Since the political left and right first arose during the French Revolution, Catholics have been categorized as either conservatives or liberals, and most Catholics...

Since the political left and right first arose during the French Revolution, Catholics have been categorized as either conservatives or liberals, and most Catholics of the French nineteenth century are assumed to have been conservatives. In Romantic Catholics: France’s Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith (Cornell University Press, 2014), Carol E. Harrison goes beyond this familiar dichotomy to unveil a tradition of lay Catholicism that refused to go to either side, remaining in the political middle and marrying traditional Catholicism with a progressive social consciousness. Many of these people were the companions and heirs of the all-too-ill-known Félicité de Lamennais, whose condemnation by the pope in the 1830s did not prevent his social and religious vision from continuing to flourish throughout the century.

I spoke with Harrison to hear her perspective on her Catholics, who range from the celebrated daughter of Victor Hugo Léopoldine, to a totally forgotten best-selling novelist, Pauline Craven, to the Empress Eugenia de Montijo herself. Nor were male Catholics missing from the story: we talked about the well-known historian Frédéric Ozanam, the melancholy poet Maurice de Guérin, and the Dominican star Henri Lacordaire. I heard all about their ‘romantic impulse toward a renewal of faith’.”
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