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Writing the Public Life

Kevin J. Gardner

Publication Year: 2010

A household name in Great Britain, John Betjeman was a public literary figure who openly declared his Christian faith and championed the social and aesthetic joys of Anglicanism as unique to English identity. Through poetry in  newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts, Betjeman celebrated the cultural significance of the Church of England well beyond its religious role. Although a steadfast proponent for Christianity and the Church, Gardner explains, Betjeman nevertheless struggled mightily to believe the faith, and he was forthcoming with his own spiritual failures. In this master study of his writings, Gardner deems Betjeman to be the poet of the Church of England—and demonstrates his works to be a vital part of Anglicanism’s living traditions.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Series: The Making of the Christian Imagination


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Table of Contents

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

This book began its life with an essay, “Anglicanism and the Poetry of John Betjeman,” which I published in Christianity and Literature in 2004. Expanding that article into the present book has been a delightful experience. I could hardly imagine a more congenial subject than Sir John Betjeman, nor could I ask for the processes of research, writing, and production to have gone more smoothly. ...

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pp. 1-14

Mention the name of John Betjeman (1906–1984) in the United States and you will likely elicit little more than a shrug of unfamiliarity, even from a literary scholar. The response in the United Kingdom, however, could hardly be more antipodal. More than twenty years after his death he is still widely remembered: as a poet of suburbia and nostalgic Englishness, as a radio and television personality...

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1. Eternity Contained in Time: The Paradoxes of Betjeman's Anglicanism

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pp. 15-49

John Betjeman’s profession of the centrality of religion in his life should not be underestimated. For all his love of writing and reading poetry, his passion for visiting old railway stations and mouldy churches, and his commitment to the preservation of human and natural landscapes threatened by thoughtless development, it was a mature Anglican faith that held the most import and value in his life. ...

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2. Doubt Inserts the Knife: The Absence of God and the Anxiety of Eternity

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pp. 51-83

John Betjeman’s imagination was sufficiently capacious to embrace both a love of life and a horror at life. His friend the Reverend Harry Williams, fellow and dean of Chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge, remarked, “That’s the doubt and the faith. It’s expressed in his poetry. ...

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3. In the Vapory Incense Veil: Nature, Eros, and Spiritual Mystery

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pp. 85-118

John Betjeman’s short but exquisite poem “Uffington” (1966) is a tribute to the stunning medieval Church of St. Mary, Uffington, where Betjeman was a member from 1934 to 1945. It begins with an ambiguous couplet that describes the tension of village church bells: “Tonight we feel the muffled peal / Hang on the village like a pall.” ...

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4. Dear Old, Bloody Old England: Sacramental Politics and Anglican Pastoralism

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pp. 119-153

On a cold and dark day in May 1984, with a raking wind and rain soaking the mourners, John Betjeman was laid to rest in the graveyard of St. Enodoc Church, near Trebetherick, Cornwall, the setting that had inspired his 1944 poem, “Sunday Afternoon Service in St. Enodoc Church, Cornwall.” ...

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5. The Chain-Smoking Millions and Me: Anglican Culture and the Community of Faith

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pp. 155-186

In his poem “A Lincolnshire Church” (1958), Betjeman visits an obscure church situated in an uninspiring and unsightly setting. Though he is only on a church crawl, the poet’s thoughts turn from the aesthetic to the conjunction of social and spiritual, and he begins to wonder how the Anglican community could survive or thrive amid such apathy and ugliness. ...


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pp. 187-223


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pp. 225-236

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 237-247

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584860
E-ISBN-10: 1602584869
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602582545
Print-ISBN-10: 1602582548

Page Count: 250
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: The Making of the Christian Imagination
Series Editor Byline: Stephen Prickett, general editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794698769
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Betjeman

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Subject Headings

  • Religion in literature.
  • Betjeman, John, 1906-1984 -- Religion.
  • Betjeman, John, 1906-1984 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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