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Catholic Novels & Writers

This month’s recommended leisure reads surround Catholicism, featuring works that are Catholic-themed, and/or are by a Catholic writer. Included here are novels, short story collections, memoir, philosophical and scholarly works, and poetry. Like last month, we have included descriptions of the physical books that are currently on display in the Library Lobby, which can be requested for Safe Pickup through the MSJ Library FOCUS Catalog. Also listed here are online ebooks available through the EBSCO eBook Collection database and the Internet Archive. Special thanks to longtime MSJ faculty member and Mount alum Buffy Barkley, who recommended many of the books and authors on this list!  As always, our previous Leisure Reads selections can be found on our account.

Physical Books On Display at MSJ Library
(all requestable via Safe Pickup in the MSJ Library FOCUS Catalog)

EBSCO eBook Collection

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
Published in 1911, this is the first collection of short stories featuring the priest-detective Father Brown. In these beloved tales written by the Catholic convert, novelist, and essayist G.K. Chesterton, outlandish crimes and intricate puzzles are avoided in favor of “cozy mysteries.” The crimes handled by the witty priest are all solved within a limited amount of space and time, and the number of suspects are also limited, with all clues being revealed to the reader at the same time the protagonist becomes aware of them. It is said that Father Brown became the prototype for the modern, post-Sherlockian detective, including Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe, and others. 

Translations from the French of Madame de la Mothe Guion by William Cowper
Madame de la Mothe Guion (1648-1717), commonly referred to as Jeanne Guyon, was a Catholic mystic and proponent of quietism, a philosophy that communion with God can only be achieved when the soul is in a state of total quiet. This was thought to be heretical at the time, and Guyon was confined first to a convent and then the Bastille for her opinions. The tenets of quietism can certainly be seen in the poems collected in this work, including solitude, meditation, and the development of a personal knowledge of God. The translator of this work is the esteemed English poet William Cowper (1731-1800), who wrote on similar religious themes. His verses on nature were an enormous influence over the Romantic Movement.

The True Country: Themes in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor by Carter W. Martin
This book is one of the earliest full-length studies of Flannery O’Connor, published just five years after her death in 1964. Martin writes for a general audience here, and to both new readers of O’Connor as well as her most devoted fans. He pays particular attention to O’Connor’s Catholic faith, and its presence throughout her body of work, including such themes as sacramental awareness, spiritual reality, and the presence of grace. As well, Martin discusses the comic elements commonly present in O’Connor’s novels—which serve to satirize the South the author grew up in—and the gothic settings which characterize the darker, more grotesque aspects of the region. 

C.S. Lewis in Context by Doris T. Myers
In this scholarly work, Myers examines the literary output of C.S. Lewis within the context of his time, focusing on his use of metaphor and impressionism. Lewis was ultimately a writer who was fully engaged in the problems of his day, who also had a strong connection with the English writers of the past. For example, Myers examines how parallels can be drawn between The Chronicles of Narnia and Sir Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene—specifically that they have similar notions of the nature of heroism and narrative technique, which were as relevant in the mid-twentieth-century as they were in the late sixteenth. Myers ultimately offers a framework for interpreting Lewis’ works, and brings to the attention of the reader his significant literary contributions.

Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker by Nancy L. Roberts
When Catholic convert Dorothy Day sold the first issue of the Catholic Worker for a penny in New York City, modern Catholic social action was born. This book focuses specifically on Day’s role as the editor, publisher, and chief writer of this influential newspaper, which focused on religious journalism and advocacy. The reception of this publication was not always positive throughout American history, with its distributors sometimes being beaten in the streets during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The Catholic Worker remains in publication today, and over many decades has continually advocated for peace and justice in the world.

Internet Archive

Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
This book depicts a Catholic vision of a dystopian world, set during the reign of Antichrist. By that time, Christianity has been abandoned by most in favor of humanism or pantheism, and the Catholic Church only has a small presence in Ireland and Italy. The protagonist Father Percy Franklin has just been elevated to the papacy as Pope Silvester III, while at the same time the charismatic American Senator Julian Felsenburgh is proclaimed “Lord of the World,” and leader of the “one world” government. For some reason, he looks exactly like the newly proclaimed Pope. The author Benson converted to Catholicism in 1903 after years as an Anglican vicar. He became a priest in 1904, and was named a Monsignor in 1911.

The Convert; or, Leaves from My Experience by Orestes Brownson
In this memoir from a nineteenth-century lay preacher and intellectual, Orestes Brownson details his restless and unique spiritual journey. He began with the religious revivalism of the Second Great Awakening, then joined an “old-light” Presbyterian Church, before moving to Boston in the 1840s and immersing himself in Unitarianism and the Transcendentalist Movement. It was at that time that he founded the influential Boston Quarterly Review. Finally, when he sought more rational grounds for the Christian faith, he was led to Catholic Church, and decided to convert in 1844. He remained in that faith for the rest of his life, and became one of its leading apologists in the nineteenth-century.

Loss and Gain by John Henry Newman
This novel tells the story of a young Oxford student named Charles Reding, who eventually decides to convert to Roman Catholicism. Set in the 1820s, it details the religious contentions that had emerged within Oxford University at that time, specifically between a continued adherence to Protestant doctrine and what was known as the Oxford Movement, which sought to reform the Church of England by re-grounding it in Catholic tradition. Charles’ spiritual journey closely mirrors that of the author himself, who converted to Catholicism in 1845 after close involvement with the Oxford Movement. Newman became a priest in 1846, and was elevated to the Cardinalate of England and Wales in 1879.

Jenny by Sigrid Undset
The novelist and Catholic convert Sigrid Undset is obscure today, but was famous during her lifetime for the trilogy of novels she wrote depicting life in Norway during the Middle Ages (for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1928). Jenny tells the story of a Norwegian painter named Jenny Winge who goes to Rome in order to find artistic inspiration, only to become distracted from her ambitions by an affair with the married father of a man she intended to pursue. She finds that she is pregnant by him, and decides to raise the child on her own. The novel was quite controversial upon its release in 1911, and Undset found herself condemned as “immoral” by Norwegian society.