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“Jesus and Pan Held Sway Together”: Christological Resonances in Edmund Gosse’s The Secret of Narcisse: A Romance (1892)

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The Figure of Christ in the Long Nineteenth Century
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This chapter is about Christological resonances and seeks to peel away the layers of ambiguity that influenced Edmund Gosse’s figuration of Christ in his little-known novella, The Secret of Narcisse (1892). Set in sixteenth-century France, it makes diverse and complex representations of Christ and exposes the intolerance of religious communities. Rees examines the Christ-figure from three perspectives: first, sculptural representations of both Christ and the Christian spirit; second, Gosse’s construction of Narcisse using biblical and mythological (specifically Ovidian) imagery; and, third, his synthesis of the concept of ritual atonement with self-sacrificial Christian martyrdom. Rees argues that Secret may be viewed through the lens of four narrative paintings by Holman Hunt. The paintings encapsulate Gosse’s childhood experience described in Father and Son (1907) of being raised in expectation of becoming a Victorian “figure of Christ” himself (Hunt’s Finding of Christ in the Temple 1860), and characterise Gosse’s own resistance to conversion (The Light of the World 1853). In terms of Secret, Gosse uses iconic crucifixion metaphors to characterise Narcisse’s experience in ways that echo Hunt’s The Shadow of Death (1873), and he foregrounds Narcisse’s fate at the hands of the religious authorities through imagery related to Hunt’s earlier work, The Scapegoat (1856).

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  1. 1.

    Gosse’s parents admired the writings of Andrew John Jukes which “were in no small degree responsible for the typology that later became second nature” to the Plymouth Brethren (Coad 1968, 78).

  2. 2.

    Gosse would have been fully aware of the chronology of these paintings, as from 1875—when he married Ellen Epps (pupil of Ford Madox Brown and sister-in-law of Lawrence Alma-Tadema)—he moved in artistic social circles that included Holman Hunt. The interaction between the two families was sufficiently close that Gosse’s children attended parties at the Hunts’ home (Thwaite 1985, 335).


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Rees, K. (2020). “Jesus and Pan Held Sway Together”: Christological Resonances in Edmund Gosse’s The Secret of Narcisse: A Romance (1892). In: Ludlow, E. (eds) The Figure of Christ in the Long Nineteenth Century . Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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