Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

2/1/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

I realized that there was a more important question, an obvious one, to ask when recommending books to Catholic readers: What novels, whether in the past or the present, are really worth reading, worth the commitment of time and attention, worth the exposure of mind and heart to a narrative voice?

The poet Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has stirred up a debate about the status of Catholic writers in the present culture.  His point in "The Catholic Writer Today\"  is a simple one: 50 years ago, Catholic writers were publicly recognized and honored, in spite of the fact that their faith was integral to their fiction, and they made no attempt to hide their personal commitment to the Church.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/1/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Books, culture, audiobooks, novels, short story, fiction, nonfiction, biography, autobiography, Deal W Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - The poet Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has stirred up a debate about the status of Catholic writers in the present culture.  His point in "The Catholic Writer Today"  is a simple one: 50 years ago, Catholic writers were publicly recognized and honored, in spite of the fact that their faith was integral to their fiction, and they made no attempt to hide their personal commitment to the Church.

Think of Flannery O'Connor, J. F. Powers, Edward O'Connor, Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Paul Horgan, Morley Callahan, Thomas Merton, Graham Greene, Julien Green, Francios Mauriac, and George Bernanos. There have been only a few Catholic writers to achieve popularity in the succeeding years - Walker Percy, Rev. Andrew Greeley, Ralph McInerny, and more recently, Ron Hansen and Alice McDermott. 

I recently interviewed Gioia for my "Church and Culture" show on the Ave Maria Radio Network about both his article and the subsequent debate.  When I asked him why he left the much-admired Donna Tartt off his list (The Goldfinch), he explained, "I only listed authors who were publicly known as Catholics - I only learned Tartt was a Catholic a few weeks ago."  He's right, Catholic writers such as Tartt, Hansen, and McDermott are not widely known as Catholic. However, the quality of their fiction is rightly recognized, and their reputations have steadily grown. 

Gioia further explained that a writer who makes a point of presenting himself or herself as a Catholic will be marginalized, perhaps completely ignored, by the literary establishment. When Gioia said this, I thought to myself that it sounds like the equivalent of carrying a pro-life sign across the floor of the Democratic National Convention.  When Gioia said there are at least 20 important writers suffering that fate at this moment in time, I made a note to ask him for the list, and I will.

During the same time, I was in a discussion with a Pulitzer Prize winning book critic, very well known among the literati, about coming on my radio show sometime in the future.  He knows books, especially the novel, as well as anyone I know, and his critical judgment is nearly always right on the mark.  My first thought was to ask him to discuss the state of the Catholic novel, but then I thought better of it.  Debates over what is and what is not a Catholic novel have grown stale, in my opinion. That I went to the recent trouble of making a list of what I considered the "Best 100 Catholic Novels" may have burned me out on the topic. 

More seriously, however, I realized that there was a more important question, an obvious one, to ask when recommending books to Catholic readers: What novels, whether in the past or the present, are really worth reading, worth the commitment of time and attention, worth the exposure of mind and heart to a narrative voice?  I then proposed to my friend the book critic that this be the topic of our future interview: What recent novels do you think serious Catholic readers should know about?  That, I added, is much more interesting to me and more helpful to our audience as well. 

Why more helpful?  Lists of Catholic novels, as well as the debate about what constitutes a Catholic novel, have always had the purpose of recommending books that will inform and entertain Catholic readers from within the worldview of their faith.  In other words, these lists offer both a kind of safe reading place as well as the opportunity to reflect more deeply on their Catholic faith.  Although I have little sympathy for the former reason, except where young readers are concerned. The latter is compelling enough, as I see it, to keep the Catholic novel debate alive for years to come, just as Dana Gioia has done in his discussion of Catholic writers.

But the mission, if it can be called that, of recommending books to Catholic readers should be broader than that, for a number of reasons, beginning with the obvious that not all good books, or even great books, are Catholic. (Unless someone desires to pull some kind of metaphysical stunt of arguing that anything good is Catholic, by definition, which gets us nowhere in a critical discussion.) I don't think there is anyone who would argue seriously that a Catholic's contact with books, or culture in general, should be ghettoized, so to speak.  As the film director Martin Scorcese has said about the culture war debates, people should spend less time worrying about the ill effects of culture "and start understanding it." I couldn't agree more.  Catholics cannot know the culture by remaining inside demarcated safe zones where everything they "consume" has the Good Housekeeping seal of "Catholic" marked on its cover.

