By Lowell Gallagher, Frederick S. Roden, Patricia Juliana Smith (eds.)

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1 This catechumen manqué is, of course, Dorian Gray. Midway through his Gothic novel, Wilde anatomized in Augustinian fashion his young seeker’s degradation: not by a luridly minute inventory of sexual exploits (as Huysmans had done a few years previously in the character of Des Esseintes), but by a more mundane though not less material accumulation: Dorian’s collections of perfumes, exotic musical instruments, jewels, embroideries, and finally, ecclesiastical vestments. While it would likely have repulsed and horrified Victorian readers’ evangelical sensibilities, Dorian’s exploration of forms of “high church” Catholicism is a spiritual journey into a kind of transcendental hedonism: “For these treasures, and everything that he collected in his lovely house, were to be to him means of forgetfulness, modes by which he could 19 20 Catholic Figures, Queer Narratives escape for a season, from the fear that seemed to him at times to be almost too great to be borne” (Wilde 140).

This injunction holds particularly in matters of chastity, with regard to which most persons, even those in the holy state of marriage, encounter special difficulties. (419, para. 882) Catholic converts, regardless of their sexualities, could find in the doctrines and practices of the Church antidotes to some of the dilemmas posed by Protestant Christianity. As Schiefelbein points out in his study of English Victorian fiction: . . unlike nonfictional discourse of the day, these novels also explore the imaginatively rich possibilities of Catholic culture.

At the same time, Catholic moral manuals and penitential practice obliquely encouraged promiscuous sexual liaisons. Hanson recalls the commonplace “that gay people turn to the Church to hide from their desire,” but he counters instead “that they are searching for a suitable stage on which to perform it” (24). Between the late sixteenth century, after the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent, and the mid-twentieth, before the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholic liturgical practices offered an external forum for the enactment of faux médiéval pageantry, a performance of spiritual devotions that subordinated the internal forum, the realm of Protestantism’s “born again” conversion, to the liturgical external forum.

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