Christian Evangelical Fiction from 1800s Showcased in New Exhbit at Drew University Library and United Methodist Archives
Madison, N.J.—In the mid-19th century, writers of Christian fiction had to be creative to get their stories to a population that was spread out geographically and didn’t always have easy access to books.
It became popular for writers to serialize their books through magazines, newspapers and other periodicals that were published weekly and monthly. Those articles included dramatic soap-opera style stories, children’s parables and other evangelical fiction, some written by bestselling authors.
While conducting research for his dissertation in Drew’s United Methodist Archives, James M. Van Wyck, a Fordham University doctoral student, came upon several examples of Christian evangelical fiction from the mid-19th century, offering a glimpse at popular fiction from over 100 years ago.
Van Wyck and Christopher Anderson, Head of Special Collections, Archives, and Methodist Librarian for the Drew University Library, have joined forces to present an exhibit highlighting some of these historic gems. Drew’s rich collection reflects an array of authors—women authors, bestselling novelists, African-American authors and writers of children’s stories.
The exhibit, titled “Fictions Evangelicals Read: Perspectives on the Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Archive” opens on Tuesday, Nov. 11. There will be a reception at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7 p.m. Dr. Leonard Cassuto, an English professor from Fordham will be speaking on “Religion and the American Bestseller.”
Van Wyck explained that periodicals were inexpensive to print and mail, making them more accessible to Protestants living in remote areas than books of popular fiction. In addition, he said disenfranchised groups, including women and African-Americans, could get published in such periodicals and could influence their readers in matters including religion and voting, though they may otherwise have been prohibited from taking part in larger decision-making.
The exhibit, which is spread over eight cases in both the United Methodist Archives and History Center and the Drew University Library features books, pamphlets, letters and periodicals. The exhibit will remain until mid-February. It is free and open to the public.