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Catholic Writers: 20th c.
8 Catholic Novels /





Catholic Novels

When Dante dedicated the Paradiso to Can Grande della Scala, he said that the literal meaning of the Divine Comedy is the way in which human beings by their own free acts earn eternal punishment or reward. That is the vision of human action that makes fiction Catholic. It is not a matter of having priests and nuns on the set, not a matter of explicit reference to Catholic things, but rather the Dantesque vision. There are priests and nuns in stories that lack this vision; this vision is present where there is nothing peculiarly Catholic in view-Ralph McInerney

Catholic NOVELS, drawn from list compiled by Patrick Samway,S.J.,
forme rliterary editor, America magazine

1. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. I remember seeing the play version of this novel on Broadway many years ago and overhearing an elderly Irish woman comment as we exited the theater, "Oh, now, they shouldn't do that to a priest of God." Since the death of English-born Graham Greene (1904-91) in Switzerland, it seems that his literary stock has remained constant. The Power and the Glory focuses on Father Montez, an alcoholic priest who has fathered a child at a time when anti-Catholic forces exerted considerable influence in Mexico. This priest serves as an anti-hero who, in spite of his tremendous failures, does not deny his faith or his fellow Catholics when it counts most.

2. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. I consider this to be one of the truly great novels in English of the 20th century, Though Faulkner was not a Catholic (in fact, it would be difficult to make a case that he was a Christian), he did deal explicitly with the Christ-story in his novel A Fable. Absalom, Absalom! based on episodes found in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7) seeks to find out the truth about a man who pursues his own self-aggrandizement at the cost of destroying those around him.

3. Ulysses, by James Joyce. By proposing this novel, I might be on safer ground. Joyce was baptized a Roman Catholic and educated in Jesuit schools before he sought exile from his past. In Ulysses, Joyce pushed the form of the novel to its limit, and in doing so provided traps for meditation as we follow Leopold Bloom in his journeys around Dublin. If this novel proves too formidable, then I suggest Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

4. The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy. Perhaps because I wrote a biography of Dr. Percy and have a great affection for his fiction and non-fiction, I highly recommend this novel about a young man searching for answers to pressing problems about life. It is not by chance that he ends up in Santa Fe, New Mexico - the City of Holy Faith

. 5. The Lieutenant, by Andre Dubus. The author, who passed away in 1999, is not by reputation a novelist. My reason for listing this particular novel is that, among contemporary Catholic writers, Dubus holds a special place, precisely because of his commitment to his faith, which informs his fiction and gives it depth and honesty. Since he is at heart a writer of novellas, I highly recommend his Selected Stories.

6. Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor. Like Dubus, O'Connor mastered the story form first; in her case, of stories that encapsulated the essential mysteries of the Catholic (and Protestant) faith. At times, it is possible to feel while reading an O'Connor story that it emerges from some type of spiritual equation that can only really be solved by prayerful reflection. I would be totally remiss if I did not mention her Complete Stories and a collection of letters entitled The Habit of Being.

7. Memento Mori, by Muriel Spark. This novel, set in London in the 1950's, provides a definite reminder of a telling Ash Wednesday phrase, ýRemember, you are dust and unto dust you will return." True, each of us must die, and each of SparkÝs characters hear these words differently, as past experiences are dredged up. In this unpretentious and adroit contemporary literary classic, the dreaded reality of old age becomes a palpable reality.

8. Silence, by Shusaku Endo. I once had the privilege of awarding the Campion Medal, given by the Catholic Book Club, to Mr. Endo. His works, including The Sea and the Poison, Volcano, When I Whistle, The Samurai, Stained Glass Elegies, and Scandal, are well known and deeply appreciated both in his native Japan and throughout the world. In Silence, a young missionary, Rodrigues, travels to Japan to investigate rumors that his former teacher, Ferreira, has not only converted to Buddhism but has been participating in the persecution of Christians. EndoÝs Roman Catholic heritage has charged his artistic sensibilities with a vision and power rarely seen in contemporary writers of whatever nationality.





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