Monday, December 05, 2005

Lady Powerscourt I

I have named my blog after Lady Powerscourt, not to say that I agree with everything she stood for, but rather to indicate that for me, she has been an inspiration, a beginning, and someone to remember. In the 1830's we find the origins of the modern evangelical movement and the development of many theological and social patterns which continue to shape our own age.

In sorting through my books, I picked up a dark green, gold-embossed copy of "Letters of Viscountess Powerscourt" edited by Robert Daly, Bishop of Cashel, sixteenth edition, printed in 1905. Thinking that she would be relatively unknown, I was surprised to find that this book has recently been reprinted.

Lady Powerscourt represents a female Christian leader of the 1830's whose advice and opinion was requested on scriptural and theological matters, even though she died at the age of thirty-six.

Here is an excerpt from Bishop Daly's preface.

"I thought that this candle which the Lord had lighted should not be hid under a bushel, but put on a candlestick, that it might give light to all that are in the house....

There will be original and strong thoughts, clothed in original and strong lanaguage, ... In truth I like those strong impressions: they bring back to my recollection, the image of the strongest mind that I ever met in any woman; they help to remind me of that which was her particular characteristic, - uncommon masculine strength, combined with the extremest feminine gentleness."

Bishop Cashel holds up Theodosia Powerscourt as an exemplar Christian, not as an exemplar woman. There is no mention of her being an example only to other women, but rather to 'all that are in the house.' (i.e. the church)

While we might read Cashel's statements as stereotyping women, and criticize his evinced surprise at Lady Powerscourt's strong mind, I prefer to see that here he espresses a theological perspective on gender. According to this portrait, the virtue of a Christian woman is to display both 'masculine strength' and 'feminine gentleness.' Christians best represent God when they embody what is the best of both the masculine and the feminine. This is the goal that we should strive towards as Christians, not the diverse complementary distribution of Christian virtue in men and women, so that we are not whole unless we make up couple.

I have just been to see "Pride & Prejudice" and was reminded that in this novel, the characteristic of follower was not considered to be the domain of the woman, but of the loyal and malleable friend. Bingley, the follower, marries another like hmself; and Darcy, the leader and quiet philanthropist, chooses someone who will not follow him, but resist and stand up to him. Only the irreverent Lizzie is suitable to be his mate.

The movie was a visual pleasure but don't forget how the novel closes.

"Pemberley was now Georgiana's home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended. Georgiana had the highest opinion in the world of Elizabeth; though at first she often listened with an astonishment bordering on alarm at her lively, sportive, manner of talking to her brother. He, who had always inspired in herself a respect which almost overcame her affection, she now saw the object of open pleasantry. Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen in her way. By Elizabeth's instructions, she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself."

I don't propose this as theology but the story of 'Pride & Prejudice' has lasting human appeal. And it comes from a social setting briefly preceding Lady Powerscourt's.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it would be entirely accurate to say that the modern evangelical movement began in the 1830's. Historians generally say that it began with John Newton in England in the 18th century. The Brethren have a tendency to speak as if everything good began with the founding of the Brethren Movement. I think that this is because of a general narcissism with regard to their own movement and a general ignorance of church history. Not that I'm accusing you of these things. I think it's simply an accepted and often repeated viewpoint in Brethren circles.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


You are so right. I can hardly believe that I wrote that. I will have to post an update and retraction of that statement. I don't believe that at all, but I think that I read that in an article about LP and just took it without critical analysis. Thank you.