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All Good Books Are Catholic Books

All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America

Una M. Cadegan
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    All Good Books Are Catholic Books
    Book Description:

    Until the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the stance of the Roman Catholic Church toward the social, cultural, economic, and political developments of the twentieth century was largely antagonistic. Naturally opposed to secularization, skeptical of capitalist markets indifferent to questions of justice, confused and appalled by new forms of high and low culture, and resistant to the social and economic freedom of women-in all of these ways the Catholic Church set itself up as a thoroughly anti-modern institution. Yet, in and through the period from World War I to Vatican II, the Church did engage with, react to, and even accommodate various aspects of modernity. In All Good Books Are Catholic Books, Una M. Cadegan shows how the Church's official position on literary culture developed over this crucial period.

    The Catholic Church in the United States maintained an Index of Prohibited Books and the National Legion of Decency (founded in 1933) lobbied Hollywood to edit or ban movies, pulp magazines, and comic books that were morally suspect. These regulations posed an obstacle for the self-understanding of Catholic American readers, writers, and scholars. But as Cadegan finds, Catholics developed a rationale by which they could both respect the laws of the Church as it sought to protect the integrity of doctrine and also engage the culture of artistic and commercial freedom in which they operated as Americans. Catholic literary figures including Flannery O'Connor and Thomas Merton are important to Cadegan's argument, particularly as their careers and the reception of their work demonstrate shifts in the relationship between Catholicism and literary culture. Cadegan trains her attention on American critics, editors, and university professors and administrators who mediated the relationship among the Church, parishioners, and the culture at large.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6898-8
    Subjects: History, Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Cultural Work of Catholic Literature
    (pp. 1-19)

    At the close and climax of James Joyce’s 1916 novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the protagonist Stephen Dedalus announces to himself and to the ages his newly embraced mission: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”¹ In its emphasis on the primacy and immediacy of individual consciousness, and on the artist’s making something that had no previous history, Stephen’s pronouncement is perhaps the most famous epigraph of literary modernism. Portrait of the...

  5. Chapter 1 U.S. Catholic Literary Aesthetics
    (pp. 20-46)

    In 1921, Condé B. Pallen published an article in America entitled “Free Verse.” Pallen by this time had been prominent in Catholic literary culture for decades. As editor of Church Progress and Catholic World of St. Louis, poet, literary scholar and critic, popular lecturer on literary topics, and managing editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Pallen in his career linked literary and nonliterary work, institution building with scholarly and creative productivity. In “Free Verse,” he wrote, “ ‘Shredded prose’ is an apt description, if not an exact defi nition of what its advocates call free verse. That it is free, as...

  6. Chapter 2 Modernisms Literary and Theological
    (pp. 47-63)

    A defining aspect of Catholic intellectual life in the 1920s was the 1907 Vatican condemnation of something termed “Modernism,” a set of theological positions the Vatican considered incompatible with Catholic belief. Although this condemnation did not deal quite the death blow to Catholic intellectual life that historians long maintained, virtually no American Catholic intellectual of the interwar years would have defended modernism per se.¹ What then could Baptist minister John Roach Straton possibly have meant when he warned in 1928 of “the danger ahead should Al Smith be elected president, because Smith “represented ‘card playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces,...

  7. Chapter 3 Declining Oppositions
    (pp. 64-84)

    It is probably not an accident that in George Shuster’s The Catholic Spirit in Modern English Literature the word “modernism” does not occur, despite the work’s appearing in modernism’s annus mirabilis, 1922, the year of publication for both Ulysses and The Waste Land. The only time the word “modernist” appears is in an approving description of Hilaire Belloc’s attempt to “uncover the medieval walls upon which modern Europe rests” in The Path to Rome: “He laughs with the Catholic peasant at the expense of the modernist; he joins eagerly in the dozen democratic things which people who are free in...

  8. Chapter 4 The History and Function of Catholic Censorship, as Told to the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 85-103)

    Nothing could be clearer about U.S. Catholic literary culture in the years after the Great War than its interdependence with theology and philosophy in defining and evaluating literature. The resulting literary aesthetic drew multiple aspects of Catholic thought and experience into a powerful and flexible imaginative framework that operated in an extensive network of literary institutions. These institutions in turn functioned in the context of a church polity and a tradition of ecclesiastical law that encompassed literary activity within its jurisdiction. People involved in Catholic literary work were imagined by church authority not as solitary artists or disinterested scholars but...

  9. Chapter 5 Censorship in the Land of “Thinking on One’s Own”
    (pp. 104-122)

    Despite the various attempts at revising and modernizing the mechanisms and legal framework of censorship, by the time the 1917 Code of Canon Law was promulgated, even to many contemporaries censorship was an anachronism. Nevertheless, readers, writers, and other participants in the print culture of U.S. Catholicism were officially bound by it, and needed ways of navigating it within the cultural, intellectual, and commercial context of the United States. The system of Roman Catholic censorship had to be translated and rationalized for internal and external audiences, a project undertaken by a wide variety of participants in Catholic print culture. These...

  10. Chapter 6 Art and Freedom in the Era of “The Church of Your Choice”
    (pp. 123-152)

    Censorship—the elaborate system of laws and institutional structures surrounding the regulation of publication and reading—reflected for better and worse the worldview that grounded Catholic literary culture and aesthetics. Because salvation, and therefore doctrinal truth and fidelity, were the highest goods, everything else achieved goodness to the extent that it was in harmony with them. Seen from within the tradition, this assertion did not put unacceptable limits on art and artists. In fact, its strongest proponents insisted that the only limits it imposed were constitutive of art; art was not possible without those limits. For those drawn to and...

  11. Chapter 7 Reclaiming the Modernists, Reclaiming the Modern
    (pp. 153-170)

    In 1948 the novelist Harry Sylvester published an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Problems of the Catholic Writer.” Among these problems was the obligation that Catholics had to marry and raise a large family, depriving the writer of the solitude and silence necessary for writing, and requiring him to earn enough money to support them all, usually through means other than writing. Sylvester also lamented the Church’s prohibition of divorce, as successful writers typically divorced a first wife and married a second, younger woman who could be instrumental in managing the writer’s life and career while he concentrated on...

  12. Chapter 8 Peculiarly Possessed of the Modern Consciousness
    (pp. 171-191)

    To say that by the 1950s Catholic writers and critics had reconciled an apparently unbridgeable modernist rift between orthodoxy and iconoclasm is to draw on some very old associations. The earliest uses of the verb “to reconcile” in English, in the late fourteenth century, referred to the reconciliation of humanity to God in Christ. The theological etymology reflects the weight of what Catholic critics believed to be at stake. They used theological categories to think through literary problems because literary problems were never only literary. But conversely, the theological ideas they employed could be and were used as ideas, as...

  13. Epilogue: The Abrogation of the Index
    (pp. 192-196)

    There may seem to be a great distance between the abstractions of modernist oppositions—iconoclasm and orthodoxy, individual and community, innovation and repetition, openness and closure—and the ecclesial bureaucracy of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. But the same remapping of the territory of artistic modernism and other components of intellectual modernity that enabled Catholic writers and critics to reconcile what had seemed antagonistic polarities reconfigured this quintessentially Counter-Reformation institution as well.

    The Index and the system of thought it stood for continued to loom large in the public image of American Catholicism past the twentieth century’s midpoint. (In his key...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 197-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-230)