Civilized Reader

The Wise Work of the Bees

A story is told of some strangers who went to the home of Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher well known even in his own day for his teachings on the nature of change and reality. The strangers arrived only to find Heraclitus in the kitchen warming himself by the furnace. Realizing that his visitors were … Read more

On Bryant’s “To A Waterfowl”

In December 1815, freshly admitted to the bar, the American poet William Cullen Bryant was walking to Plainfield, Massachusetts, when he observed a bird—probably a duck—flying across the horizon at sunset. That vision gave birth to what has been called the best short poem in any language and even by one “the most beautiful poem … Read more

Thanksgiving and the Tall Tale

“Thanksgiving Day. Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks, now, but the turkeys.”   ~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar Thankfully, much good fiction is not only read but also heard, as all families who have talkative, excitative elders know well. It is a phenomenon summed up in the proverbial marvel of strictly-spoken tales … Read more

Stubborn Roots: A Review of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.  ∼ Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited Wisdom is indeed a wonderful thing, but the knowledge and love that produce it are, like roots, usually better left underground. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is a story of the cultivation of wisdom and even salvation. Where it … Read more

Finding True Meaning in the Modern World: Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

To live as an American and as a Catholic is no small challenge, for America is fundamentally a modern project and Catholicism is decidedly not. The driving force of modernity (which began with the Protestant Reformation) can be summarized as “self-discovery”; to be a modern is, essentially, to exist in a constant state of self-awareness—specifically, … Read more

Slavery in Modern Clothing in Orwell’s 1984

In the totalitarian regime of Big Brother’s imaginary socialistic utopia in Oceania in 1984, Winston Smith lives a sordid dehumanized life devoid of all the traditional sources of happiness that have fulfilled human beings throughout the ages. Orwell portrays a politically correct social order that robs human beings of dignity, political rights under the law, … Read more

Adam’s Curse: William Butler Yeats on Original Sin

We made a good run in Genesis… all of two and a half chapters before finding ourselves on the business end of a curse leveled at us by omnipotent God. Don’t you hate it when that happens? As a matter of fact, we have been hating it ever since. As a defining feature of our … Read more

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (Not for the Squeamish)

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.” … Read more

Parker’s Back: Not Just Another Tattoo

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 … Read more

Dickens’ David Copperfield: The Wealth of Goodness in Human Nature

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 … Read more

Is Silas Marner One of the Good Books?

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 … Read more

To Beatrix in the Shadows: Johnny Town-mouse After 100 Years

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 … Read more

Remembering the Troubadour of Saint Folly

“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 … Read more

The Child as Window in At the Back of the North Wind

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 … Read more

Highest-Stakes Fishing: “God Made Sunday” by Walter Macken

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 … Read more

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