Victorian Literature John Henry Newman
Diana Powell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0047


John Henry (Cardinal) Newman (b. 1801–d. 1890) was an extremely influential and controversial Victorian author, religious leader, and theologian. Newman’s original ideas on history helped form his spiritual beliefs, while his powerful presence inspired both devoted loyalty and ardent criticism. Newman began life as an Anglican; he was later converted to Evangelicalism, back to Anglicanism, and finally to Roman Catholicism. As the leader of the High-Anglican Tractarian (or Oxford) movement and the founder of their mouthpiece Tracts for the Times, Newman was a powerful polemical voice. His influence was strengthened by his sermons at St. Mary’s, Oxford, and his approach to education as a means of discipleship. When Newman wrote Tract 90 and resigned his fellowship at Oxford, many of his loyal admirers followed him to his parish at Littlemore, causing a crisis within the Church and among the Tractarians, since several also “went over” to Rome. As a Roman Catholic, Newman was distrusted by Pope Pius IX and feuded with Cardinal Manning, the archbishop of Westminster. Although commissioned with starting the first Catholic University in Ireland (which proved unsuccessful), by 1864, when the clergyman and writer Charles Kingsley criticized Newman in his review of J. A. Froude’s History of England, Newman was a forgotten public figure living a quiet existence at the Birmingham Oratory. Kingsley’s attack prompted Newman to write the Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864), which reestablished his fame and made him sympathetic to the English populace, which, twenty years earlier, had treated him with suspicion. Newman’s wrote his most significant work of Catholic theology, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent in 1870. Controversy continued to follow Newman, as he defended English Catholics against Gladstone’s charges of disloyalty and weathered the same charge of disloyalty from some Catholics for his hesitation over papal infallibility. Newman’s relationship with Father Ambrose St. John fuelled a posthumous debate over his sexuality. Newman remains an influential figure, with his seemingly imminent canonization (the pope beatified Newman on 19 September 2010 in Birmingham, England; beatification is the penultimate step in canonization) increasing the interest in Newman scholarship.

General Overviews

Scholarly interest in Newman has been consistent, but anniversaries of his life and works, and his beatification, have increased both popular and critical interest in Newman, with Dietz and Dechant 2010 using Newman’s beatification as a premise for examining his life. Overviews of Newman range from the topical, and at times hagiographical, to a broader look at his life and works. Dessain 1966 attempts to strike a balance between the two by offering a broad but compact look at Newman’s life and spirituality. Jaki 2000 addresses Newman’s diverse interests by showing how his religious beliefs influenced his opinions on, among other things, science and history. Ker 1990 divides Newman’s many interests into distinct roles, making it easy for students of Newman to dip into one aspect of Newman’s life. Coulson and Allchin 1967, a collection of essays, is similarly topical, without being so strictly arranged. The online Newman Reader, maintained by the National Institute of Newman Studies, is even more scattershot, offering primary materials, essays, biographical information, and criticism. Strange 2008 presents a highly personal, though not unscholarly work on aspects of Newman’s thought and life. Of the more narrowly focused essays, Ker and Merrigan 2009, despite the broad title, focuses mostly on Newman’s religious beliefs.

  • Coulson, John, and A. M. Allchin, eds. The Rediscovery of Newman: An Oxford Symposium. London and Melbourne: Sheed and Ward, 1967.

    A collection of essays that is unique in considering Newman’s influence in Germany, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands. Begins by describing Newman’s relevance to modern times, before considering his theology, philosophy, and his Evangelical, Anglican, and ecumenical ideas.

  • Dessain, Charles Stephen. John Henry Newman. London: Nelson, 1966.

    A good introduction to Newman’s thought and a foundational text. Quotes heavily from Newman’s letters and diaries and focuses on Newman as a spiritual man.

  • Dietz, Kathleen, and Mary-Birgit Dechant. Blessed John Henry Newman: A Richly Illustrated Portrait. Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 2010.

    A brief overview of Newman designed for a general readership; centered on a collection of pictures and Newman memorabilia. Intended to support Newman’s beatification, it argues against Wilfred Ward’s view of Newman as a sensitive recluse (see Ward 1912, cited under Biographies) to cast him as a practical, social man with a deep sense of personal holiness.

  • Elder, Bob, ed. Newman Reader. National Institute of Newman Studies.

    A helpful resource including publications of firsthand reminiscences of Newman, overviews, a chronology, a biography, and press reports on Newman. Contains the Victorian critic Richard Hutton’s work on Newman, which offers a brief introduction to Newman’s Anglican period.

  • Jaki, Stanley L. Newman’s Challenge. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

    Examines Newman’s belief in the supernatural as it affected his views on truth, history, science, and religion. Argues that although many saw Newman as a modernizer, his belief in the supernatural presents an obstacle to that view.

  • Ker, Ian. The Achievement of John Henry Newman. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990.

    Considers Newman’s roles of educator, philosopher, preacher, theologian, and writer. Its bibliography is a particularly good starting point for those interested in examining one area of Newman’s life and is useful for both undergraduates and postgraduates. The sections on Newman’s sermons and his philosophy are particularly helpful in that Newman’s work is examined for its literary and philosophical qualities.

  • Ker, Ian, and Terrence Merrigan, eds. The Cambridge Companion to John Henry Newman. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521871860

    Introduces Newman’s life and writing, but the bulk of the thirteen essays detail aspects of his theological beliefs, including justification, infallibility, authority, the Church Fathers, revelation, faith, the development of doctrine, the Church as a communion, preaching, conscience, theology in university, and the logic of faith. Sheridan Gilley’s chapter, “Life and Writings,” and David Burrell’s chapter, “Newman in Retrospect,” are particularly helpful.

  • Strange, Roderick. John Henry Newman: A Mind Alive. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2008.

    Attempts to introduce Newman to new readers by narrowing the scope of the book’s content to aspects of Newman that the author finds particularly striking. Written in a self-revelatory style, the book explores modern critics’ thoughts on Newman alongside biographical materials but maintains its academic referencing. An overview of Newman’s life is followed by an examination of his thoughts and his public and private life.

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