Benjamin Ivry

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June 28, 2022
The American writer Jack Kerouac, whose centenary fell this year, was adamant about the Catholic inspiration of his work, which he repeatedly referred to, in part to disarm his critics. In 1961, Kerouac claimed to one correspondent that his most celebrated novel, On the Road (1957), was “really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming
June 30, 2020
Giuseppe Ungaretti admired Catholicism, but went in a very different direction
March 26, 2020
Almost a century ago, Catholicism offered inspiration to authors striving to cope with a minority status. The novelist Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943), whose The Well of Loneliness (1928) is expertly presented in an edition from Penguin Modern Classics, is a case in point. Hall’s protagonist Stephen, named after the first martyr of Christianity because her parents
March 26, 2020
Carnal Spirits: The Revolutions of Charles Péguy By Matthew W Maguire University of Pennsylvania Press, 296pp, £58/$69.95 The paradoxes of the French Catholic poet Charles Péguy continue to entrance readers. Péguy (1873-1914), who was killed at the start of the Battle of the Marne in the First World War, was inspired by three figures: the Virgin
March 19, 2020
Orlande de Lassus (c 1532-1594), a Catholic composer born in Mons in the Habsburg Netherlands (modern-day Belgium), was one of the most prolific creative spirits of the 1500s. Producing more than 2,000 works, he eschewed instruments, unlike most of his contemporaries, and wrote only for human voices. His polyphonic (many-voiced) approach juxtaposed singers in heart-stoppingly
March 05, 2020
How did a much-esteemed French Catholic author ruin his career and reputation for piety? Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869) was a star of the early Romantic movement, appreciated for his lengthy poems and novels such as Graziella (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), typically mourning much-loved lasses who died young. Lamartine’s Romantic credentials were so strong that
February 20, 2020
Since little by the French Catholic author Charles Du Bos (1882-1939) has been translated, and nothing is in print today, fleeting descriptions of him by English writers may gain undue weight. In her biography of the novelist Edith Wharton (Chatto, 2007), Hermione Lee described Du Bos, who translated Wharton’s House of Mirth into French in
February 13, 2020
Can a Catholic poet be so generous in helping fellow writers that her own literary efforts become neglected by posterity? Through her activities as an editor and women’s rights activist, Alice Meynell (1847-1922) contributed much to Catholic literature in Britain, but her estimable poems are largely unread. Admired by such authors as GK Chesterton, Coventry
February 06, 2020
Sometimes an understanding superior can make or break the literary career of a cleric. In 1964, Cardinal ClémentÉmile Roques, Archbishop of Rennes, released a middle-aged priest, Fr Joseph Lemarchand, from pastoral duties to allow him to concentrate on writing. Fr Lemarchand (1913-1980), whose pen name was Jean Sulivan, observed in The Shallowest Chasm (Gallimard, 1965),
January 09, 2020
In March 2013, in the first homily after his election, Pope Francis said: “When one does not profess Jesus Christ, I recall the phrase of Léon Bloy: ‘Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the Devil.’” For many, the French Catholic polemicist Léon Bloy (1846–1917) approaches prophetic status for his intense concentration on the
November 28, 2019
A Simple Story (1791) by Elizabeth Inchbald is the first novel written by an English Catholic with Catholic characters, but despite being praised by authors from Wilkie Collins to Lytton Strachey, the book has repeatedly slipped into near oblivion. The philosopher and women’s rights pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft lauded A Simple Story as “truly dramatic [with
November 14, 2019
Convincing Catholic sacred music cannot be written by every gifted composer. When Gustav Mahler, a convert from Judaism, was asked why he had not composed a Mass, he replied that if he did he would have to omit the Credo. After Mahler wrote his gargantuan Symphony No 8, called the Symphony of a Thousand, he
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