THOMAS J. JOUDREY n its own era no less than ours, nineteenth-century British pornography enjoyed a reputation as a generic agent of dissolution and subversion. Its narratives mocked propriety, set marriages asunder, frayed public spiritedness, and botched lines of inheritance. This characterization of obscenity as corrosive to social cohesion, however, runs aground on a pornographic ballad like "Expostulation with a Fierce Preacher."1 Set in India, the poem unfolds a salacious tale of unruly parishioners commandeering the sacred public space of the church for the purpose of sexual seduction. We witness the parson gnashing his teeth as the collapse of his authority seems to augur an attenuation of community: Oh, jealous Cotterill, why so warm? Because your congregation, In spite of all you preach and storm, Persist in fornication. (ll. 14) Here, the conventionally sovereign voice of the sermonizer-- Cotterill--has been supplanted by the collective speech of the congregants. He would coerce his flock into submission by "barking" at them as "sheep in pens," warning them of the precariousness of their English identity, given their displacement in a foreign colony (ll. 14, 13). Cotterill's gambit invokes a sentimentalized sense of nativity--familial and national--to keep his parishioners in obeisance: "He
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: Mar 30, 2016
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