Saturday, 23 April 2016

Vicars and Tarts!! Well almost

Tom Hughes Clerical Errors: A Victorian Series, Volume 1, (Kindle edition), £3.86

The behaviour of public figures has always been subject to scrutiny from an often prurient public. This has been particularly the case with clergymen especially those who pronounce solemnly on issues of personal morality and then demonstrate a hypocritical disregard for their own words.  Often their indiscretions were--and still are in some cases--brushed under the carpet by moving individuals to different parishes but often not before their actions had become newsworthy.  Public attention was magnified by the dramatic expansion of the local press during the nineteenth century--then as now scandal sold newspapers.  Clerical Errors mines the local press to explore five such scandals.  There is the case of a married London clergyman accused of writing an obscene letter to his supposed mistress; a country clergy accused of breach of promise and a Manchester curate who stole the affections of a wealthy cotton merchant's wife; a slander trial when a Berkshire clergyman sued a farmer who claimed to have seen the vicar and a female parishioner in a compromising position; and a vicar with a sickly wife who advertised for a cook with unfortunate consequences. 
Not only are the stories of these five scandals well told and are based on an obvious detailed understanding of the contemporary press, but they provide important insights into social attitudes in Victorian Britain to the politics of class and gender and the ways in which both the common law and ecclesiastical courts were used  in clerical scandals.  Reputation was critical for individuals, especially clergymen, and they were prepared to go to great lengths to protect it. 
This is an excellent book in which Tom Hughes writes with verve on a subject he knows well.  It combines well-structured, interesting narrative with analysis of why the five stories are important in illustrating social attitudes to clerical misdemeanours.  I look forward to further volumes on the subject.

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