The title of this book gives a general idea of its subject matter–a sideline of the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival in art and literature. This took the form among High Church Anglicans, not only of restoring parish churches and cathedrals, but also founding brotherhoods on supposedly medieval lines. “Olde Worlde” externals, such as flowing black robes, shaven heads, sandals and rosary beads, helped to make young men forget that they were living in the midst of an industrial revolution. To a large extent, the whole business of building up monastic waste places was a form of escapism. As the reader will discover, the result was often as unreal as the twilight world pictured by Alfred Tennyson in his series of connected poems entitled Idylls of the King, which appeared at intervals between 1842 and 1885. The earlier “monkeries,” with their dim religious light and Gothic gloom described in these pages, were contemporary with Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series of novels.
Anson has dealt already with the revival of the religious life for men and women within the Anglican Communion in The Benedictines of Caldey (1940), The Call of the Cloister (1955), and Abbot Extraordinary (1958). In his latest book, he concentrates on Father Ignatius of Jesus, Abbot Aelred Carlyle, and Father Hopkins, each of whom tried to restore Benedictine monastic life in the post-Reformation Church of England. Much new material has been discovered in recent years that debunks more than one lovely legend. The octogenarian author has not been afraid to disclose many facts which some readers may feel ought to have been kept hidden, for they are not exactly edifying. The entire book might be summed up in Lord Byron’s words: “‘Tis strange–but true; for truth is always stranger than fiction.”