Catholic Lit Corner

Funnish review of Martin Stannard’s new bio of Muriel Spark over at the NYT. I fear its author, Charles McGrath, has a bit of a howler here:

“In her fiction Spark loved to play God, loftily manipulating her characters’ fates, and she was less the benign and loving God of traditional Catholic theology than Calvin’s cruel jokester, who would allow you to think you were saved only to surprise you at the end.”

Benign and loving? The Being who put His own Son on the cross, and promised that those who followed Him would be conformed to that image? Loving, maybe. But benign? Let us recall the Beaver’s word about Aslan: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Still, as I said, it’s a funnish review. My favorite graf, if only for the literary possibilities it presents:

“Spark, a late bloomer, didn’t publish her first novel, ‘The Comforters,’ until 1957, when she was 39. It was based in part on a nervous breakdown she had suffered a few years earlier, brought on, apparently, by eating poorly, reading the complete works of Cardinal Newman and popping Dexedrine until she began to believe that T. S. Eliot was sending her threatening messages. In the novel, the protagonist suffers delusions in which she appears to herself as a character in the very book we are reading. (Waugh, who had a similar breakdown at almost the same time and recorded his delusions in the novel ‘The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold,’ said that Spark’s version was better.)”

Not one but two mentally unhinged English Catholic convert novelists! And a sentence that includes Cardinal Newman, T.S. Eliot, and Dexedrine! What are the odds?


  1. Rufus McCain says

    There's an article-review in the latest New Hitler as well. (whoa! Typing this on my phone, which thinks my attempt at Yorker was meant as Hitler.)

  2. Rufus McCain says

    The New Hitler — sounds like a publication that might come out of the Idaho panhandle.

  3. Rufus McCain says

    Here's an abstract of The New Yorker piece. You have to subscribe to get the entire article. I like the picture. Have any of y'all read much Spark? I started The Comforters one time but never got into it.

  4. Quin Finnegan says

    Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is very good; Memento Mori is first rate, and Aiding and Abetting includes a phony faith hearler and psychiatrist who offers some of the best advice on prayer I've ever read.

  5. Jonathan Webb says

    Thanks to you all. I'll check her ass out.

  6. I got the NYer article right on my desk here – it was interesting, but you could almost hear the glee of the writer as he exclaimed Spark's dissent from Catholic teaching on sexuality, et al.

    "Oh, look, she became Catholic, but not THAT sort of Catholic…"

    Again, something that didn't come out in Pearce's treatment of her in his book on Lit Converts. What gives? First his ecstatic praise of Eric Gill and now this…

    Makes a body think Mr. Pearce is giving the ol' whitewash to the whole culture known as "Catholic Lit."

    (Perhaps Pearce's subtext: Well, we can't expect these right thinking artist-people to adhere to the Church's teaching on sexuality; after all, it was only with the thanks of Manichean-vampire killer Christopher West & Co. that we have any true sense of Church teaching on sex at all, 1,950 years of wisdom notwithstanding…)


  7. rad.

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