Page 2, 9th May 1947

9th May 1947
Page 2
Page 2, 9th May 1947 — THE CATHOLIC NOVEL
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Locations: London, Oxford

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THE CATHOLIC NOVEL

Sot,—The question has twice been raised in your columns " What is a Catholic novel ? " Mr. Igoe, having raised it, did not stay for an answer. Mr. Bate attempts to answer for him by the nonsequitur, " Should not the Catholic novelist be judged by other than his literary claims to merit 7 " Surely to this last query the answer is " definitely not" . . . a novel is a work of art and must, like any other work of art, be judged on its artistic merits. The Divina Cornmedia, the music of Mozart, the paintings of Rafael and El Greets we supreme examples of works produced by faith out of genius: neither faith nor genius could have produced them alone. No one would be foolish enough to imagine that he could paint like El Greco because he shared El Greco's faith and no responsible critic would praise a had picture because of the religious convictions of the artist. Then why should a bad novel be praised for that reason Mr. Bate seems to rne further to confuse the issue by using the terms " Catholic novel " and " Catholic novelist " as though all novels written by Catholics were " Catholic novels," I do not think they are. but borrowing his phraseology I would say that Catholic novels fan into three categories. (I) Novels written by Catholics which arc indistinguishable from the work of Protestants. The extreme exemplar of this class is Dr. Cronin, whose books seem to me to have less of the spirit of Catholicism than some Protestant writings (compare his Keys of the Kingdom with, for instance. Willa Cather's Death comes for the Archbishop-even allowing for several examples in the latter of the author's ignorance of Catholic customs). In these the accent is on the word " novel" and " Catholic " may be added with a question mark, (2) Novels in which art has been sacrificed to propaganda as in the writings of Mgr. Benson and several " Catholic novelists" of the late 19th century-resulting in tracts rather than disguised as novels; here the accent is on the word "Catholic." and "novel" may be added with a question mark.

(3) Novels whose lighting—as I will call it for want of a better word— is Catholic making them Picot:des,cent with Catholicism. Here the accent is on both words and there is no question mark. These are Catholic novels (and the only ones to which I should apple the teens) and as outstanding examples I would give: Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh: The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene; All Glorious Within, Bruce Marshall; Without My Cloak, Kate O'Brien; and the novels of Maurice Baring.

All these are "incandescent with Catholicism " and all are outstanding works of art.

I. WEBB-PERLER,

Oxford.

St,—Ott reading W. J, Igoe's article on the Catholic Novel and also the interesting correspondence that is inevitably following, there seems one point worth voicing, which literary critics. never to my knowledge, take into consideration.

The majority of novel readers read hurriedly, and for entertainment only. W. .1. Igoe and others like him read hurriedly perhaps, but with a constant eye for the finer points, the deeper implications. Take the passage quoted from Brighton Rock. "You don't want to listen too much to priests," he said. " They don't know the world like I do. Ideas change, the world moves on. . ."

. . his words stumbled before her carved devotion. That face said as clearly as words that ideas never changed, the world never moved..."

Now Pinkie's actual words sink in

immediately. What the girl's face said is not as clear as Mr. G. Greene would have us believe, Objectively, the passage is as Catholic as THE CATHOLIC HERALD, but subjectively, it may prove as harmful as an anti-clerical book. What is true of this passage is true of all Catholic novels. In judging whether any particular novel is calculated to uphold and promote the Catholic faith. or is likely to have a certain influence for good, we must above all take into account its general tone. Truths, and very great truths, may lie deeper, but if they are not easily accessible to the reader we must regretfully brand the novel as calculated to do more harm than good— the one real norm, I think, as to whether a novel is Catholic or ROL P. B.LYRADITT.

IS Randolph Crescent, London, W.9.




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