By Carla Arnell, Lake Forest College
This essay suggests that a deeper understanding of the relationship between artistry and spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s work depends upon examining how the Arts and Crafts movement, as a vehicle for translating and modernizing idealized aspects of medieval culture, shaped Underhill’s novels and, ultimately, her unique spiritual ethos. Her fiction is everywhere marked by medievalism and, more specifically, by the Arts and Crafts movement’s distinctive reception of medieval culture. A study of Underhill’s complex response to the Arts and Crafts movement illuminates why she sees God as a tool maker and the human soul as a craftsman for whom the material things of this world –architecture, stained glass, jewelry, books – can become vehicles for making this life meaningful and for practically accessing the beauty of a divine Reality beyond. I argue, therefore, that key aspects of the Arts and Crafts movement’s moral aesthetic define the practical spirituality in Underhill’s novels, prefiguring the sacramental turn of her later writings.
Published in Studies in Medievalism XXVIII: Medievalism and Discrimination, Cambridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2019, pp. 53-76.