Western Literature

The New Secular Puritan Covenant

Thanksgiving brings back memories for Americans of the Pilgrims and Puritans, carrying out their “errand into the wilderness” to build a “city on a hill,” surviving that first bleak Massachusetts winter of 1620-21. As a kid, I remember that cutting out Puritan hats from black construction paper and taping them to the school windows was [...]

The Philosophy of Book Buying

For some considerable time I have been living, as regards books, with the minimum of comfort and decency—with, in fact, the bare necessaries of life, such necessaries being, in my case, sundry dictionaries, Boswell, an atlas, Wordsworth, an encyclopedia, Shakespeare, Whitaker, some De Maupassant, a poetical anthology, Verlaine, Baudelaire, a natural history of my native [...]

George MacDonald’s The Wise Woman

I recently had the great pleasure to introduce my five-year old son to George MacDonald’s The Wise Woman, or the Lost Princess: A Double Story. In the back of my mind I thought, "won't these moral lessons be so good for somebody..." (thinking, of course, my son). It is true, my young son in his [...]

A Portrait Of The Artist At 100

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man turns 100 this year. Not bad for a book that, like some of the stories in Joyce’s Dubliners (1914) and Ulysses (1922) almost didn’t get published at all. Now that the copyright is up on Joyce’s work, the Joyce estate, which has been protected [...]

The Second Best-Selling Book of All Time

Sure, the best-selling book of all-time is, of course, the Bible. It is also the most widely (and given some of the liberties taken, wildly) translated book of all time, too. But who takes the silver medal in terms of sales? And also in terms of translations? Not the Quran. Not Chairman Mao’s Little Red [...]

Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler: An Introduction to Liberal Arts

A classic that captures the spirit of fun-loving mirth and the lightheartedness of innocent recreation, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653) offers not only a schooled fisherman’s lore on the nature of fish, bait, and streams but also introduces the liberal art of fishing. In introducing his classic on the art of fishing (“The Contemplative [...]

Three Paths to Rome

Once asked what book he’d like to be stuck with on a desert island, G.K. Chesterton reportedly responded in the way one would expect of him: Thomas' Guide to Practical Shipbuilding. He was being facetious, and his real answer was The Pickwick Papers. The question is a fun one to consider, but frankly, I’d beg [...]

The Case for Catholic Shakespeare 

Unlike the conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare was really the more educated Earl of Oxford, the rival Christopher Marlowe, or the polymath Francis Bacon, the story of the Catholic Shakespeare is now a mainstream if not a consensus view among scholars. Stretched to the edge of credulity, using arguments and speculations from scholars both Catholic [...]

Brendan Behan: Rebel, Writer, Penitent

The name of Brendan Behan—rebel, hell-raiser, and writer—is rarely linked with the word "Catholic." This is an oversight, for he was by birth and upbringing very much a Catholic writer, if that is to be judged by his culture and social background. Nevertheless, it was more than just that. Its omission, or deliberate negation, is [...]

The Aran Islands: An Irish Classic Revisited

Why not celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day with something enlightening instead of inebriating—an Irish classic, The Aran Islands by John M. Synge? The Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway in the west of Ireland, are the cultural heart and soul of Ireland. The area is known as the Gaeltacht; translated into English it means "Irish [...]

The Noblest Roman of Them All? On Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

What is most tragic in tragedies is that everything falls apart. Tragedies are always concerned with fate of a community, and a community cannot fall until its building blocks, individuals, have already begun to tumble themselves. Tragedies often seem inevitable from the their very beginning, and the reason for this is that we arrive at [...]

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

As the novel shows, the corruption of sense in the form of prudent self-interest leads to marriages based solely on money, and the corruption of sensibility in the form of license leads to elopement, seduction, and children out of wedlock. Both attitudes destroy the ideal of marriage that forms the basis of civilization in Austen’s [...]

A Provocative New Novel on Islam and Western Decadence

Michel Houellebecq is the enfant terrible of contemporary French literature, a modern and best-selling Voltaire or Sartre who writes provocative novels of ideas that both exploit and skewer liberal debauchery and nausea. Michel Houellebecq’s recently translated Submission, which imagines that Islamists come to power during the French presidential election of 2022, has received a lot [...]

Prescience in Morris West’s Vatican Trilogy

During my late teens and early twenties I underwent the customary intellectual awakening. On the advice of a very sophisticated classmate, I read Meiklejohn’s translation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and began to demand empirical evidence for the existence of everything, including God. Inevitably, this led me to a crisis of faith which left [...]

The Novels of Georgette Heyer

If you are looking for some entertainment reading during the golden days of Indian Summer—or any other time—let me propose Georgette Heyer to you. Romance, Murder, Humor, Mystery, Dogs, and … Marriage! First, a bit of basic background: She was born in 1902 in Wimbledon, England. She did not attend university, but started writing very [...]

Richard Crashaw and the Magnificent Seven

Were one to conduct a survey of modern-day Americans, taken at random, it is likely that not one in a hundred would have heard of the poet, Richard Crashaw. Were one to cross the Atlantic and conduct a similar experiment with modern-day Englishmen, it is likely that the result would be the same. This neglect [...]

Dr. Johnson on Why More is Not Better

Editor's note: Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) anticipated G.K. Chesterton in wit, girth, and wisdom. In a short essay penned for The Idler (Number 85 of December 1759) Johnson foresaw the weariness of our age with its explosion of cheap blogs and online articles. It was the weariness of Chesterton’s age with its explosion of cheap journals [...]

Seeing Love: A Reflection on King Lear

What do we see? And what does it matter? As an older father and educator of my youngest daughter, now sixteen years old, I have the joy of truly learning Shakespeare for the first time. In recent months we have tackled two Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet and King Lear. One is billed as the [...]

Books Which Have Influenced Me

The most influential books, and the truest in their influence, are works of fiction.  They do not pin the reader to a dogma, which he must afterwards discover to be inexact; they do not teach him a lesson, which he must afterwards unlearn.  They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage [...]

Theology of the Bawdy

In any decent education there should be a place for the indecent. Students should read stories like “The Miller’s Tale,” see plays like Romeo and Juliet, and learn songs like “Drunken Sailor.” The inclusion of low, lewd themes sometimes attracts curiosity and criticism in the realm of classical education, and especially Catholic classical education: How [...]

The Bilbo Baggins Inside All of Us

This past summer my junior honors theology students read The Hobbit in preparation for their morality class this fall. While reading, I discovered why so many enjoy The Hobbit. We can connect so well with Bilbo Baggins and the other characters because they are so real, so like us. One can also find many "hidden" [...]

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