Catholic Imagination in American Literature

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In this well-written and comprehensive volume on Catholic writing in the United States, Ross Labrie focuses on works that meet three criteria: high intellectual and artistic achievement, authorship by a practicing Roman Catholic, and a focus on Catholic themes. Labrie begins with a discussion of the Catholic imagination and sensibility and considers the relationship between art and Catholic theology and philosophy.

Central to Catholic belief is the doctrine of the Incarnation, wherein human experience and the natural world are perceived as both flawed and redeemed. This doctrine can be seen as the axis on which Catholic American literature in general rests and from which variances by particular authors can be measured. The optimism implied in this doctrine, together with an inherited American political consciousness, allowed a number of Catholic authors, from a culture otherwise perceived as outside the American mainstream, to identify with a political idealism that granted dignity to the individual.

Counterpointing this emphasis on the individual, though, is the doctrine of the church as an intermediary between God and humanity and the belief in the community of saints. In concert with the doctrine of the Incarnation, these teachings gave Catholic writing a communal and prophetic dimension aimed at the whole of American society.

Separate chapters are included for each of the writers considered so that the distinctiveness of their works is elucidated, as well as the unity and the rich diversity of Catholic American writing in general. Some of the authors considered are Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Thomas Merton, and Mary Gordon.

A concluding chapter examines the significance of the corpus of Catholic American writing in the years 1940 to 1980, considering it parallel in substance to the body of Jewish American literature of the same period. The Catholic Imagination in American Literature fills a distinctive place in the study of American literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
"The consciousness of being different from the cultural majority in America has...colored the imaginations of Catholic novelists and poets," Labrie (The Writings of Daniel Berrigan, Univ. of America, 1989) asserts. Here he discusses 13 Catholic writers chosen for their intellectual and artistic achievement, active practice of Catholicism, and focus on Catholic themes. Along with Berrigan and Merton, subjects include Orestes Brownson, Paul Horgan, Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, and Mary Gordon. Born before Vatican II (which Labrie labels the "great divide" for Catholic writers), all share an "underlying unity of outlook" missing in the "increasingly fragmented" post-conciliar church. Labrie analyzes a representative sample of each writer's work in light of the individual's particular interpretation of Catholic teaching. The work is well documented with footnotes and extensive bibliography. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with large literary collections.-Denise J. Stankovics, Rockville P.L., Vernon, Ct.
A discussion of Catholic writers and the particular sensibility which this religious influence brings to each work, focusing on the relationship between imagination, theology, and philosophy. Labrie English, U. of British Columbia concentrates on incarnation and the church as intermediary between God and humanity as the two major doctrines which give Catholic writers a communal and prophetic dimensions, particularly exemplified by authors such as Flannery O'Conner, Walker Percy, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Thomas Merton, and Mary Gordon. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826211101
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Pages: 306
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ross Labrie is Professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of several books, including Thomas Merton and the Inclusive Imagination and The Art of Thomas Merton.

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