To Promote, Defend, and Redeem: The Catholic Literary Revival and the Cultural Transformation of American Catholicism, 1920-1960

By Arnold Sparr; Henry Warner Bowden | Go to book overview

6
The Search for the Great American Catholic Novel, I: Catholic Fiction to 1935

The novel "has a very definite and important role to play in the Catholic Literary Revival," wrote Georgetown University student James Albano early in 1936, but thus far, he continued, "its status is one of anticipation rather than achievement."1 Albano, himself an aspiring young writer, identified a problem that was to trouble the American Catholic literary movement from beginning to end. Catholics believed they possessed the message, but they were sadly aware that they lacked persuasive and talented messengers, especially in the area of popular culture where the Catholic voice could receive its largest audience. The search for The Great American Catholic Novel is thus an important episode in twentieth century American Catholic life because it confirms on the popular level trends and attitudes that were occurring at other levels of Catholic society. To wit, the search for The Great American Catholic Novel, like the literary revival of which it was a part, reveals the three central themes that shaped American Catholic intellectual and cultural life between 1920 and 1960: the need to promote, to defend, and to redeem. 2


THE NOVELS OF FRANK H. SPEARMAN, KATHLEEN THOMPSON NORRIS, AND LUCILLE PAPIN BORDEN

Given the American Church's minority status during the first third of the twentieth century, it comes as little surprise that the Catholic novel before 1935 exhibited the same defensiveness described by Paul R. Messbarger in his detailed study of nineteenth century American Catholic writers. In fact, the basic definition of Catholic fiction during this later era differed little from that of the previous century. In the opinion of

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