"Ought There to Be a Catholic Criticism?" The 1950s and the End of the Revival
Had J. F. Powers first novel Morte d'Urban (the winner of the 1962 National Book Award) appeared in 1950, it might have effectively ended the search for the Great American Catholic Novel, although this quest, like all quixotic ventures, may have been doomed to go on forever. But it came in 1962, and by then few critics were interested in finding the great Catholic novel. Fewer still were interested in the Catholic literary revival, the "New Christendom," or Catholic culture. By the mid-1950s such concerns, in the jargon of the day, seemed too "ghettoish."
The Catholic literary revival always mirrored the relationship between Catholicism and American society and culture. During the first half of the twentieth century that relationship was marked by a good deal of tension (much of it creative) as Catholics, likening themselves to a prophetic minority, denounced modern unbelief and proposed religious solutions to modern problems. Most Catholic cultural leaders ( Francis X. Talbot, Daniel A. Lord, and Frank O'Malley included) never doubted that Catholics, and especially Catholic intellectuals, were a distinctive cultural group whose particular vision and outlook brought an added dimension to the nation's philosophy, literature, and social thought. Smugly triumphalistic in the 1920s, the focus of American Catholic intellectual and cultural life became increasingly apostolic as Catholics after 1935 spoke of the Church's historic mission in the world and the necessity of lay Christians to reach out to every dimension of thought and culture. Hence the Catholic literary revival, O'Malley's Christian philosophy of literature, the Catholic Worker movement, and the more progressive forms of Catholic mobilization and Catholic Action. All were