Page 2, 15th June 1945

15th June 1945
Page 2
Page 2, 15th June 1945 — THE . CATHOLIC . NOVEL

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Organisations: Park College, Bath
Locations: Upton, Polegate, Rome


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Sta,—It is not fair to Mauriac to quote the accusation brought against him by Gide that he built up sales on filth, without quoting also his very effective justification of his choice of subjects, in the book Dieu et Mammon.

His thesis is that Catholic writers cannot ignore evil, because it actually exists for them. What is wrong with most modern writers is that they have lost the capacity for distinguishing between good and evil and so have lost sight of truth: Man does not exist for them; they see only individuals. Truth does not exist; there' are as many avowed truths as there are individuals. Having no conscience, no standards by which to judge, such writers tend to lose all objectivity and even the most modest of them shows a strong urge to undress, as it were, in public, and reveal himself as he is. without shame, without purpose.

(This is quite different front the selfrevelation of the nineteenth century romantics. Corrupt children of Christ, they clung to the old distinction tsetween goorl and evil, even when they worshipped evil.) To Gide's charge that Mautiac is in a state of conflict, divided between God and Mammon, to be truly good or to lower his standards in order to win popularity. Mauriac replies that, as a genuine Christian with the Kingdom of Heaven within him and Rome about him wherever he is, he wears the unsheddable livery of Christ. A Christian, bad though he may be, cannot be divided. He may yield to his flesh or sacrifice to false gods, but for all that, he stays -within the framework of Christianity. It is the sinner who prays the best. The sinner is an integral part of the mechanism of Christianity. The sinner and the saint are complementary and indispen

sable, one to the other. Indeed, as Bemanos says in Sous le soled de Satan: the devil exists only for the truly pious. Mediocre souls go to hell unshepherdedl

Maurlac asks why the novelist should not confine himself to depicting noble characters. His answer is that there are no perfect souls on earth. What wo call a noble character becomes what it is at the cost of an unending struggle with its own evil tendencies. If the novelist has any worthy function at all, it is to reveal what, in the noblest beings, resists God, and what secret sources of goodness move. what seem to be the most degraded beings. It is the flaws in human nature that make the novelist's work possible. An essential difference must be noted, however, between the Christian sinner depicted by is Catholic novelist, and the man without religion who yields to his corrupt nature. The sinner is well aware that he can always save his soul at the price of cutting deep into the roots of evil in himself. The other has no conception of this possibility which he would consider quite beyond his strength.

Mauriac has no illusions regarding the dangers involved for the reader in realistic description of vice, even

" Christian " vice. He does not agree with Maritain's view, expressed in Art et Schott:silage, that all is well provided that the spiritual height from which the novelist observes is proportioned to the depth of vice observed (by which reckoning Proust's matter could have been dealt with properly only 'by a writer with the interior light of a St. Augustine). Mauriac remarks that the novelist does not observe, he creates, and in so doing becomes merged in 'what he creates. He confesses engagingly that the honest novelist is sometimes profoundly disturbed at the way the worst of himself is incarnated in the appalling children of his mind, and he concludes that a completely virtuous man will not write novels at all, since their chief aim is merely to give flesh-andblood reality to human passions. He will 'describe these passions instead in sermons where they cart be judged, and if necessary condemned. He agrees with Gide's view that no work of art is created without the collaboration of Satan. 'The writer unconsciously exploits .the delight in pleasure of the senses which Bossuet said was the secret source of the greatest sins. Moreover the reader collaborates with the novelist and his interpretation of a novel may add horrors undreamt of by its creator. This fact makes the problem of the goodness or badness of books an insoluble one, The wretched writer can only hope that the evil he has done will he forgiven him in consideration of the good he has done, for the most part, equally unconsciously.

Mauriac's utter sincerity is beyond doubt and the charge that he exploits vice as an overture to Mammon is clearly absurd. In the right hands his novels are rich spiritual food (who can forget Le Noeud de Yipreres once read ?), but Mauriac would be the last Is) protest against the Guide de Lectures warning that they arc not meat for babes.

The theme of sinful humanity in fiction 'is a fruitful one but only for those who gain from it not sensual pleasure alone (though that element will be there), but also horror for sin combined with love and pity for the sinner, in whose shoes, but for the Grace M God, they might stand.


67, South Drive,

Upton, Wirral, Cheshire.

Sig.—Being yet of school age, I have not read many modern novels; nor have read any book by Bruce Marshall or Francois Mauriac, or any of the modern Catholic novelists concerning whom there has been a long correspondence in your columns. But, from reading the letters, I have found (as I hope) some idea of the kind they are—what some are pleased to call " realist."

In Chesterton's study of Robert Louis Stevenson appear thesc words: " In fact Stevenson was describing the Kingdom of Heaven and calling it Skelt; while Zola was describing all the kingdoms of hell and calling it real life." Now I do not want to compare these Catholic writers with Zola ; but from your correspondence they seem to be " describing all the kingdoms of hell and calling it real life."


Prior Park College, Bath.

Ste,—I have recently discovered, on the library shelves, two Catholic novels which I think so entirely excellent I should like to recommend them beyond the circle of my personal friends: Faith tire Root, by B. F. Fleury; The Long To-morrow, by Evelyn Wise.


16, Golden Miller Lane. Polegate, Sussex.

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