The Catholic Novel

Is There Any Such Thing?

Richard A. Rosengarten’s review of Graham Greene’s Catholic Imagination by Mark Bosco (Commonweal, January 26, 2007) raised interesting questions about the relations between faith and fiction. In his first sentence Rosengarten refers to “Catholic novelists” and in his second to the “Catholic novel,” as if the one implied the other.

The idea of a Catholic novelist seems straightforward enough; several of them were writing in the twentieth century—in England, the United States, and France—and Rosengarten names some of them. Yet one of the most celebrated, Graham Greene, disliked being called a “Catholic novelist,” and preferred to regard himself as a novelist who happened to be a Catholic. His friend Evelyn Waugh was happy to appear before the world as a Catholic novelist and tried to present Greene and himself as literary upholders of Catholic truth and faith in the face of an unbelieving world. Still, Greene resisted these pressures, and in later years Waugh came to regret them.

Like most English Catholic writers and thinkers, Waugh and Greene were converts, who came into the church in mature life as a matter of choice. They lacked the cradle Catholic’s early experience of family and parochial life and schooling, which provided material to be drawn on in later years, even if the adult...

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About the Author

Bernard Bergonzi is the author of A Study in Greene, among many other books of literary criticism.