Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Literary Converts

Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce

This erudite book vividly contrasts the faith that marked the lives of many of Great Britain's more prominent writers of the 20th century with the unbelief that, the author believes, largely marked their times. Many of the book's "converts" began life as Anglicans and then converted to Roman Catholicism, though some, such as C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, remained with the Church of England. Pearce is at his best when he situates writers within the frameworks of a changing Church and a changing world. For example, he claims that the Catholic Church's move away from the Latin mass hastened the emotional deterioration that directly preceded Evelyn Waugh's death. Pearce suggests that because of communist attacks on Catholics in Spain, Scottish poet Roy Campbell supported Franco and was somewhat sympathetic to Nazism. In discussing the post-World War II era, Pearce loses some of his focus: too many minor figures, including Ronald Knox and novelist Robert Hugh Benson, crowd the stage and detract from his more compelling descriptions of such deeply influential authors as G.K. Chesterton, Waugh, Eliot and Graham Greene. Despite its flaws, this volume nonetheless will edify and absorb the reader.