These two studies of Victorian religious scepticism are extremely welcome, and for largely different reasons. Giles St Aubyn’s Souls in Torment is a magisterial account of the background and growth of doubt, structured according to theme, so that the ideas of the leading thinkers reappear in several places. In The Age of Doubt, Christopher Lane discusses the same set of intellectuals, but focuses on the controversies that subsequently developed out of their work. Whereas St Aubyn’s style indicates experience of the classroom (he is a distinguished teacher), Lane’s approach is influenced by intellectual and everyday discussion in contemporary America, where he is a professor. Their different perspectives instructively illuminate Victorian debates.
Though both authors note that sceptics comprised only a very small section of the Victorian intellectual elite, neither fully recognises the robustness of Victorian belief. In consequence, both authors tend to divide the period’s believers into resilient, exclusive Evangelicals and unreflective traditionalists. But this is mistaken: the Victorian