The Civilized Reader

Edited by William and Amy Fahey, The Civilized Reader joyfully reviews classic, good books — books that will enrich the life of your family and the minds of your children.

When Evelyn Waugh came to Hollywood in 1947 to discuss the film rights for Brideshead Revisited, he visited a graveyard: Forest Lawn Memorial Park. He had heard it praised as a place unsurpassed in beauty, taste, and sensitivity; a place where “faith and consolation, religion and art had been brought to their highest possible association.” [...]

Urging his troops to manly fortitude in the face of Germanic barbarians, General Maximus of the 2000 film, Gladiator does not downplay the certainty that some of his Romans are about die. “What we do in life echoes in eternity,” he cries, and indeed, Maximus argues that the fact of death is all the more [...]

Many civilized readers just don’t know what to do with Flannery O’Connor—and for good reason. If you mashed together the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Quentin Tarantino, I think you would get something very like a Flannery O’Connor story, full of theological brilliance and significance, but also earthy, violent, aggressive, and even ugly. O’Connor’s [...]

Last Tuesday, I was in the White Mountains with the new students of Thomas More College ascending Mt. Washington. Thwarted by gale force winds at the summit, the group was denied its initial goal, turned aside from the main route, and followed an unknown path towards Boott’s Spur—ground I knew, but had trouble finding due [...]

Modern artistic treatments of religious life tend to share a few assumptions: first, that there is something sinister in a life of vocation, and secondly, that those who choose such a life must have some degree of psychological or emotional disturbance motivating them. If these stories feature a nun, priest, or monk as a protagonist, [...]

In Dickens’ novels the problems of suffering in the form of poverty, tragedy, and injustice receive their greatest relief from simple, humble, lowly characters with kind, compassionate, and charitable hearts—not from wealthy benefactors, social agencies, or doles from government welfare. Portraying the hardheartedness of the powerful, the avaricious, and the callous in the cold and [...]

Although the George Eliot novel is missing from some iterations of John Senior’s list of 1,000 Good Books, Silas Marner appears in the list as it appears in Senior’s diagnostic book, The Death of Christian Culture. This is strange considering the secular and atheistic philosophies that informed the work. That this Victorian novel contains some [...]

One century ago, as the shadows of World War I were fading away, shadows were closing in on Beatrix. After nearly two decades of writing and illustrating an extraordinary series of children’s books, Beatrix Potter was losing her eyesight. This, compounded with her labors on Hill Top Farm growing increasingly engrossing and with her publisher [...]

“Pray that I may love God more. It seems to me that if I can learn to love God more passionately, more constantly, without distractions, that absolutely nothing else can matter.... I receive Holy Communion every morning, so it ought to be all the easier for me to attain this object of my prayers. I [...]

In George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, a child sleeping in his cozy bed at night hears the voice of the North Wind speaking to him in the appearance of a beautiful woman with dark eyes and black hair streaming in all directions. Entering through a window by Diamond's bed, the whispering [...]

At the conclusion of his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI makes a striking statement about “authentic human development”: Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice [...]

It is always good to get your bearings—to take stock of where you are and what you are doing, to orient yourself (from the Latin for ‘East’). While this principle is beneficial to life on a grand scale, it can also be applied to the civilized reader whenever he takes up a new book. The [...]

In George Herbert’s seventeenth century poem “Humilitie,” the Virtues sit on a throne to receive gifts at court from the animals who serve their masters. Humility steps down to receive the gifts the beasts present to the members of the court. The angry Lion surrenders its paw to Meekness, the fearful Hare presents her ears [...]

The French filmmaker and writer Marcel Pagnol died in 1974 at the age of 79 in Paris, having lived through one of the most morally destabilizing periods in history. He watched as two world wars devastated his country; he witnessed the permanent loss of the rural way of life in France through industrialization; he saw [...]

The French poet and philosopher Charles Péguy died in September, 1914 with a bullet through his head. He had anticipated the war that took his life—some say he even welcomed it, though his poetry resists that claim. He ​was​ a polemicist to the core and at odds with his temporal milieu, which was a modernity [...]

As the city’s recreation director, Sheppard took an interest in the youth he encountered in his work, and also volunteered to counsel troubled boys at the reformatory, “receiving nothing for it but the satisfaction of knowing he was helping boys no one else cared about.” His idea of “help,” however, assumes the form of social [...]

Every reader loves a good ghost story. And that is why Daphne du Maurier’s Romantic-Gothic novel, Rebecca has thrilled readers since its publication in 1938. The tale begins with a slight flavor of Jane Eyre: a wandering Byronic hero who meets a meek heroine, gauche and plain. Unlike Mr. Rochester, Maxim de Winter has no [...]

It is the best of tales, it is the worst of tales, it is for the age of foolishness, it is for the age of wisdom, it is an epic of belief, it is an epic of incredulity, it shines with Light, it shadows with Darkness, it springs with hope, it winters with despair, it [...]

Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it. It is vain for you to rise before light, rise ye after you have sitten, you that eat the bread of sorrow. When he shall give sleep to his [...]

“Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.”  ∼Matthew 6:34 Evil is an ever-present reality of our lives, but it is one with which we have difficulty reconciling ourselves. Why does evil happen to good people, or for that matter, why does evil happen at all? The problem of evil in the world—closely related to [...]

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