Malcolm Muggeridge has been called the “most brilliant” journalist of the 20th century. He was deep in literature and deeply philosophical (though not formally trained in philosophy), not to say mystical.
Muggeridge disclosed Marxism’s atrocities to the world with firsthand reporting in Soviet Russia, when this was still an unpopular thing to do. It is as yet unclear whether it was for this that The London Guardian and The New York Times have yet to forgive Muggeridge, or whether it was his conversion to Catholicism that did it. It couldn’t be both, right?
Muggeridge was a well-known radio and television personality, documentary maker, novelist and essayist, as well as some-time editor of England’s famous satirical publication Punch. He hobnobbed with the likes of P.G. Wodehouse, Somerset Maugham and the Bloomsburyman Leonard Woolf.
But what truly catapulted Muggeridge to international fame was a documentary he did in 1969 in one of the most distressed places on earth: Calcutta, India. It was there that Muggeridge “discovered” an Albanian nun, and it was this documentary that made Mother Teresa a household name. It brought her to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, which gave her its prestigious award in 1979.
After meeting Mother Teresa, Muggeridge authored such popular books as Something Beautiful for God and Jesus Rediscovered. I remember these titles in our home growing up in the 1970s, and I ought to. Alongside the works of Dorothy Day, they helped rescue my father from the then-fashionable liberation theology of Gustavo Guttierez and Co. In time, my father would not only be won over by Muggeridge, but he would also end up serving as a private consultant on psychological affairs for several years to Mother Teresa.
In the disparate collection Time and Eternity, Nicholas Flynn provides an excellent introduction, going over Muggeridge’s youth, psychological profile and career. Muggeridge was raised by Fabian socialist parents, his early journalistic career being tied up with these ideals. It was in part for this reason the realities of actual collectivist, centralized administration would hit Muggeridge so hard while living in a Marxist country. It would be unfair to call this collection of writings “uneven,” as if it had pretensions to be Muggeridge’s “Collected Works” or something. Rather, it’s a representative selection of brief articles, letters and reflections acting as a collective window into the mind of a profoundly spiritual, sensitive and ultimately brave man. There are so many practically poetic-sounding gems and pithy observations scattered about, it’s difficult to know where to start quoting.
Is the book perfect? I don’t think so. Muggeridge by his own admission wasn’t perfect. A review of his for a biography of Picasso, authored by Picasso’s ex-mistress, offers more information than one might expect to be printed by a Catholic publishing house. (To many Brits, that makes me a “prig” or a “prude” etc.; as my generation of Yanks might respond: “Whatever.”)
None of this changes the fact that I love this book. It already comes across as an indispensable classic.
Register correspondent Peter Mango writes from Somers, New York.
TIME AND ETERNITY
By Malcolm Muggeridge, edited with an introduction by Nicholas Flynn
Orbis Books, 2011
237 pages, $24
To order: orbisbooks.com