Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor. Few things energize American Catholic writers more than that literary quaternary. English Catholic writers can have Evelyn Waugh, J.R.R. Tolkien and Malcolm Muggeridge. Heck, they can even have the renegade Graham Greene.
American Catholic writers love The Quaternary.
Paul Elie wrote an entire book about them, An American Pilgrimage (2004), which chronicled their lives, artistic accomplishments and intense religiousness. Despite their unambiguous Catholicity, all four became popular or famous.
Merton in--flamed America’s contemplative imagination with his Seven Storey Mountain.O’Connor wrote a spate of short stories and two novels that many non-Catholic critics acclaimed the finest fictional literature of the 20th century, Percy’s first novel won the National Book Award.
Day never won any literary prizes, but she published widely and has been called one of America’s finest journalists, diarists and spiritual writers.
It’s nothing new. Catholics have been producing great literature since Dante. Heck, since Augustine and even St. Paul for that matter; their stuff wasn’t fictional, but it was artistic and beautiful.
Great English Catholic literature goes back to the 14th century and Chaucer. Its pedigree includes Shakespeare, if Joseph Pearce in his forthcoming Quest for Shakespeare is correct, as well as Malory, Dryden, Hopkins, Chesterton and scores of others.
The Quaternary may have been unusual in America, but they weren’t unusual in the bigger historical picture.
You might be thinking, “Hey, blogging ain’t literature. It ain’t even writing. Why are you writing about it in a column dedicated to blogging?”
If so, our opinions differ a bit. I think blogging is literature, even if some of it has a graffiti-like character. Merely because some bloggers poison their pages with bile or bad grammar doesn’t mean blogging isn’t true writing. Movies are still an art form, despite Gigli and Daddy Day Care.
Many bloggers are excellent writers, and their blog posts display real literary talent. It’s no coincidence that many of them also write about literature. If you’re interested in the literary side of the blogosphere, visit these blogs:
• Happy Catholic (happycatholic.blogspot.com). Julie Davis not only occasionally blogs about literature, but she produces audio podcasts at Forgotten Classics (hcforgottenclassics.blogspot.com) that feature “great authors and stories that should be better known.” The podcasts emphasize Christian authors. (For another literary podcast, try Maria Lectrix at marialectrix.wordpress.com.)
• Charlotte Was Both (amywelborn.wordpress.com). Amy Welborn shut down her popular Open Book blog last year so she could concentrate on her fiction writing. Fortunately for us, she started this new blog that frequently touches on literary themes.
• Catholic Bibliophagist (catholicbibliophagist.blogspot.com). Bibliophagist: a devourer of books. What more do you need to know?
• Thursday Night Gumbo (thursdaynightgumbo.blogspot.com). Two guys who love to write about Catholic books. At the time of this writing, the top post read, “Tip No. 1 for Reading Aristotle … Read aloud, and read slowly.” Gotta love that.
• The Paragraph Farmer (paragraphfarmer.blogspot.com). For a taste of Patrick O’Hannigan at his best, check out his May 17, 2006, post that connects Chinese cooking to Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
• Tea and Sympathy (teaandsympathy-amy.blogspot.com). Amy Blosser is wild about Evelyn Waugh. And others.
• The Curt Jester (splendoroftruth.com/curtjester). Jeff Miller is one of the most popular Catholic bloggers in cyberspace. His blog ranges over many fields, but literature consistently crops up.
• Flos Carmeli (floscarmeli.stblogs.org). I’d never heard of Steven Riddle, but he came recommended. On my first visit, I saw posts about Faulkner and Updike. I’ll be back.
The Catholic: Natural Artist
“I feel that if I were not a Catholic, I would have no reason to write.” That’s Flannery O’Connor, writing to a friend in 1955. She went on: “I have never had the sense that being a Catholic is a limit to the freedom of the writer, but just the reverse. ... I feel myself that being a Catholic has saved me a couple of thousand years in learning to write.”
Great artistic achievement is still the province of Catholics. Unfortunately, we haven’t had much Catholic literary achievement in this country. It was virtually non-existent in the 19th century, and it’s been scarce lately.
But at some point, a Catholic literary revival will take place.
Until it does, American Catholic writers will savor the memory of The Quaternary.
Eric Scheske blogs, with considerable literary flair, at The Daily Eudemon