Saturday, July 11, 2015

Robert Hugh Benson's Fiction

Catholic World Report has a good article on the fiction of Robert Hugh Benson. I haven't read all of it, by any means, but I have read Lord of the World, The Dawn of All, The Necromancers, By What Authority?, and Come Rack! Come Rope! In overall terms, Lord of the World and Come Rack! Come Rope! are the best of those, although I think I liked the characterization in By What Authority? better than in Come Rack! Come Rope! (Mary Corbet, the flippant and gaudy lady-in-waiting who turns out to have more sense in her head, and more goodness in her heart, than almost everyone else around her, was especially good).

The description given in the article of The Dawn of All is somewhat misleading, since it doesn't at all convey the essential point of the story, which is that victory in the world does not really change anything about the task of the Christian. Be the victory ever so great -- and in The Dawn of All it is taken to the very farthest limit -- the Christian faith is still the faith of martyrs, and if your faith does not involve a willingness to die for Christ, it is not the faith. That the Christian faith is the faith of martyrs seems actually to be a common theme throughout Benson's work.

2 comments:

  1. Enbrethiliel12:35 AM

    +JMJ+

    I've only read The Lord of the World, thanks to my book club.

    As you know, Brandon, I occasionally enjoy reading old books that have long been out of print and thinking about how (or even if) they could have been "saved"--but I started this project months after trying Monsignor Benson, so I didn't have it in mind while reading. I do recall, however, that The Lord of the World made me think of 70s and 80s B-movies: perhaps not the best quality in the world, but with real heart and cult classic potential. While it's a pity that Benson isn't better known, it feels a little like an initiation into coolness when someone who is in the know finally introduces you.

    Yet I can also see why it might have fallen out of favor with its own target market. I think the idea of faithful, orthodox Catholics as old-fashioned, unpopular, and even distrusted by a more progressive world can't have been fun for Catholics living fifty years after its publication. Suggest that they might even face martyrdom, and well . . .

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  2. branemrys7:07 AM

    Benson is also at his strongest when writing historical novels, and I think that's a field in which it's especially difficult to keep up an enduring readership. Although a few of Benson's works never entirely stopped being read, even if only as a matter of a small niche fandom, which is something.

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