Hello! I’m honored to be writing to you from my attic sitting-room in Scotland. Ignatius Press has invited me, one of its most recent living authors, to post about Catholic literature. This I am delighted to do. Indeed, I have so much to write on the subject that I am determined to return here every Tuesday to write it.
But first I must admit that my point of view is not that of a learned professor. Although I have a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Saint Michael’s College (Toronto) and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto, I am not a professor of English Literature. And although I have an M.Div. and an S.T.B. from the University of Toronto’s Regis College, I am not a Catholic theologian, except in Saint Anselm’s sense that I am a Catholic whose faith leads her to seek understanding.
My point of view is merely that of one particular Roman Catholic who writes as a Roman Catholic for print publication and is interested in other Roman Catholics who have done the same. My observations lead me to believe that, even in the English-speaking countries, we belong to an unbroken tradition.
There is a tendency among today’s book-loving Catholics to see Catholic writers of the period immediately preceding the Second Vatican Council through a golden glow and to sigh for a lost age of Catholic literature. This was the age of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, authors whose work I too deeply admire. Both men were converts to Roman Catholicism, mind you, and therefore were raised without any consciousness of belonging to a minority culture. I believe it is a sense of becoming, once again, alienated from the majority culture that blinds today’s Roman Catholics to those Roman Catholic writers in English who have managed to thrive since 1963.
But many Catholic writers, some now living, some departed, have indeed published excellent work since 1963. Just off the top of my head I can list the novelists Muriel Spark (Scotland), Alice Thomas Ellis (England), Piers Paul Read (England), Morley Callaghan (Canada), David Adam Richards (Canada), Walker Percy (USA) and Father Andrew Greeley (USA)*, the poets Richard Greene (Canada) and Sally Read (England), and even the cookbook writer Jennifer Paterson of “Two Fat Ladies” fame.
These are (or were) not what we might call “cultural Catholics”, people whose writing is or was informed by a childhood Catholicism no longer central to their daily lives. These are (or were) Catholics who go (or went) to Mass as adults. They are (or were) very well-known outside Catholic circles. They do not (or did not) find their Catholicism a block to their literary ambitions.
And I make this point because I think it is important for Roman Catholics who have literary ambitions to understand that they are part of an unbroken tradition. Yes, there are challenges and headaches for aspiring Catholic writers particular to our times (more anon), but that is no reason to despair. Although many artists and critics look down on Catholicism, there is no organized plot to keep good Catholic writers down.
I look forward to your remarks in the comments box. Personally, I’d like to know the names of your favorite believing Catholic novelists, poets and cookbook authors who were writing AFTER 1963.
*Full disclosure: My mother told me I could not read Father Andrew Greeley’s novels until I was a married lady. Although I am now a married lady, I still have not read his novels.