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Priests of Culture

A Study of Matthew Arnold and Henry James


Douglas W. Sterner

Priests of Culture is an analysis of the thought of two cultural critics, Matthew Arnold and Henry James. Focusing on Arnold's cultural and religious criticism and James's travel literature, this study examines the efforts of both Arnold and James to find in an ideal of «culture» a supreme center of value around which to rally the forces of civilization in the wake of a nineteenth-century crisis of faith and unsettling social change. Arnold responds directly to that crisis in offering a doctrine of «culture» to serve as a bulwark for standards to replace an intellectually crippled Christianity. James appears to accept the absence of faith, but is even more appalled at the erosion of cultural standards in an America increasingly reduced to a «money-grabbing democracy». Sterner argues that their critiques remain compelling, but the curative, cultural visions of both founder in their attempts to make «culture» serve purposes normally, and properly, reserved to religion.