Page 2, 18th November 1949

18th November 1949
Page 2
Page 2, 18th November 1949 — THE CATHOLIC NOVEL

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Locations: Arundel, Salford


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SIR,--It is surprising that Salford Curate has had so little support, even from the laity. A priest's experience of human nature is somewhat different from that of others, and Salford Curate knows what every priest knows, that temptation can arise from apparently innocent things. In the present discussion it is the modern Catholic novel that is on trial.

Every artist, it seems, including the novelist. bases his claim to freedom of expression on the sacredness of art, and, as your correspondent Desiree Hirst puts it, considers that " it is almost a sin against the Holy Ghost for him to falsify his vision even in the best cause." What the laity so often forget. and what priests are never allowed to 'forget. is that human nature is a fallen nature, and that things which in a perfect state would he quite harmless can, in this fallen state, be the source of severe temptation. Even the sacredness of art must yield to the moral safety of the souls of men.

The particular point at issue seems to be the treatment of sinful behaviour usually of an adulterous nature, in the modern Catholic novel. While it is proper for the novelist, whose material is human life and behaviour. to use both good and bad, attractive and unattractive, beautiful and ugly. in his work, he has a duty to deal with these matters in a way which does not scandalise others, especially the young and the weak. No one quarrels with a novelist for mentioning adultery if it is relevant to his story, but the description of an act of adultery can be such that it may easily stir the imagination; that is the beginning of temptation and may end in sin. Man is so constituted jet his fallen state that he requires no stimulus to his imagination for him to grasp the point that his novelist is trying to make on any question relating to sex. And it is this stimulus that the novels in question seem intentionally bent on supplying. I have not the books before me, but relying solely on memory I recall three items out of many. which in my opinion offend in this way. A. J. Cronin in The Stars Look Down describes an adulterous act with concomitant sensations, taking place in a church. Graham Greene describes in The Power and the Glory the priest's recollection of his own fornication. And in The Heart of the Matter he gives a vivid account of the thoughts and feelings of the colonial official as he yields to the temptation of adultery. In each case it seems that an attempt is made to reproduce in the reader the sensations of the character in a way that cannot be excused by the sacredness of art. Artistic expression must be suited to our fallen state. Through it, be it in the novel. in poetry, in painting. in advertisement, man should be led to love the good and the beautiful and to hate the evil and the ugly. Because this is not so. priests, including myself and Salford Curate, have to deal with the results in a place to which the laity have only a one-sided access.

(Rev.) W. J. SURES,

St. Patrick's, 2Ia Soho Square. W.I.

Si,-The Holy Office Instruction quoted by a Salford Curate appears to have had a stunning effect upon the defenders of " questionable " literature. It is nevertheless something of a shock todiscover, such is their shortage of ammunition. that they resort to the astonishing expedient of invoking Chaucer's moving prayer for Christ's forgiveness for time misspent in worldly vanities and lecherous songs as if this penitence were an argument that supported their case. The fact of Chaucer's contrition and retraction is of deep significance for every artist. So is the anguished repentance of Aubrey Beardsley, (see The Month, Feb. 1949). No doubt, with the approach of death. even the poet sees more clearly that he is but dust, and that the right hand or right eye that has caused scandal is better discarded (perhaps with the help of a Salford curate).

Mr. Goodger does well to recall us to Francois Mauriac's deeply interesting and instructive Dieu et Mammon. In Sliced and Ward's English translation, p. 56, Mauriac quotes Maritain as follows: " The more the modern novel plunges into human misery the more are superhuman virtues demanded of the novelist. For example, to write the work of a Proust as it should be written would require the interior

light of a St. Augustine. Unfortunately, it is just the opposite that has happened, and we see the observer and the thing observed-the novelist and his subject-rivalling one another in degradation."

Mauriace riposte is very brisk, " This is what Jacques Maritain says, and everyone will agree that he puts the matter very well: everyone, that is, except the novelists ... According to Maritain the novelist is detached from his subject in the way the man in the laboratory is detached from the animal whose stomach he is dissecting. 1, however, hold that the operation of the novelist is utterly different from that of the experimentalist. As far as the novel is concerned, Jacques Maritain has stopped at the old naturalistic ideas. It is a condition of art that the novelist should connive at the subject of his creation, in spite of hfaritain's warning, for the real novelist is not an observer, but a creator of fictitious life. It is not his function to observe life, but to create it. He brings living people into the world; he does not observe them from some lofty vantage point. He even Confuses and, in a way, loses his own personality in the subject of his creation."

And while we are among the French men of letters we might do worse than recall Claudel's words " an evil book brings forth a surrounding wave of concentric consequences which reproduce themselves ad infinitum.' ("On Art." Ways and Crossways. S. ek: W.). In the light of the above it is perhaps easier to understand Chaucer's retraction and penitence, for Catholicism is concerned with absolute values.


6 River Road, Arundel, Sussex.

SIR,-Desiree Hirst's letter states the Catholic novelist's dilemma with refreshing truth and humour, His greatest pitfall. as Mauriac always infests, is that of falsifying I life--of seeing things and people as they ought to be rather than as they are.

He can only write of life as he

(Continued at foot of next column)

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