Addressing a neglected aspect of John Clare's history, Sarah Houghton-Walker explores Clare's poetry within the framework of his faith and the religious context in which he lived. While Clare expressed affection for the Established Church and other denominations on various occasions, Houghton-Walker brings together a vast array of evidence to show that any exploration of Clare's religious faith must go beyond pulpit and chapel. Phenomena that Clare himself defines as elements of faith include ghosts, witches, and literature, as well as concepts such as selfhood, Eden, eternity, childhood, and evil. Together with more traditional religious expressions, these apparently disparate features of Clare's spirituality are revealed to be of fundamental significance to his poetry, and it becomes evident that Clare's experiences can tell us much about the experience of 'religion', 'faith', and 'belief' in the period more generally. A distinguishing characteristic of Houghton-Walker's approach is her conviction that one must take into account all aspects of Clare's faith or else risk misrepresenting it. Her book thus engages not only with the facts of Clare's religious habits but also with the ways in which he was literally inspired, and with how that inspiration is connected to his intimations of divinity, to his vision of nature, and thus to his poetry. Belief, mediated through the idea of vision, is found to be implicated in Clare's experiences and interpretations of the natural world and is thus shown to be critical to the content of his verse.
'Houghton-Walker does have a pointed and significant criticism to make of Clare scholarship: that it 'ignores the less-than-concrete' so consistently it cannot recognize 'that vision can be both physical and metaphysical' (p. 169). This book helps redress that critical error by attending carefully and sympathetically to Clare's metaphysics, to the myriad ways in which he infuses the concrete world of nature with religious significance and powerfully presents his moments both of doubt and of transcendent faith.' English ’John Clare’s Religion promises to be a continuing influence in Clare studies for the foreseeable future. Houghton-Walker’s book, due to the depth and breadth of the research, also serves as an extremely useful explication of the varieties of religious practice in England in the early nineteenth-century.’ Romantic Textualities