By: (William) Winwood Reade (1838-1875)
For many nineteenth-century Christians, the new biological and geological discoveries of that era brought on severe crises of faith. Winwood Reade’s small epistolary novel “The Outcast” tells the story of a young man who sacrifices love and family and property for the sake of his conscience, which tells him that his lifelong beliefs cannot stand up to the heady revelations of the new science. Interestingly, the most crushing discovery for the anonymous letter-writer of this story is not simply that the Bible is not what he thought it was. He is far more overwhelmed by the concept of the new God he would have to believe in; instead of the benevolent God who had created the mystical Nature of Romanticism, he would have to accept a God who had created a ruthless evolutionary Nature in which murder and death are the ruling principles. The great choice before the narrator is this: should I cause pain and suffering to all I love by following my conscience, or should I compromise my conscience in a life of hypocrisy?