Volume > Issue > Briefly: April 1992

April 1992

The French Side of Henry James

By Edwin Sill Fussell

Publisher: Columbia University Press

Pages: 249

Price: $35

Review Author: Mary Beth Ingham

“We do not know where we are, we do not care where we are, so long as we are in Paris, that heaven in which we are more than pleased to find our ultimate touristical aliena­tion….” With these words Ed­win Sill Fussell sums up the key elements in the life and literary style of Henry James: fascination for the other, tran­scendence into the realm of the timeless, and the power of the writer to create the “magical” world of fiction, where under­standing weaves together a meaningful realm which is both international and interlin­guistic. It is the ecstasy of standing outside one’s own culture (here American) and viewing the “other” (here Pa­risian, or Italian) from within (and yet outside of) the foreign linguistic structure.

Fussell carefully examines the writings of James from the early work The American (1876­-1877) to The Ambassadors (1903). The development between these works, one which moves from the mise en scene in the early work to the gloire complete of the latter, is characterized as from disjunction of narrative and setting (the American learning French in Paris) to their unification in the 1903 work. This progression toward wholeness, set against the background of ancien regime/ Revolution/Second Empire, il­lustrates the power of language to create a reality which tran­scends both time and space, through the medium of the particular city which is Paris, the particular language which is French, and the details of everyday life which remind one of the grand tradition of 19th-century French novelists (Balzac, Flaubert, Hugo).

Concern for detail is man­ifest in this book. Throughout, lists of French words used in every Jamesian work, and their speakers, illustrate the concern for linguistic detail which be­longs to James and Fussell. Ex­cerpts from James’s corre­spondence clarify his perspec­tive on France and the French, on the “foreigner” or “tourist,” on the “other” and the “self.” This is a fascinating look at one of America’s great authors, written in a style which is easy and captivating. Although the material and depth of detail would be particularly interest­ing to the Jamesian scholar, the overall play of transcend­ence, timelessness, and detail is fascinating for anyone inter­ested in the power of literature and language to take us be­yond ourselves.

Social Catholicism in Europe: From the Onset of Industriali­zation to the First World War

By Paul Misner

Publisher: Crossroad

Pages: 362

Price: $29.95

Review Author: Arthur F. McGovern

Last year’s 100th anniver­sary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum stirred new interest in Catholic social thought, with symposia and conferences or­ganized in many parts of the world. John Paul II elicited further interest with his com­memorative encyclical Centesi­mus Annus. Misner’s study of social Catholicism in Europe provides valuable background material for understanding the social movements that influ­enced Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical and that developed in response to his work. Misner plans a second volume to cover social Catholicism through Vatican II.

“Social Catholicism” has included a wide variety of so­cial movements. Misner offers an overview of them in his Introduction. Then he provides very interesting descriptions of the socio-economic life in Eu­rope prior to, and in the first stages of, industrialization. With this as background, Misner proceeds to recount different stages in the devel­opment of social Catholicism. Adam Muller, early in the 19th century, viewed capitalist in­dustrialization as a destructive force in society, opposed the French Revolution, and urged the revitalizing of traditional social classes and social bonds. Other Catholic social thinkers (Lamennais, Buchez, and oth­ers) took a very different tack. They championed what they believed was the true spirit of the French Revolution and called for a social-Christian democracy. After the revolu­tions of 1848, social Catholi­cism took a different, paternal­istic approach that stressed “charity” and measures by which the rich might come to aid the poor. The industrialist Leon Harmel set up schools, housing, and insurance for the working poor. But Bishop von Ketteler moved beyond this, supporting workers’ efforts to organize themselves and call­ing for legislation to protect workers.

Misner highlights, as a ma­jor transition in social Cathol­icism, the movement away from paternalism toward a more democratic ideal which included workers themselves as active agents of change. As expressive of this, he notes the development in the positions taken by Harmel, who began with a paternalistic approach, moved toward corporatism, but ended as a Christian democrat. At an official Church level, Leo XIII showed some openness to this transition, but Pius X reverted back to paternalism. Only with Pius XII and Vatican II did the Church clearly and finally embrace democratic ideals.

Misner may well be the most knowledgeable scholar writing in English on this im­portant topic. So for those in­terested in the details of this history, Misner’s work offers an abundance of thoroughly researched material.

Following Christ in a Con­sumer Society: The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance

By John F. Kavanaugh

Publisher: Orbis

Pages: 175

Price: $12.95

Review Author:

What does it feel like to be a practicing Christian these days? “If we do not feel dif­ferent, even embarrassingly different, something is wrong.” So argues Fr. John Kavanaugh.

But what is the source of such discomfort, if indeed we can claim it? In this deep re­vision of his original 1981 edi­tion, Kavanaugh indicts an an­cient — yet thoroughly modern — sin: idolatry. Psalm 115 speaks of idols as human products that cannot see or hear; it warns us that we, now their servants, will become like them. Marx, in this case on target, dissected the commodi­ty fetishism of radical capitalism, an idolatry in new guise. Kavanaugh, with this excellent study, explores our cultural embrace of the “commodity form” and how a Christian “personal form” might chal­lenge it.

Consumerism, as an ar­biter of reality, has come to affect “the way we think and feel, the way we love and pray, the way we buy and sell….” We scarcely blink when, say, Forbes magazine — which plugs itself as a “cap­italist tool” — runs a lead story on divorce as “big business.” We need a profound reversal of values, a conversion to the personal mode, which Kava­naugh describes as “a mode of perceiving and valuing men and women as irreplaceable persons whose fundamental identities are fulfilled in covenantal relationships.”

What does this mean in practice? Look to the saints. Indeed, Kavanaugh says they “are all around.” He points to a pastor committed to a de­clining neighborhood, a couple who scrounge supermarket food for a Catholic Worker house, a sister who adminis­ters a hospital and seeks jus­tice in access to medical care, and a middle-class husband and wife who bypass a higher income in order to use their professional skills to help those in poverty.

The Christian personal form grows out of, and con­tributes to, prayer and the sac­raments. Prayer, in “its quiet­ing, its truth, its centering in being rather than having,” is sharply countercultural. In the life of the Church, the sacra­ments, as “continual sources of renewal and self-criticism,” re­new our identity at its source: Jesus Christ.

Kavanaugh is especially wise in his discussion of mar­riage and celibacy. Marriage, an indissoluble covenant, is the basis for the family — “a primary sphere of human life where the deepest experiences of fidelity, of trust in other persons, of self-acceptance, of growth in intimacy…belie the absolutes of capitalism.” And both marriage and celibacy, in their own ways, share a chasti­ty that affirms the person over the reductionist hedonism of the dominant culture.

It’s clear what John Ka­vanaugh hopes for: a holy rev­olution. For this, though, we need the vision our idols de­prive us of. For “sanctity, like authentic revolution, is discov­ered, finally, when human life is seen as so splendid…a value that our very God might be­come one with it.”

Enjoyed reading this?



You May Also Enjoy

Reading Francis through Manzoni

The main themes of "The Betrothed" include the mercy and forgiveness of God and the corruption caused by love of wealth and worldliness in society and the Church.

They're Coming for Our Children

American Christians take pride in the "religious freedom" we think we enjoy. But rights regarding even our own children can evaporate into the mist.

Fragments on the Death of a Muskrat

Ballpeened by a bumper,

Struck down by steel,

Bowled hard over pavement,

Done in with…