Breaking loose: Frederick Faber and the failure of reserve

Kirstie Blair

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Frederick William Faber holds an uneasy position among the Tractarian poets. One of their brightest hopes in the late 1830s and early 1840s, in terms of his considerable poetic gifts which could, it was hoped, be harnessed in the service of religion, he was also (after Newman) the most sensational example of "perversion" from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. After his dramatic conversion in 1845, Faber went on to become one of the most extreme practitioners of ultra-montane Catholicism and the founder of the London Oratory, known for his devotion to Mary and his patron saint, standing for everything that conservative Protestantism most despised. He continued to write poetry and hymns throughout his life and his early works were republished after his conversion, but there are some marked differences between the subject-matter and language of the poems written as an Anglican, and those written or revised as a dedicated Catholic priest. Roman Catholicism appeared to provide Faber with an outlet for his intensely emotional poetics, a license to express passionate love for Christ and Mary. The poems published during his High Anglican years and his comments on his poetics in letters from that time, in contrast, display tension in their expression of strong feeling-particularly when that feeling is directed not to God but to a specific person-and seem to regard emotional release as self-indulgent and potentially dangerous. Much of Faber's early poetry consists of fairly standard Wordsworthian hymns to the beauty of Nature and sentimental memories of his time spent in Oxford, Europe, and the Lakes. But the poems addressed to his male friends and those specifically dealing with Tractarian issues stand out for their intense engagement with feeling and faith, and raise questions about the nature of male friendships and, more generally, about the relation between reserve and release, which were to have significant implications for Anglican poetics in the succeeding decades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-42
Number of pages16
JournalVictorian Poetry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • Tractarian
  • poetry
  • Victorian


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