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NEWMAN STUDIES JOURNAL BOOK REVIEW THE CATHOLIC REVIVAL IN ENGLISH LITERATURE, 1845-1961: NEWMAN, HOPKINS, BELLOC, CHESTERTON, GREENE, WAUGH BY IAN KER 116 The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961: Newman, Hopkins, Belloc, Chesterton, Greene, Waugh. By Ian Ker. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. Pp: ix + 231. Cloth $60.00, ISBN 0-268-03879-1; paper, $25.00, ISBN 0-268-03880-5. The author of the definitive 20th-century biography of John Henry Newman, the editor of editions of several of his works,and a perceptive commentator on many aspects of his thought, Ian Ker is a preeminent Newman scholar. Consequently, it is a bit ironic that his latest book begins by pointing out an error in Newman’s thinking: his claim, made in “Catholic Literature in the English Tongue, 1854-58” (one of the lectures that make up the“University Subjects”section of The Idea of a University), that a Catholic literature could not develop in the essentially Protestant culture of England.This book is a refutation of that claim. Of course, refuting Newman is not really Ker’s purpose. His goal is rather “realization: that is, in the very Newmanian sense, of making real the extent to which Catholicism informed and shaped a considerable and impressive corpus of literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (7). He achieves this goal in The Catholic Revival in English Literature. Ker examines six writers: Newman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. Ker’s critical approach is traditional and straightforward. He (thankfully) deploys none of the techniques or terminology of postmodern literary criticism in analyzing his subjects.Readers need not be versed in contemporary critical theory to grasp Ker’s analysis,and readers who have labored in the fetid swamps of current literary theory will find Ker’s clear prose and good sense bracing and restorative.This book demonstrates how lucid and informative can be interpretations based on the careful reading of primary texts, a solid knowledge of the culture in which those texts were written, and a strong critical intelligence. What unifies the book is the question at the heart of the author’s examination of each author: how did each writer’s Catholicism influence him as a writer? For Newman,Ker answers this question by distinguishing between his conversion to and discovery of Catholicism. Newman’s conversion to Catholicism, Ker argues, was followed by“a more experiential discovery of Catholicism”(13).What he discovered was Catholicism as a concrete,everyday reality,a faith which integrated itself into the ordinary business of life, a faith which existed as an objective fact embodied in a definite creed, system of worship, and sacraments. Ker observes that this postconversion discovery of Catholicism “powerfully engaged Newman’s imagination” and“provided much of the creative stimulus that produced the most overtly literary period of his life, when he deliberately abstained from theology and instead turned to writing Catholic apologetics in the form of novels and satire” (22). Like Newman, the Catholic writers who followed him were all influenced, Ker contends,by one or another of the dimensions of Catholicism as a concrete,everyday 117 reality. In his chapter on Hopkins, Ker examines how Catholicism influenced the poetic style of Hopkins. Building on Geoffrey Hill’s observation that the poetic diction and prosody of Hopkins were influence by Catholic liturgical practices, Ker shows that the litany was a formative influence on his poetry after his conversion. Spare,abrupt,monosyllabic,and without stylistic pretensions,litanies were a popular form of ordinary Catholic worship prior to the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, Newman wrote several litanies. Ker shows how frequently Hopkins’ poetry echoes the form, language, and rhythm of the litany. Ker’s thesis that Catholicism as a concrete,everyday reality is important to his six authors needs to be modified when applied to Hilaire Belloc. Ker correctly observes that “like Newman, Belloc loves to emphasize the sheer concreteness of Catholicism—it is decidedly a thing,not a theory”(65).However,the Catholic“thing” that influenced Belloc was less the Catholicism he actually encountered in his life and more the pre-Reformation Catholicism he encountered in his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-6945
Print ISSN
1547-9080
Pages
pp. 116-117
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-22
Open Access
No
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