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Catholic Novels & American Culture

- Abstract

SOME fifteen years ago Harry Sylvester, writing in the Atlantic Monthly on the problems of the Catholic writer, began with the assertion that there were no living American Catholics who were major writers. At the time the statement needed no proof, it was so obviously true. In the course of his article, Mr. Sylvester enumerated several “problems” peculiar to the Catholic writer, among them the fact that he was committed to more children and fewer wives than the non-Catholic writer, which impinged upon both his practical life and his emotional development. Next there was the problem of freeing himself from the habits of mind developed by an unnecessarily rigid Catholic education. Add to this the very real danger that if he did so free himself, the Catholic powers that be would read his works with a closed mind while presenting to the writer himself a very cold shoulder, and you have a predicament of sufficiently mean proportions to make a lawyer out of Shakespeare. I mention Mr. Sylvester’s article because at the time it was written I agreed with it completely and thought it good that what he said had been said publicly instead of in the small groups of young Catholics who were or who intended to be writers, Fifteen years later, the very phrase, “problems of a Catholic writer,” seems beside the point. Either these “problems” are not peculiar to Catholics-a plurality of wives (or husbands), for example, can also create practical problems without being any guarantee of emotional growth-or they are not problems at all; that is, they cannot be solved. If one’s education has been too rigid, there is nothing for it but to go on from there. In this respect, James Joyce is a good example of what can be done. As to the pressures that may be exerted on one to conform or to “write nice,” I know nothing of them personally, but I suppose they will always exist. Censorship may be active and retaliatory or it may be passive and indifferent; there is, however, no way of doing away with it save by making art completely insouciant.

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