For example, I can think of two recent novels that I would enthusiastically recommend to Catholic readers, though I don't have any idea about the religious orientation of either author: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a novel by Rachel Joyce, and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand,  by Helen Simonson.  Apart from being beautifully written, both novels explore themes of love, loyalty, and courage.  Yes, the traditional virtues - without ever being explicitly discussed as such - are at the heart of one narrative about a retired, and very stuffy, British major who falls in love with a middle-aged Indian widow, Mrs. Ali, who owns a shop in his small village. The other concerns an older man, inert and disheveled, who announces to his wife that he is going to walk the length of England to visit an old acquaintance, Queenie, in the hospital. Both novels, along with Joyce's most recent, Perfect: A Novel,  have the capacity for bestowing wisdom and compassion on their readers.  That, I conclude, is more important to determine about a novel than whether or not it can be called "Catholic."

Summary:

1. The poet Dana Gioia has recently stirred up a debate about the state of the Catholic writer, concluding that writers known as Catholic are at a disadvantage in the literary community.

2. The debate over what writing is Catholic or not Catholic has gone stale and unhelpful and should be replaced with one about what novels and poetry should be brought to the attention of serious Catholic readers.

3. Recent novels such as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry are not Catholic novels, but they can cause the reader to reflect deeply on the virtues of loyalty, courage, and love. 

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, will begin broadcasting in February on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for July 2015
Universal:
That political responsibility may be lived at all levels as a high form of charity.
Evangelization: That, amid social inequalities, Latin American Christians may bear witness to love for the poor and contribute to a more fraternal society.



Comments


More U.S.

Mexican drug cartels fueling U.S. heroin epidemic Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The insidious Mexican drug cartels are having a massively detrimental effect on U.S. communities. The cartels have flooded the cities and suburbs with far more potent, less expensive heroin, sending overdose deaths skyrocketing. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


African-American churches frequently targeted by arsonists Watch

Image of African American churches are targeted by arsons more than any other houses of worship. The ATF's results have been reported to a national database of church fires.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There have been 29 cases of churches being torched by arsonists in the United States this year alone. Frequently, African-American churches are set alight by arsonists because of racism, religious intolerance, or vandalism. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Anytime ... continue reading


Planned Parenthood threatened to be exposed with EIGHT MORE undercover videos Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The series of unfortunate events will keep on rolling for Planned Parenthood as the founder of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), David Daleiden, shared with conservative radio host Sean Hannity that there are eight more undercover videos that will reveal Planned ... continue reading


Remains of four early leaders of America uncovered in Jamestown with Catholic artifacts Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Under the floor of a Jamestown church, four body remains of the earliest English colonial leaders in America were unearthed. One was identified as Captain John Smith's rival, who researchers speculate to be part of a secret Catholic cell because of some artifacts ... continue reading


Planned Parenthood caught in FOURTH VIDEO showing the horrific practices of selling aborted baby organs

Image of Dr. Savita Ginde, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains' Vice President and Medical Director, standing in the harvesting lab.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Another new Planned Parenthood expose video has been released, making this the second video this week and the fourth revealing hidden camera video in total. The Center for Medical Progress claims to have hours upon hours of footage exposing Planned Parenthood of ... continue reading


AMC movie theaters issue warning to moviegoers urging them to stay vigilant during visit Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A unusual video message is being played at AMC Theaters in Central Florida, urging the audience to keep their eyes open to any bad agendas and malicious or suspicious actions within the establishment. The short film came to be after violent incidents inside movie ... continue reading


A massive 30,000 more immigrants expected to arrive to U.S. before year's end Watch

Image of Illegal immigrants continues to cross the U.S. border.q

By Linky C. (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The number of illegal immigrant children and teens in the United States continues to increase. The United Nations and other humanitarian groups predict that a total of 30,000 more are expected to reach the U.S. before the year ends. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic ... continue reading


The youngest convicted murders released from jail after 15 years Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

At just 12 and 13-years-old, two siblings confessed to killing their father's girlfriend and both were charged with first-degree murder as adults, despite evidence they were sexually abused by a family member. Yesterday, the two first faced the world they once knew. ... continue reading


Satanic statue secretly unveiled in Detroit, drawing Christian protest Watch

Image of Satanists secretly unveiled a nine-foot, one-ton statue of Baphomet, the horned devil god of satanic practice in an undisclosed location in Detroit this past weekend.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Satanists secretly unveiled a nine-foot, one-ton statue of Baphomet, the horned devil god of satanic practice in an undisclosed location in Detroit this past weekend. This has spurred on heavy protest from the city's Christian community. Hundreds gathered at Detroit's ... continue reading


Will Pope Francis be warmly welcomed in the United States? Watch

Image of Pope Francis will be in the United States in September.

By Hannah Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis will visit the United States for the first time ever in his lifetime during September. However, amid the excitement, the American populace may have lost some warmth towards the pontiff, who they once believed revived the Catholic Church in the country. ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Leviticus 25:1, 8-17
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 7-8
2 Then the earth will acknowledge your ways, and all ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 14:1-12
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 1st, 2015 Image

St. Alphonsus Marie Liguori
August 1: Bishop, Doctor of the Church, and the founder of the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter