Friday, November 22, 2013

So Much Generosity

An Appreciation of the Fiction of Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson

Michael D. Greaney

ISBN 978-1602100022    268 pp.    $20.00 (U.S.)    £18.00 (U.K.)    $24.00 (AU)

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There is a 20% discount on bulk/wholesale orders (10 or more copies of the same title).  Shipping is extra.  Please send an e-mail to "publications [at] cesj [dot] org" for details.

The late Dr. Ralph McInerny, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame du Lac, once commented that some Catholic novels are so good, they’re bad.  He meant that the heroes are so virtuous that you simply can’t believe them.  Worse, the novels try so hard to be “Catholic” that they fail to be catholic, that is, universal, or even any sort of realistic commentary on the human condition.

Worst of all are probably the novels that try to imitate the authors profiled in this appreciation of the fiction of Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman (1802-1865), John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), and Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914).  Part of this is due to the fact that many people misunderstand not only why these writers wrote, but what they wrote.  Benson’s wonderfully barbed satire, for example, endeared him to Evelyn Waugh, yet it is often characterized as “prophecy”!

This collection of biographical sketches and essays by Mr. Michael D. Greaney, Director of Research at the interfaith, all-volunteer think tank, the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A., does much to dispel the misimpressions and misunderstandings many people might have of the novels of Wiseman, Newman, and Benson.  More than that, this compendium introduces these works to a new generation of readers, and makes it clear that the authors wrote for everyone, not just for Catholics, or even Christians.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Winnowing

Mixing such seemingly incongruous elements as social satire, near-slapstick, and obsession with death, A Winnowing, first published in 1910, is the first of Robert Hugh Benson's "mainstream" novels. An undeservedly overlooked work today, the novel flays Edwardian society in terms that bring to mind the comedy of P. G. Wodehouse and the black humor of Evelyn Waugh. Benson's novel contrasts the secular dogma that only the material world is of value with the belief that death has meaning. (ISBN 978-1-60210-005-3, 224 pp., $20.00.)

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None Other Gods

None Other Gods from 1911 may be the author's least appreciated effort. Compared to Benson's more sensational works such as Lord of the World and Come Rack! Come Rope!, this novel reflects gentler, if more profound satire. None Other Gods relates the story of Frank Guiseley, a young man who drops out of college and tries to force God to instruct him personally on what God wants him to do. People of all faiths can appreciate the growing frustration and bafflement Frank experiences until he finally stops trying to make God listen to him, and starts listening to God. None Other Gods takes a look at our tendency to absolve ourselves of responsibility and expectation that some higher authority, be it God or the State, to take over and run our lives for us.  (ISBN 978-1-60210-006-0, 312 pp., $20.00.)

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The Coward

This third of Robert Hugh Benson's "mainstream" novels, The Coward, first published in 1912, may have been the most shocking to the upper class sensibilities of Benson's day. A young man is faced with challenges and manages to fail at every step. He becomes convinced he is an irredeemable coward — and only then begins to find courage. In a damning indictment of close-minded Edwardian society, a supreme act of courage on the young man's part is mistaken for yet one more craven act. The Coward takes on the soul-destroying tendency to adhere unthinkingly to social conventions. (ISBN 978-1-60210-007-7, 312 pp., $20.00.)

An Average Man

The fourth of Robert Hugh Benson's "mainstream" novels, An Average Man is a far from average production. First published in 1913 and only appearing since in a limited edition in 1945, An Average Man may well be Benson's finest achievement, as well as his most subtle and mature work. It rips to shreds the assumptions on which Edwardian upper class society believed civilization itself was built. Worldly success destroys one "average man," while it presents another, afflicted with seemingly endless and crushing defeats, with the opportunity of practicing virtue of a heroic stature. An Average Man dissects the idea that full participation in the common good is only for an elite, promoting the revolutionary concept that life is for everyone. (ISBN 978-1-60210-008-4, 340 pp., $20.00)

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The fifth of Robert Hugh Benson's "mainstream" novels, Initiation from 1914 is a complex work. It is a study of a man's redemption, or initiation into his full humanity, through pain. The novel explores the different types of pain with which people are afflicted — spiritual, psychological, and physical — none of it deserved, yet all of it leading to greater self-awareness and understanding of what it means to be human. Despite the grimness of the theme, the novel is both entertaining and profound. (ISBN 978-1-60210-009-1, 360 pp, $22.00)

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The sixth and final of Robert Hugh Benson's "mainstream" novels, Loneliness?, published posthumously in 1915, examines the life of a woman who sacrifices everything to be accepted by people who can see her only in terms of her singing ability and the roles she plays on the stage. They abandon her when she can no longer fit into their preconceived ideas. Loneliness? may be Benson's least known, yet one of his most insightful — and entertaining — novels. It highlights the tendency to judge people for what they can do for us, rather than their value as human beings. (ISBN 978-1-60210-010-7, 298 pp., $20.00)

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