This book is a comparative study of the French and English Catholic literary revivals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These parallel but mostly independent movements include writers such as Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, J. K. Huysmans, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton and Lionel Johnson. Rejecting critical approaches that tend to treat Catholic writings as exotic marginalia, this book makes extensive use of secularisation theory to confront these Catholic writings with the preoccupations of secularism and modernity. It compares individual and societal secularisation in France and England and examines how French and English Catholic writers understood and contested secular mores, ideologies and praxis, in the individual, societal and religious domains. The book also addresses the extent to which some Catholic writers succumbed to the seduction of secular instincts, even paradoxically in themes which are considered to be emblematic of the Catholic literature.
with ‘the world’ predominates over Benson’s concern with the impact of the loss of faith on Englishness itself. Englishness could be recaptured in a variety of ways, but a world without any divine basis was potentially lost for ever.
A postmodern reading of the nationalist tendencies of Catholic literature in France and England might see them simply as the stories which the French and English Catholic writers told themselves about the State and the possibility of reclaiming it for Catholicism. Catholic
This book is based on a paradox and a coincidence. The paradox is that at the end of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period of profound secularisation in France, there emerged a generation of Catholic writers and intellectuals who were convinced that the rumours about God’s death had been greatly exaggerated. The coincidence is that, in the same period, English literature too saw a significant revival in Catholic writing. In France, the late novels of Joris Karl Huysmans, the plays of Paul Claudel and the religious
The conditions of individual secularisation described in Chapter 1 posed two sets of moral problems for believers in France and England at that time. The first concerns how human behaviour is to be mapped out if belief in God has become deistic or has collapsed into atheism. The second concerns the alternative moral criteria to counter the anthropocentrism transmitted by individual secularisation. These two sets of problems provide vital perspectives from which to read French and English Catholic literature in the late nineteenth and
The aim of this book has been to cast light on the paradox of French Catholic literary resistance to secularisation in the period 1880–1914, and on its coincidental parallels among English Catholic writers of the same period. The task of remapping these writings against an analytical grid of secularisation theory was prompted by the weaknesses which we argued were inherent in approaching these writings simply under the confessional label of ‘Catholic’. This process has meant not discarding the category of Catholic literature, however
individuals together either (in the case of the French) through a conscious and coercive political ideal or (in the case of the English) through a piecemeal attempt to arbitrate divisions (which did not in itself exclude coercion or unity through cultural values).
These were the conditions in which French and English Catholic writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries operated. In view of the pluralisation of alternative value systems, the pressure on belief was great. How in such circumstances was faith to be understood and undertaken within literature
religious individualism and ending in German barbarism. That Protestants were still capable of theocentricity is not a consideration that most French Catholic writers of this generation were inclined to make.
The cultural and spiritual threat which the French authors found in Germany is paralleled in Chesterton’s The Victorian Age in Literature . Therein, Chesterton describes an unholy nineteenth-century alliance between the political ‘blood and iron’ of the authoritarian German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and the scientific ‘blood and bones
his blasphemous Treize Idylles diaboliques , a pre-conversion work which depicts Christ and Mary in a conspiracy against God the Father. 32 While writings like Retté’s appear to the reader sensational or lurid, they are part of a tradition reacting against equally lurid freethinking literature which took special pains to deny the supernatural character of the incarnation and any supernatural devotions that went with it. 33
Perhaps the most important portrayal of the incarnation in French Catholic literature is found in Péguy’s Le Mystère
, Barry finds proof of the theory that Freemasonic influence had been the decisive factor contributing to secularising reforms in France. 46
Barry’s pamphlet is only one example of the anti-Freemasonic literature of the time. Earlier in 1885, a year after Leo XIII’s encyclical on Freemasonry and its advocacy of a purely naturalistic philosophy, George F. Dillon had published his own study of Freemasonry called The War of Antichrist with the Church and Christian Civilisation . To the objection that English Freemasonry was much less anticlerical
vain for a miracle to cure her invalidity, and obtains it only later in the novel through the miraculous waters of Lourdes. 9 Positivism and materialistic philosophy naturally declared all such phenomena to be explicable by physical causes; Madame Rouvère’s doctor, for example, says he would view such a cure as proof not of God’s power but of the disorder of the universe, while his colleague claims he has seen fakirs do the same thing. 10 In Baumann’s novel and in other French Catholic literature, however, the miracles associated with Lourdes signified not merely a