Posts tagged with: British literature


When most literature students are asked about literature inspired by World War I, they typically respond with such names as Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Richard Aldington. As well, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are included by extension as both “The Waste Land” and “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” are largely informed by the 1914 to 1918 conflagration.

Largely forgotten is David Jones, a writer of many sensibilities that are all synthesized and informed by his Roman Catholicism. In Parenthesis, Jones’ World War I “poem,” was begun in 1928 and published in 1937. One of Geoffrey Faber’s editors, the aforementioned Eliot, was instrumental in the work’s initial publication, and even wrote a brief introduction to the book-length manuscript. Not only was the Anglican Eliot an admirer of In Parenthesis, no less another poet who wrote devoutly Christian poetry, W.H. Auden, declared Jones’ book the best long poem written in English of the twentieth century. Your writer concurs with full knowledge he’s in no league to challenge either Eliot or Auden in any event, but he senses the poems’ larger themes resonate in our current milieu of heated rhetoric and other forms of violence. Further, the poem prescribes religious faith as a tonic for the ails of the world whether past, present or future.

The enduring quality of Jones’ body of work was reinforced earlier this year by the Welsh National Opera, which commissioned composer Iain Bell to transform the poem into an opera. The opera commemorates the centennial of the Battle of the Somme. That battle and, specifically, the fate of the 38th Division comprised of Welsh Royal Fusiliers at the Battle of Mametz Wood are the focus of In Parenthesis. Of the 670 members of the 38th Division in which Jones actually served, an estimated 400 were killed or wounded during the battle. Writing in the modernist style of combined prose and verse, Jones recounted the Welsh and British dead:

And here and there and huddled over, death-halsed to these, a Picton-five-feet-four paragon of the Line, from Newcastle Emlyn or Talgarth in Brycheiniog, lying disordered like discarded garments or crumpled chin to shin-bone like a Lambourne find.

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David J. Theroux, founder and president of The Independent Institute and the C.S. Lewis Society of California, discusses the writings of C.S. Lewis and Lewis’s views on liberty, natural law and statism.

The 2014 Acton Lecture Series took a dramatic turn last week as we welcomed G.K. Chesterton – or at least a quite remarkable facsimile of Chesterton in the form of Chuck Chalberg, who travels the country performing in character as Chesterton, among other notable historic figures. In this presentation, Chalberg’s Chesterton speaks about America, which he thought was the only country with the soul of a church.  He also addresses the state of the family–and not just the American family–past and present.  His starting point–and end point– is this: “Without the family we are helpless before the state.” We hope you enjoy the performance as much as we did!

Great Divorce, C.S. LewisI recently discussed our pesky human tendency to limit and debase our thinking about economics to the temporary and material. Much like Judas, who reacted bitterly to Mary’s outpouring of expensive ointment, we neglect to contemplate what eternal purposes God might have for this or that material good and the ways through which it might be used or distributed.

C.S. Lewis captures the tendency powerfully in his book, The Great Divorce, providing a clear contrast of heaven and hell through a series of conversations and spiritual choices.

Beginning the story in a dreary town described as being “always in the rain and always in evening twilight,” Lewis provides us with a setting very much like earth but with a bit more darkness and—take note—a bit more surface-level comfort and security (“they have no Needs,” as one character describes it).

Lewis follows one man’s journey beyond the town (which we quickly discover to be hell or some type of purgatory), toward an ever-increasing light (which we quickly discover to be heaven). Along the way, he encounters a series of fellow travelers, each struggling with his or her own obstacle to the divine—an earthbound idol that must be pried from their paws.

In one particular conversation, Lewis points specifically to the economic sphere, using a character he calls “the Intelligent Man” to propose an economic solution that, according to his limited, earthbound assumptions, will certainly relieve what he believes to be an inevitable, ever-increasing darkness:

What’s the trouble about this place? Not that people are quarrelsome—that’s only human nature and was always the same even on earth. The trouble is they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. If they needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses, they’d have to stay near where builders were. It’s scarcity that enables a society to exist. Well, that’s where I come in…I’d start a little business. I’d have something to sell. You’d soon get people coming to live near-centralisation. Two fully-inhabited streets would accommodate the people that are now spread over a million square miles of empty streets. I’d make a nice little profit and be a public benefactor as well.

His approach has some charming elements, to be sure. Indeed, if I myself were to encounter a dreary town such as this, I, too, would be quick to emphasize the positive socializing effects of market collaboration and cooperation. “The townspeople boast an unhealthy and isolating sense of entitlement,” I might be tempted to say. “Thus, we should proceed to foster a healthy web of bottom-up independence, interconnectedness, collaboration, and specialization.” (more…)