Page 2, 25th November 1949

25th November 1949
Page 2
Page 2, 25th November 1949 — THE CATHOLIC . NOVEL

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Organisations: Catholic University, Army


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Need for Closer Study Sns,-In his letter, under the heading " The Catholic Novel," published in your issue of November 18, Fr. W. J. Stibbs quotes incidents from three books, written by two novelists, to illustrate his thesis. May I comment on his references? (a) Your correspondent offers from Dr. Cronin's book The Stars Look Down an act recorded therein as an example of what, in a Catholic novel, may provide an occasion of sin to the " young and the weak." I suggest to him that The Stars Look Down is not a Catholic novel. No reviewer, no critic, Catholic or non-Catholie, has defined it as such. Dr. Cronin, may or may not be a Catholic; judging by his treatment of an exclusively Catholic subject in The Keys Of the Kingdom, a more misleading book, he is incapable of creating a Catholic work. When it first was published this novel was reviewed in THE CATHOLIC HERALD by the Editor and dismissed by him and by subsequent Catholic reviewers, as nonsensical in its treatment of Catholicism. Dr. Cronin is a competent, crudely talented writer of cheap, efficient melodramas, able in describing scenes of mass violence and disaster. That is all. He is not a serious artist by any standard. Ear from being a Catholic writer there is evidence in his work that he was not a reasonably good Catholic reader when, if ever. a student of the Penny Catechism. (b) Fr. Stibbs' statement that, in The Heart of the Matter. Mr. Graham Greene " gives a vivid account of the thoughts and feelings of the colonial official as he yields to the temptation of adultery," is untrue. He has relied too much on his memory when referring to this incident. It happens, so to speak. off-stage. This book deals with an almost purely spiritual problem and the physical aspects of a particular sin are relegated, in the interests of the central drama. to the shadows. If Fr. Stibbs will check his memory against the text. Chapter 3, part 1, page 169, he will find that he is mistaken. There is no erotic writing in the book, unless a few absentminded kisses are definable as such. It is unsensual in presentation. This is the opinion of the writer and if challenged he would be grateful if the challenger would offer chapter and verse references.

(c) Mr. Greene is further cor

rected by Fr. Stibbs for his description in The Power and the Glory. of "the priest's recollection of his own fornication." Here again, I submit, in justice to the author, and his admirers, chapter and verse references should be given.

In part 2, chapter I, of this novel

Mr. Greene thoroughly explores the priest's recollections and assessment of his sin; this long passage contains nothing resembling what Fr. Stihbs asserts.

Because it is my trade to read

books, by Catholics and non-Catholics, 1 have given close study to this particular novel which is. I believe, a great work of art, written, as it was, before the mass-persecution, as we know it, broke out in Europe; it places so much in a real, as distinct from a "repository," perspec tive. It contains the agony and temptations of the martyrs. I have asked old and wise priests for their opinions of its merits, one with nearly 40 years' pastoral experience in Englend, Wales, North America, and the Army, a writer of excellent taste, and, as such, to his juniors, most painful discrimination; and the quintessence, I believe, of what a Catholic critic should be, one able to balance the book and the soul of the writer with a blessed temperateness that only age and persistence in the good can bring. They and he have substantiated and illuminated a belief that spiritually this maybe, for adults, Catholic and non-Catholic, the most significant book for our times, written by an English Catholic. 1, and my mentors,may be wrong. Outside the chapter I quote, the Passage Fr. Stibhs found " danger ous" may be festering. He will agree that he should indicate it with precision.

W. J. loon.

SIR,-Mr. Brooks taunts the ',defenders of questionable literature" (doesn't this phrase rather beg the question?) with their " shortage of ammunition." Before he commences his holocaust of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Mauriac, etc., let him ponder these words of Cardinal Newman. Newman is defending the teaching of literature in a Catholic University: " I say, from the nature of the case, if literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless literature of sinful man. You may gather together something very great and high, somethihg higher than literature ever was; and when you have done so you will find that it is not literature at ail." And to those who, accepting that view, argued that we could do without literati/re, Newman went on: "Proscribe a do not merely say particular authors, particular works, particular passages) but secular literature as such cut out from your class books all broad manifestations of the natural man; and those manifestations are waiting for your pupil's benefit at the very doors of t our lecture-room in living and breathing substance. . . Today a pupil, tomorrow a member of the great world: today confined to. the lives of the Saints. tomorrow thrown upon Babel. . . You have refused him the masters of human thought, who would in some sense have educated him because of their . incidental corruption. . " These passages are quoted by Graham Greene in Why Do I Write? (Deckworth).


54, Rothwell Road. Gosforth.

Sie,-There is no antithesis, as your correspondent suggests between " the sacredness of art " and the good of men's souls. Quite the

contrary. I personally know of a , convert who was first drawn towards

the Church by reading The Heart of the Matter, and Fr. Martindale has told us of one who was induced to take the final step by reading it. There must be many others, and

(Continued at foot of next column)

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