I'd been rummaging lately to locate a college novel to read since this is about the time of year I do that. I'd been looking at a couple but yesterday I got the oddest urge to read horror and picked up this novel I'd bought 4 or 5 years ago. surprisingly, this one takes care of both yens. it takes place among victorian-era university graduates, 1 of whom (the narrator) is a professor at oxbridge, and the other teaches maths in the small fictional town of thurchester. it's an interesting read thus far and, unlike elizabeth peters, charles palliser has the patter of late 19th century prose down. I esp appreciated this dialogue:
"'I've heard that the chapter suffers particularly acutely from the usual conflicts between the ritualists and the evangelicals,' I said...
"'that's what lies behind the argument about work on the cathedral,' [austin] said with a nod. 'for some people it is nothing but a beautiful old shell and they want to preserve it unchanged because for them it has no significance beyond its material being.'
"I smiled to hide my irritation. 'is anyone who loves old churches to be regarded as an infidel?'
"'I'm talking of all those in this age who have made a religion out of things peripheral to, or other than, christianity: music, history, art, literature.'
"...'speaking for myself, I would say that I've retained the moral meaning of works of art like the cathedral but separated it from the baggage of superstition.'
"...he slowly repeated my words. 'the baggage of superstition. you and your ilk are the purveyors of baggage. what you have done is to put together a jumble of beliefs, to produce a new form of superstition that is much more dangerous than anything in christianity. and of less use. it won't help you with the great issues: loss, the death of those you love, the imminence of your own death.'
"'is that what religion should be? a comforting fiction? I'd rather choose the truth...however harsh it might be.'
"'there's nothing harsher than christianity.'
"'are you a believer now, austin? you used not to be.'
"'you're talking of twenty years past,' he said irritably. 'don't you think some things might have changed in the world outside the confines of a cambridge college?...as undergraduates we used to talk glibly of christianity as superstition...a superstition which had all but evaporated in the light of rationalism and whose final disappearance we confidently predicted. but now I understand that it is the other way around: that without faith, all you have is superstition. fear of the dark, of ghosts, of the realm of death which continues to frighten us, whatever we believe. we need stories to stop us being frightened...what I'm talking about is faith, belief, acceptance of the absolute reality of salvation and damnation. you--and others of our generation--lost your faith because you decided that science can explain everything. I believed that myself for a while but I came to understand that reason and faith are not in conflict. they are different orders of reality. although I understand that now, when I was younger I shared your error. I know now that because there is darkness, there is light. that because there is death, there is life. because there is evil, there is goodness. because there is damnation, there is redemption.'
"'because there is bacon, there are eggs!' I could not prevent myself from exclaiming. 'what poppycock!'"
--from the unburied by charles palliser