Victorian Literature John Keble
Kirstie Blair
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0038


John Keble (b. 1792–d. 1866) is remembered as one of the founding figures of the Oxford Movement (or Tractarianism). J. H. Newman credited Keble’s Assize Sermon of 1833, “National Apostasy,” as marking the start of the movement, though Keble himself denied this in later life. His critical reputation today largely rests on his authorship of several notable works of literary theory and The Christian Year (1827), perhaps the best-selling book of poetry of the 19th century. Keble also wrote many sermons and tracts, including several of the Tracts for the Times; edited the complete works of the Anglican Richard Hooker; and wrote a collection of poetry for and about children, Lyra Innocentium. Unlike fellow Tractarians such as Newman, Keble seldom engaged in open controversy, yet his works and his life as a model clergyman were aimed at supporting the renewed doctrines and practices of the Church of England, and through his writings and his personality he became a revered influence on younger generations of Victorian High Churchmen and women. The popularity and familiarity of his religious verse also had a significant impact on later poets, including Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, and Thomas Hardy. Keble College, Oxford, was founded in his honor after his death.

General Overviews

Accounts of Keble’s life and work arguably did not diverge from the hagiographical (or its reverse, in assessments by those who did not share Keble’s religious convictions) until the mid-20th century, with Beek 1959 as one of the earliest reassessments of his significance from a nonpartisan perspective. Most criticism on Keble discusses his simultaneous roles as priest, pastor, and poet, to borrow Rowell’s categories (in Henery 1995). Edgecombe 1996, Gilley 1983, and Martin 1976 end up more on the side of the poet, offering sustained analyses of Keble’s poems and poetic theories. These studies are primarily aimed at literary critics. Griffin 1987 focuses primarily on Keble’s politics, while the contributors to Henery 1995—a collection intended for an Anglican readership—in part reassess his pastoral role. Five out of twelve essays in Blair 2004 cover Keble’s influence on later writers, primarily in the field of English literature, while three essays offer close readings of Keble’s works, and four more locate him more broadly within religious and political contexts. The Victorian Web is a significant online resource. The page on Keble contains short and selective discussions of various aspects of Keble’s theological and literary views.

  • Beek, W. J. A. M. John Keble’s Literary and Religious Contributions to the Oxford Movement. Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Centrale Drukkerij, 1959.

    Careful reading of Keble’s main works, outlining the religious ideas they contain. A good introduction, though its historical assumptions are somewhat dated.

  • Blair, Kirstie, ed. John Keble in Context. London: Anthem, 2004.

    Contains twelve essays and a short introduction exploring Keble’s reputation and arguing for the need to reassess his influence. The essays assume a certain amount of specialist knowledge but collectively offer a valuable set of different perspectives on Keble’s works and their impact on his contemporaries.

  • Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. Two Poets of the Oxford Movement: John Keble and John Henry Newman. London: Associated University Presses, 1996.

    The second and third chapters provide a poem-by-poem reading of The Christian Year, particularly strong on Keble’s language, imagery, and literary influences. The most sustained examination of Keble’s verse available.

  • Gilley, Sheridan. “John Keble and the Victorian Churching of Romanticism.” In An Infinite Complexity: Essays in Romanticism. Edited by J. R. Watson, 226–239. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983.

    Offers a helpful summary of the position of the church in the early 19th century and argues that Keble’s innovation and success came via his deployment of Romantic ideologies to enhance the spiritual life of Anglicanism.

  • Griffin, John R. John Keble: Saint of Anglicanism. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987.

    Positions itself as a revisionist study debunking earlier accounts of the “saintly” Keble and usefully reconsiders various aspects of his shifting religious and political principles, such as his conservatism and anti-Catholicism. Interesting, but contains many one-sided readings of key texts.

  • Henery, Charles R., ed. A Speaking Life: John Keble and the Anglican Tradition of Ministry and Art. Leominster, MA: Gracewing, 1995.

    Contains four essays that originated as lectures designed to celebrate Anglican tradition and were delivered at a US theological seminary. Only Geoffrey Rowell’s “John Keble: A Speaking Life” (pp. 1–66) discusses Keble extensively, providing a valuable account of his roles as priest and pastor.

  • John Keble. Victorian Web.

    A selection of helpful extracts from studies featuring Keble, notably from George P. Landow’s Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature (1980).

  • Martin, Brian W. John Keble: Priest, Professor, and Poet. London: Croom Helm, 1976.

    Intelligent and informed study of Keble’s life and works, with particular emphasis on his aesthetic theories and poetry. The best full-length study available.

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