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"Pointing Wayfarers to the Right Road": Puritan Dissent and the Textual Work of Susannah Spurgeon

  • Author / Creator
    Johnson, Adrea
  • This dissertation demonstrates the importance of recovering the work of nineteenth-century Dissenting women whose life and writing have been overshadowed and minimized by their husband’s pastoral ministry. Specifically, it examines the textual work of Susannah Spurgeon (1832-1903), wife of the celebrated Baptist preacher and author Charles (CH.) Spurgeon, as a lens through which to consider how Dissenting women reimagined the traditional position of the “help-meet” and, in doing so, challenged the established gendered boundaries of theological writing and reform. Through her Book Fund (1875-1903) Spurgeon distributed over two-hundred thousand Puritan books, including titles by her husband, to impoverished ministers across the world. She also wrote two volumes of Fund reports and three devotional texts, all of which remain unexamined in contemporary Victorian, literary, and theological scholarship. In her reports Spurgeon outlines the details of the Fund’s operation and the minister’s need for preaching material, but she also represents her work as both independent of her husband and extending beyond the traditional boundaries of the nineteenth-century minister’s wife. As such, her writing not only challenges the expectations and limitations associated with the “help-meet,” but also provides a new set of images through which to re-imagine the ministerial wife’s contributions to the “flock.” Furthermore, in her reports Spurgeon suggests her work is driven and inspired not only by a “famine” of books among ministers, but also by theological reform: the revival of Puritan doctrine within Dissent. Spurgeon urges Dissenting ministers and churches to return to Puritan theology and also warns, even preaches, against the “evil influences” of contemporary liberal doctrine (TYA 120). Drawing on language and imagery from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Spurgeon proclaims liberal theology is as spiritually sinful as Bunyan’s “surly” Giant (110). In doing so she not only provides doctrinal guidance to her readers, directing pilgrims to the “right road” of Puritanism, but also simultaneously contributes to a contemporary theological debate, The Down-Grade Controversy, within her Baptist tradition (TYA 28). Thus, Spurgeon’s representation of her work extends beyond mere contribution to CH. Spurgeon’s ministry; her reports perform as her own polemic against heresy and re-frame the position of the “help-meet” as one of both theological defense and reform. This dissertation also examines how Spurgeon draws on and adapts a Dissenting evangelical tradition of textual representation, one that imbues the Bible and religious texts with divine power. More specifically, to illustrate the spiritual “help” provided by her Fund, Spurgeon idealizes Puritan texts and doctrine as “absolutely necessary” sustenance not only for “hungry” ministers, but all godly men and women (TY 46). Through this dramatization, of both ministerial poverty and the performance of the book, Spurgeon validates the Puritan texts she distributes, the Book Fund she operates, and the ministerial work she performs. This examination of her life and Fund, therefore, contributes to and nuances the study of Dissenting women’s religious work, self-representation, and theological writing.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-jwsk-sa06
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.