THE SLEEP OF REASON: Fantasy and Reality from the Victorian Age to the First World War by Derek Jarrett

THE SLEEP OF REASON: Fantasy and Reality from the Victorian Age to the First World War

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The death throes of religious belief from the accession of Victoria Regina to the publication of Eliot's The Waste Land. Jarrett (History/U. of London) describes with great cogency and frequent wit the confrontation of faith and science, of idealism and pragmatism, of ""fantasy"" and ""reality"" during a period that saw the rise (and decline) of millenarianism, spiritualism, Revivalism, biological and social Darwinism, and the horrors of the First World War. One of Jarrett's leitmotifs, and an effective one, is the scene in Barry's Peter Pan in which Peter pleads with the audience to believe in fairies so that Tinkerbell may live. The author's comparison of this theatrical device to the efforts of church leaders to revivify religious fervor in the face of the so-called ""death of God"" is a telling one. His narrative, which in less able hands could have been merely a dreary recital of abstract positions, is also enlivened by sprightly portraits of many of those involved in the 19th century's religious striving. Major and minor figures in the story include William Miller, who predicted the end of the world in 1843; Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; William Gladstone; Benjamin Disraeli; and, of course, ""The Widow of Windsor"" herself. Of particular interest is Anna Kingsford, an English occultist who, according to Jarrett, communicated not only with Joan of Arc but ""went on to speak with Winowa, a Red Indian girl acquainted with Osiris and Jesus Christ. The presence of Jesus was especially welcome since Anna knew that in an earlier life she had been Mary Magdalene."" Erudition leavened with colorful anecdotes, a wry sense of humor, and a writing style that is as lively as a camp meeting.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1989
Publisher: Harper & Row