Recently finished Literary Giants, Literary Catholics by Joseph Pearce. I always enjoyed hearing him speak when I have heard him on Catholic radio and finally got around to getting one of his books. It now looks like I need to buy the rest of his books. I can’t say I normally read with pleasure 400+ pages of essays, but I certainly did in this case.
The book largely covers converts to the Church, especially from England, whose lives are often remembered by their literary output.
So there is coverage of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Chesterton, Belloc, Ronald Knox, T.S. Eliot, J.RR.Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Roy Cambell, Evelyn Waugh, and a slew of others.
The first part deals with tradition and conversion in modern English literature along with the landscape of the 20th century. From there we go on to The ChesterBelloc (I loved this section), The Wasteland which deals with the war poets and the ultramodern poets and other literary stars, a section dealing with the Inklings, and finally various essays that take as their launching pad the literary converts, but also goes into other subjects. Each of these section contain a large number of essays and while there is a lot of overlap between them, it is a positive overlap. Joseph Pearce is a fine literary writer himself and even though his specialty is biographies he has great insights into these writers and is able to write quite wonderfully about them.
It really is rather amazing how many converts there were that came from the literary world, especially the high number of conversions from the writers known as the Decadents. It is also interesting how much consternation this caused among other writers who were shocked at people like T.S. Eliot entering Anglicanism and Evelyn Waugh entering the Church. We really don’t have anything comparable today of large number of literary authors entering the Church, but then again we hardly have anything comparable to the quality of these authors in the literary world in the first place. These people surely are literary giants.
I am a bit ashamed to say that if I myself had never entered the Church I might never had read any of these authors in the first place. I kept myself pretty much in a SF, fantasy, and horror ghetto and only occasionally delved into other genres. Coming into the Church I would find these other writers mentioned quite often and so started reading these authors. It is hard to imagine life without these authors now who have become like old friends to me. Though there are plenty of other authors referenced in the book that I will also need to familiarize myself with.
What I so enjoy about Pearce’s writing is his enthusiasm on the subject and he pulls you in along with him into the topic at hand. It is an enthusiasm based on a deep knowledge of the authors filled with a wealth of biographical details to help you better understand their work. Highly recommended.
When you were reading horror, did you read Dean Koontz? He always works Catholic themes into his stories. If not, at least check out the Odd Thomas books – they’re very much the story of a modern day saint; one who sees dead people 🙂
I only got into Koontz with the Odd Thomas series which I really love.
Just to clarify, T. S. Eliot never entered the Church. He was an Anglican.
I love your book reviews…another book to add to my list (sigh)…
Eliot was an Anglo-Catholic, Pearce handles the distinction well. Many of these figures teetered on the brink much of their lives.
Biographical knowledge of Joseph Pearce casts an extraordinary light on his literary work (which is phenomenal) — he was an agnostic neo-fascist and came to the Church through reading Chesterton!
Although many mainstream academics are loathe to admit it, Pearce’s work is revolutionary. Most recently, he began to articulate a new philosophy of literary interpretation in “The Quest for Shakespeare” — and I predict this will be an important element of the new Catholic revival.
How does this book differ from his earlier “Literary Converts” (I think that was the title), beyond the vastness of the page length of this new title? I sure enjoyed the earlier book!