Literature: June 2004 Archives

On Charles Williams


Of the inklings, Charles Williams is often the one least known, least recognized. His works are thorny and require an even greater-than-usual susepension of disbelief. Sometimes his narratives amount to nothing more than very thinly veiled symbolic actions. And yet, there are moments in the prose and in the stories that are truly transcendant and more than make up for the various flaws one could find. I offer one of those moments in the excerpt below.

from All Hallow's Eve
Charles Williams

He felt, as he gazed, more like a wraith than a man; against her vigour of existence he hung like a ghost, and was fixed by it.—He did not then remember the past hour in Jonathan's room, nor the tomb-like image of Lady Wallingford. Had he done so, he would have felt Lester's to be as much stronger than that woman's as hers had seemed stronger than his own. Lester was not smiling any recognition; the recognition was in her stillness. The passionate mouth was serious and the eyes deep with wonder and knowledge: of him? certainly of him. He thought almost he saw her suspire with a relief beyond joy. Never, never again would he neglect. The broken oaths renewed themselves in him. One hand of hers was raised and still almost as if it rested on some other arm, but the other had flown to her breast where it lay as if in some way it held him there. They made, for those few seconds, no movement, but their stillness was natural and not strange; it was not because she was a ghost but because she was she that he could not stir. This was their thousandth meeting, but yet more their first, a new first and yet the only first. More stable than rock, more transient in herself than rivers, more distant-bright than stars, more comfortable than happy sleep, more pleasant than wind, more dangerous than fire-all known things similes of her; and beyond all known things the unknown power of her. He could perhaps in a little have spoken; but before he could, she had passed. She left with him precisely the sensation of seeing her go on; past him? no; up the by-way? no; but it was not disappearance or vanishing, for she had gone, as a hundred times she had, on her proper occasions, gone, kissing, laughing, waving. Now she neither kissed nor laughed nor waved, but that which was in all three lingered with him as he saw she was no longer there.

Such a paean to married loved, such an epithalamion is truly worthy of some of our attention, because it strikes me that the man knows whereof he speaks.

If you'd like to experience more of All Hallow's Eve, you can find it online here

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An endorsement from his significant other:

from Ulysses "Penelope"
James Joyce

. . . and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and L thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will


From Molly Bloom's monologue in which she makes the decision to stay with her rather staid and proper husband rather than run off with her lover. Some people need no excuse for a pint or two, but the celebration of a a marriage reaffirmed certainly seems to be one good reason.

*And a special one it is too. Bloomsday celebrates 16 June 1904, the day of the events of the Novel Ulysses. Named after the novelists protagonist, a Dublin Jew by the name of Leopold Bloom. As you can readily see, this is the 100th anniversary, although, because the book was published in 1922, and one assumes such celebrations did not start until afterwards, it is not the 100th such celebration. Nevertheless, a very cheery Bloomsday to you all.

And now, a word from Mr. Bloom himself:

from Ulysses "Eumaeus"
James Joyce

Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed. His (Stephen's) mind was not exactly what you would call wandering but a bit unsteady and on his expressed desire for some beverage to drink Mr Bloom in view of the hour it was and there being no pump of Vartry water available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes hit upon an expedient by suggesting, off the reel, the propriety of the cabman's shelter, as it was called, hardly a stonesthrow away near Butt bridge where they might hit upon some drinkables in the shape of a milk and soda or a mineral. But how to get there was the rub. For the nonce he was rather nonplussed but inasmuch as the duty plainly devolved upon him to take some measures on the subject he pondered suitable ways and means during which Stephen repeatedly yawned. So far as he could see he was rather pale in the face so that it occurred to him as highly advisable to get a conveyance of some description which would answer in their then condition, both of them being e.d.ed, particularly Stephen, always assuming that there was such a thing to be found. Accordingly after a few such preliminaries as brushing, in spite of his having forgotten to take up his rather soapsuddy handkerchief after it had done yeoman service in the shaving line, they both walked together along Beaver street or, more properly, lane as far as the farrier's and the distinctly fetid atmosphere of the livery stables at the corner of Montgomery street where they made tracks to the left from thence debouching into Amiens street round by the corner of Dan Bergin's. But as he confidently anticipated there was not a sign of a Jehu plying for hire anywhere to be seen except a fourwheeler, probably engaged by some fellows inside on the spree, outside the North Star hotel and there was no symptom of its budging a quarter of an inch when Mr Bloom, who was anything but a professional whistler, endeavoured to hail it by emitting a kind of a whistle, holding his arms arched over his head, twice.

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On Modern Thought


From G. K. Chesterton--the Essay on Pope in Twelve Types--

"Have we really learnt to think more broadly? Or have we only learnt to spread our thoughts thinner? I have a dark suspicion that a modern poet might manufacture an admirable lyric out of almost every line of Pope."

From G.K. Chesterton on Walter Scott, "It would perhaps be unkind to inquire whether the level of the modern man of letters, as compared with Scott, is due to the absence of valleys or the absence of mountains. But in any case, we have learnt in our day to arrange our literary effects carefully, and the only point in which we fall short of Scott is in the incidental misfortune that we have nothing particular to arrange."

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Now, all of that said some days ago, I come to another question. Would I, as a Christian Artist, be comfortable releasing a work that did not conform to doctrinal views of the world.

The answer is quite mixed. If I felt that the lack of conformity were such that it might endanger the faith of many, I would have to self-censor. In a sense Artists are kind of minor shepherd assistants. They popularize the difficult and abstruse and they have an obligation to help the sheherds of the Church (assuming they are faithful members of the Church).

But the determination of what may or may not undermine faith is really a very nebulous criterion. We had a case here in St. Blogs or recent date where an individual found strength and solace and the ability to remain within the Church through groups that many might find alienating and challenging. Even if these groups have some doctrines which may be called into question by some, they allow many to remain within the Church if agitated by some things done in the Church.

So the problem is great. But I believe that a person of prayer, an Artist, who leans upon God and calls upon God to assist in all parts of the creative endeavor can count upon God to make good even the imperfections of a work. If the books is challenging, as is Endo's, the challenge may call forth all sorts of responses. View the discussion here, where many hasten to point out that apostasy always leads to greater damage. Note responses that suggest we need to measure our reactions and see whether we might not be sitting in judgment on the state of a person's soul and that Endo was presenting the historical reality of his time. (He was. By such apostasies public Cahtolicism of the time was effectively surprised into an interesting "closet cult" that combined elements of what was remembered of Catholicism with the pervasive Shinto animism of the time.)

A Catholic artist owes it to God and to humanity to remain as close to the Church as possible during the act of composition; however, he is also called upon to tell what he understands of the truth, however broken and distorted that may be. I could not write a perfect doctrinal analysis of nearly any Catholic doctrine. I am not ashamed to admit that much of my understanding is unclear. But stories are not doctirne and Art is not the Magisterium. It can be a great aid to the Magisterium and a great ally to the Church. It can also go astray.

The artist faithful to his vision will endure such attacks as Endo has endured. He might be considered apostate himself. He may be criticized for his stand or his content. Nevertheless, there is a kind of pact between faithful artists and their Creator which does not allow for lack of integrity. If the story leads to a point, the point must not be skirted, the structure must not be abridged.

Not every work by an artist is worthy of the name art, nor is every writing worthy of reading. What is great Art, however, may ask questions, but it will, I believe, rest strong in the faith, regardless of what others may think about it. In this much Sartre was to some extent correct: for the artist hell can be other people judging him by the work of art and its apparent confromity/disconformity with established doctrine, not by the substance of self.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Literature category from June 2004.

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