Marquette University
This article examines Regina Maria Roche’s immensely popular gothic novel, The Children of the Abbey (1796), in light of the ideological and political campaigns that occurred in Britain leading up to the passage of the Catholic emancipation bill in 1829. The Children of the Abbey has been the subject of recent critical interpretation by a number of scholars who attempt to argue that it is pro-Catholic. However, by confronting the portrait of her dead mother in the final volume, Roche’s heroine Amanda discovers not a magical representation of the unknowable and inexplicable past that often stands for Catholicism but instead a rational and common-sense explanation of an earlier historical avatar of displaced feminine power, a coded endorsement of the Protestant way of understanding the world. Amanda gets to the root of female disinheritance and recovers in a real and tangible way her and her brother’s true identities. They seize their patrimony only by understanding and claiming the power of the displaced matriarchy for themselves. This article demonstrates that an objective assessment of the plot, imagery, rhetorical codes, and characters of The Children of the Abbey suggests that the religion Roche expounded was the system of bourgeois morality that we now understand as Providential Deism. While professing rationality and common sense as its ideals, however, the Providential Deist consistently deployed a bifurcated vision of Catholicism. That is, it presented Catholicism in a nostalgic glow, as a gauzy throwback to an earlier feudal era, while also probing it as a threatening political and tyrannical force that, if brought back to life, would threaten the secular values of contemporary Britain.