Unconventional religiosity: modes of lay Catholic womanhood in Britain, c. 1880-c. 1920
Lamontagne, Kathryn Graham
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The experiences of Catholic lay women after Emancipation are largely absent from the historical narrative in England, in part, due to their portrayal in popular culture as especially passive and submissive to assumed patriarchal and hierarchical controls from the Church. Yet during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an ostensibly patriarchal religion became a locus of empowerment for some women. In this dissertation, I posit that the Catholic Church could be a place for expressions of unconventional religiosity and reinterpretations of Catholic “True Womanhood” and domesticity. I show that in some cases, personal interpretations of Catholic womanhood demonstrated slippages of the True Woman trope, reflecting contemporary influences like the New Woman and modernity, yet all were underpinned by a devout faith. I argue that the Catholic faith provided a space for some women to assert themselves in the private and public spheres in ways previously unnoted in scholarship, due to their gender or faith. This dissertation will address this significant lacuna in the scholarship by tracing the work and lives of four exceptional lay Catholic women – Margaret Fletcher, Maude Petre, Mabel Batten and Radclyffe Hall. The lives of these women demonstrate that there were Catholic women living unconventional and often unorthodox lives while exemplifying striking examples of pious Catholicism. For some, conversion to Catholicism was itself a radical choice, demonstrating an atypicality of belief and action that was echoed in other areas of their lives. A conjunction of the themes of marriage, domesticity, religion, gender, class, conversion, and sexuality informs my discussion of how these four remarkable women powerfully asserted aspects their faith while transgressing boundaries traditionally assumed for lay Catholic women. By drawing from privately held collections, as well as numerous archives, this dissertation uses the examples of these four women of unconventional religiosity in the years c.1880-c.1920 to provide rare evidence of the often hidden lives of lay Catholic women in England.