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Daddy’s come home : fatherhood and evangelicalism in Religious Tract Society publications, 1879-1889 Olsen, Stéphanie Inge Désirée

Abstract

Religious Tract Society's (RTS) publications for boys and for families, the "Boy's Own Paper", "The Leisure Hour" and "The Sunday at Home", reveal many of the efforts of Evangelical members of the middle class to counter the subversive influences of the fin de siecle. Through an examination of the changing portrayal of father figures in its stories, this paper argues that the Society was responding to contemporary socio-cultural and religious concerns. There are three major types of fatherhood displayed in these publications. A new version of the Trinity - the heavenly Father, the earthly father and the surrogate father - served as a powerful discursive weapon in the effort to maintain religious adherence and societal and familial continuity. It also argues that the Society while recognizing the value of women's moral guidance emphasised, as in earlier generations, men's, and specifically, fathers' primary moral and educational role in the family. Fictional stories and some non-fictional accounts found in these publications between 1879-1889 provide access to this older version of Evangelical domesticated masculinity and romanticized Christian manliness. This paper highlights an important minoritarian Victorian religious construction of masculinity largely ignored by historians who have focused their studies on dominant secular versions of imperial and muscular masculinity. More precisely, this paper demonstrates that the RTS offered a challenge to dominant British ideologies of masculinity. The religious ideal advocated by members of the RTS persisted alongside and in opposition to the newer constructions of imperial and muscular masculinity. This paper also begins to address the issue of how constructs of fatherhood were built up during boyhood through "The Leisure Hour" and "The Sunday at Home", but especially through the "Boy's Own Paper". For the members of the Religious Tract Society, the formation of masculinity for middle-class boys included expectations of their development as independent, self-sufficient men, able to perpetuate and strengthen their middle-class values and standing, while emphasising the preservation of traditional Evangelical values.

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