COLM BROGAN says
I earnestly wish that highbrow Catholic authors would stop brooding over sexual predicaments
WHEN I was a boy and a young man, a certain school of imaginative and polemical writing was considered to be typically Catholic. It was satirical sometimes and sometimes eloquent, sometimes classical and sometimes boisterous.
The critics of that school, and they were many, said that it had no deep relevance for the contemporary world, for it was blindly nostalgic.
Roaring Sussex songs over the Sussex downs and scribbling ballads in contempt ot politicians and financiers might be regarded as amusing enough diversions, but they were no more than diversions.
Saying that the Industrial Revolution should never have happened was considered to be unhelpful in view of the notorious fact that it had happened.
Nostalgia for the Middle Ages was no more than romanticism when nobody had any idea how anything like the society of the Middle Ages could be re-created in the world of the giant factory.
Praise of the superior virtue and wisdom of the countryman was also thought to be beside the point in a society wherein the countryman must inevitably play a steadily diminishing part.
TOO PAINFULLY UP TO DATE
MUCH as I admired the writings of Belloc and Chesterton. and widely as I read in the writings of their followers. I must confess to a considerable heretical sympathy with the critics.
But there was one further point of criticism where again I agreed and where I would now like to make a retraction. Nobody could possibly say that Chesterton and Belloc were shallow optimists. Benue at least was intellectually and temperamentally a pessimist. But the Chesterton-Belloc school did give a general impression of a rather forced heartiness which was hopelessly out of tune with the century as it direly developed.
There was also a quite deliberate turning away from important areas of human experience, notably sexual experience. There was not even much satire directed at the sex-obsessed or various sexobsessions. The subject was pretty well left alone.
I don't think this criticism was invalid, but now I would rather have the old style of Catholic writing than the new. The new style is, to my mind. all too painfully up to date. It is not only realism in sex which tires me, but so-called realism all round.
Mr. Bruce Marshall, for example, hugely enjoys himself pulling priestly legs, and no doubt his novels must be greatly shocking to the devout admirers of Canon Sheehan. I am not shocked, but neither am I impressed. I do not believe that Mr. Marshall's Catholic realism is realistic at all. I do not think that it gives a Catholic picture corresponding to my owq experience and observation, and I also do not think that
high-spirited satire is improved by doses of quite alarming sentimentality.
Many of M. Marshall's books are good fun, but I cannot per
suade myself that he has a deep and full understanding of his subject, DARK, TORTUOUS, UNFRUITFUL TT is a far cry from Mr. Marshall to M. Mauriac, but M. Mauriac must be considered because he enjoys a standing in Britain that no. French Catholic novelist of Belloc's time ever came near. And he. with some others, has turned the image of Catholic imaginative writing completely round. That is what makes me sigh for the good old days of determined good cheer.
The modern French school of Catholic fiction seems to me to be dark, tortuous. gloomy and un. fruitful. It also nearly isolates one problem of the will and makes it seem the whole of or at least more important than all the rest. This is emphatically a characteristic of heretical approach and I think it condemns such writing to being regarded as an eccentricty and not a development of the natural Catholic tradition.
have not read all or nearly all of M. Mauriac's novels, but I wan: to say unrepentantls that I would rather have toothache than read another. This is not because M. Mauriac distresses me. Quite bluntly, he bores me.
He is a bore just like any other bore, because he keeps on and on and on with endless involutions and details about a subject whose intrinsic interest is very soon exhausted.
I have admired some of M. Mauriac's journalism. I wish he would do still more of it. In fact, I wish he would do nothing else.
ABSURDITY OF 'THE HEART' OUR very own Mr. GrahamGreene does not bore me. He is far too skilful a craftsman for that. Nevertheless, I find in him much more to criticise than to admire.
Except for the prison scene, "The Power and the Glory" seemed to me an excellent piece of fictional apologetics, for the theme of the book is clear and sound. I could not sav as much for Brighton Rock," but I have another objection to that book. Mr. Greene has earned international fame for his brilliant and cinematic realism. He can pick out a scene sharply and authentically in two or three sentences. Yet in " Brighton Rock " we have Pinkie, the primary school thug. reversing and .parodying the Latin of the Mass. In real life Pinkie would almost certainly he a subliterate who had the greatest ditficulty in following the basic English of a comic. His excursions into Latin are as fantastic as any of the conversations in Disraeli's novels.
I do not regard this criticism as minor, for it first led me to suspect that Green's. realism applies only to his handling of material background and that his handling of human behaviour and its causes is very wide of thc mark. This suspicion was confirmed on reading The Heart of the Matter."
I yield to nobody in my admiration of the superlative virtuosity of that hook, but I doubt if I shall ever read it again, for the simple reason that the situation is wildly unreal and the tale is quite pre. posterous.
Does Mr. Greene expect anyone over the age of 12 to believe that a man of piety and probity would live in continued adultery with a dreary and negligible wisp of a girl for no other reason than that he felt the need to cheer her up? Compared with this absurdity, Canon Sheehan was a second Zola.
As for Scobie, it has been pointed out to me that his real sin was pride. He took it upon himself to act as God. This point seems to have escaped the author.
THEY'VE SEEN A CATECHISM BY contrast, " Brideshead head Revisited " does state a series of moral challenges in clearly Catholic terms, though I think there is too much weight put on the final repentance of the old man. " Brideshead " is by no means the best of the Waugh novels, hut it gives at least one reader the comfortable conviction that the Catholic characters had seen a Catechism at some time in their lives, a conviction which Mr. Greene steadily fails to inspire.
"The End of the Affair " is, of course, the purest Victorian melodrama with an intensely improbable miracle brought in deftly as by sleight of hand. However. I have no complaint about this truly brilliant tour de force, for the Catholic moral judgement is not central to the theme, and we are spared the appearance of any wise old priest who toss with the idea that a man can show he loves God by breaking any of the Commandments he happens to think are conveniently breakable.
I have little to say about " The Living Room " for, by the exercise of exemplary fortitude and self-denial. I managed to restrain myself from going to see it, but from what I have heard of this play I suspect that virtue has been its own rich reward.
doubt if I could have sat through a scene wherein yet another of those wise old priests dithered about the predicament of a girl who was faced with the choice of following her urgent desires or avoiding mortal sin. I fancy that any real, not fictional, priest, whether lowbrow or highbrow would give eminently practical advice to a girl in such distress. He would advise her to stop mooning about the living room and get herself a job of work somewhere, preferably in another town.
1 have known that advice to be given, I have known it to be taken and I have known it to work. But I never heard of any good coming out of waffle.
THE most interesting moral conflicts are not the conflicts wherein a weak and fallible human being is faced with a clear decision between right and wrong, but those conflicts wherein a human
is faced with a decision which is not clear.
And I earnestly wish that highbrow Catholic authors would stop brooding over sexual predicaments. They arc real and they are important. but they cannot possibly in themselves be subtle or illuminating. There are other problems much more interesting. much more stimulating, even though they don't film well.
There is, in fact. mo4 originality and more stimulus in " The Man Who Was Thursday" than in the whole sad saga of Graham Greene and his fellow-practitioners of the same dreary line. There is also more Catholic principle in " Brief Encounter,"
A Merry Christmas to them all.