Illuminated initial I

n the first of the paragraphs that follow, which comes from the introduction to his friend's The Saint's Tragedy F. D. Maurice points to the importance of Elizabeth as a way of understanding the middle ages, the limits of acceptable self-sacrifice, and of course the nature of women and their relation to men. This almost-forgotten play held great appeal to the young men of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and it made the figure of St. Elizabeth well enough known that characters in Mary Augusta Ward's Robert Elsmere could refer to her as a means of characterizing Catherine Leyburn, a central figure in the narrative. The second, which comes from Kingsley's preface, makes clear that the main subject of his work is an emphasis upon the healthiness of sexuality and the unnaturalness of celibacy .

F. D. Maurice

The subject of this Play is certainly a dangerous one, it suggests questions which are deeply interesting at the present time. It involves the whole character and spirit of the Middle Ages. A person who had not an enthusiastic admiration for the character of Elizabeth would not be worthy to speak of her; it seems to me, that he would be still less worthy, if he did not admire far more fervently that ideal of the female character which God has established, and not man—which she imperfectly realised—which often exhibited itself in her in spite of her own more confused, though apparently more lofty, ideal; which may be manifested more simply, and therefore more perfectly, in the England of the nineteenth century, than in the Germany of the thirteenth. To enter into the meaning of self-sacrifice—to sympathise with any one who aims at it—not to be misled by counterfeits of it—not to be unjust to the truth which may be mixed with those counterfeits—is a difficult task, but a necessary one for any one who takes this work in hand.

Charles Kingsley

In deducing fairly, from the phenomena of her life, the character of Elizabeth, she necessarily became a type of two great mental struggles of the Middle Age; first, of that between Scriptural or unconscious, and Popish or conscious, purity: in a word, between innocence and prudery; next, of the struggle between healthy human affection, and the Manichean contempt with which a celibate clergy would have all men regard the names of husband, wife, and parent. To exhibit this latter falsehood in its miserable consequences, when received into a heart of insight and determination sufficient to follow out all belief to its ultimate practice, is the main object of my Poem. That a most degrading and agonising contradiction on these points must have existed in the mind of Elizabeth, and of all who with similar characters shall have found themselves under similar influences, is a necessity that must be evident to all who know anything of the deeper affections of men.

Last modified 28 July 2014