- All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America by Una M. Cadegan
Outlining the changes in Catholic literary culture in the United States from 1917 to 1966, Una M. Cadegan attempts to mark out “distinctive Catholic ground that was also unambiguously American” at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was fearful of modernity and largely opposed to literary modernism (7). Negotiating a Catholic American space was further complicated, Cadegan explains in her introduction, by the Church’s agonistic relationship to both socialism and economic liberalism. On the one hand, the Catholic Church, like the majority of Americans, disdained an emerging socialism, but, on the other hand, it denounced the individualist ideologies of literary modernism and U.S. capitalism, both of which were highly esteemed by non-Catholic Americans throughout the interwar period. It was amid such conflicts that “U.S. Catholics worked out a distinctive literary vision,” Cadegan says, “shaped not solely by opposition to the century’s secular literary trends but more deeply by their own categories and criteria for defining and evaluating literature” (2). This book nicely outlines Catholic literary history in the modernist era and does well to question secular accounts of the conflict between modernism and Roman Catholicism. I recommend the work to students interested in Catholic censorship and twentieth-century print culture. Scholars in the fields of modernist literature and Catholic history, however, may find the book less instructive, as Cadegan devotes more time to historical survey than she does to original research. [End Page 251]
Readers should find a number of Cadegan’s claims in chapter three intriguing. For example, Cadegan argues that, contrary to the beliefs of its New Critical exponents, literary modernism privileged an elitist avant-garde that was actually less in tune with the concerns and interests of modern humanity, particularly in the United States. I found this point to be especially persuasive and, after pondering Cadegan’s survey of popular entertainment in the years between the First World War and the Second Vatican Council, believe there may in fact be a disconnect between what, as a student of modernism, I have come to understand as the modernist aesthetic and dominant American entertainment preferences in the first half of the twentieth century. What’s more, pop cultural obsessions with narrative closure—“A love story that ends with a kiss or a wedding, a gangster story that ends with a cell door clanging, a western that ends with a shoot-out on a dusty street,” etc.—were better reflected by a Catholic literary aesthetic that promised redemption, finality, and resolution (78–79). In general, the Roman Catholic Church privileged community over the individual, orthodoxy over iconoclasm, repetition over innovation, and closure over openness, but Catholic writers in the 1950s inserted themselves into a modern American cultural scene by elaborating on, Cadegan says, “a rationale that included both terms of the opposition, newly defined in some cases, within the scope of a Catholic literary aesthetic” (62). Indeed, Catholic writers and literary critics redefined what it meant to be a modernist writer by locating these oppositional concerns (each of which Cadegan discusses at some length in chapter three) within a more encompassing Catholic worldview that grappled with the fragmentation and alienation of the postwar era not as something to be embraced but as spiritual maladies to be remedied.
Chapters four and five trace the challenges facing twentieth-century Catholic writers to the Tridentine church, which, in 1564, established the Index of Forbidden Books in an attempt to curtail the spreading ideals of Reformation Protestantism. For critics of the Catholic Church, the Index was proof of Catholicism’s inability to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. In fact, historians of the early modern era generally agree that, since the Reformation, the Catholic Church has been diametrically opposed to intellectual freedom and, as a result, posed unique problems to interwar Catholics immersed in a print culture that viewed censorship as hopelessly anachronistic. The modern [End...