Western Literature

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" [...]

A Defense of the Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s Art

Art is the pulse of the soul. It expresses much of what is kept hidden and even what could not be expressed in any other form. Many people talk of a crisis in modern art—its abstractness, banality, and, could we even say, ugliness. If there is such a crisis, to me, it is nothing other [...]

Why Do We Read Good Books?

Not long ago, one of my older essays was published in these pages to counterbalance, and to caution against, the unqualified praise of Flannery O’Connor’s fictional stories. As I expected, a great many O’Connor enthusiasts took exception to my critique. But amidst the ensuing disparagement, the common confusions, and the rebuttals of arguments never made, [...]

A Good Woman Is Hard to Figure

A few days ago a friend mentioned that this August marks the fiftieth anniversary of Flannery O’Connor’s death, so I poked around the Internet to see whether this milestone is stirring up any interest. It is, but what captivated me was finding a few sites promoting the cause for her canonization and others that were [...]

A Caution on the Writings of Flannery O’Connor

Several years ago, I received a volume of Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories as the very kind and thoughtful fulfillment of a birthday wish. At the time I knew very little about the content of these writings, but I was enthusiastic to encounter the genius of an author who had been highly praised to me on [...]

Flannery O’Connor—Fifty Years After

Her life bore such eloquence of pain that when she left it—August 3, 1964—her friend Thomas Merton could recall no other writer of the last century to compare her with. Rather, he said, she summoned the voice of Sophocles: an artist whose vision had likewise reached into the dark places of the human heart, there [...]

Read Literature to Learn and Love the Truth

The other night I testified (via telephone) before the Alaska state legislature, on the standards their public schools are adopting for classes in English.  I’d read the standards but didn’t have them in front of me, so I was taken aback when one of the representatives plucked a directive out of all the verbiage and [...]

On the Academic Hostility to Great Literature

In several recent articles at Crisis and elsewhere, I’ve been arguing that Catholic schools should reject the Common Corpse, the newest form of an old and largely successful campaign to banish good and great poems and stories from our classrooms.  I’ve been charged with exaggeration.  Surely things cannot be that bad.  The sky still stretches [...]

How Common Core Devalues Great Literature

Many years ago, a prominent man wrote to one of his favorite authors about his latest book.  This man had been a soldier, a hunter, an athlete, an historian, and a social reformer, and was now employed in a post of some significant responsibility.  He had many children, and was by all accounts a bluff [...]

All Happy Trails Lead West (II)

 Presently we saw a curious thing: There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky.  Just as the lower edge of the red disk rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun.  We sprang to our feet, straining [...]

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