The Last Man and the First Man

From Web Exclusives

Scanning half a dozen major journals for obituaries devoted to the most important mystery writer of our time, P. D. James (1920–2014), I was astonished to find that not one of them mentioned her serious Anglo-Catholicism, much less its shaping presence in her fiction. This, despite one murder occurring in a church (A Taste for Death, 1986), a novel set in a theological college (Death in Holy Orders, 2001), another named Original Sin (1994), still another titled directly from the Book or Common Prayer (Devices and Desires, 1989), as well as an apocalyptic Christian allegory (The Children of Men, 1992). Continue Reading »

Art and Soul

From the February 2014 Print Edition

A Prayer Journal

by flannery o’connor
farrar, straus and giroux, 112 pages, $18

If we could accurately map heaven,” Flannery O’Connor wrote in her newly published A Prayer Journal, “some of our up-&-coming [social] scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over 65. But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so. But the point more specifically here is … I don’t want to believe in hell but in heaven.”O’Connor was only twenty-one when she recorded this humorous but candid confession. A year earlier, she had left her home in Milledgeville, Georgia, to attend Paul Engle’s famous Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. There she was quickly to emerge as the finest student in the program. This journal, ably introduced by her friend and biographer, William ­Sessions, was kept spasmodically for twenty months during her time there, in 1946 and 1947. Continue Reading »

Orthodoxy at a Hundred

From the November 2008 Print Edition

G.K. Chesterton’s most renowned book is a hundred years old. Orthodoxy was first published in London by John Lane Press in 1908, and it has never gone out of print”with more than two dozen publishers now offering editions of the book. Graham Greene once described it as “among the . . . . Continue Reading »

Murder in the Vicarage

From the November 2006 Print Edition

The Lighthouse by P.D. James Knopf, 352 pages, $25.95. IN HIS CELEBRATED 1948 essay on detective fiction, “The Guilty Vicarage,” W.H. Auden argued that the appeal of crime novels lies in their “dialectic of innocence and guilt.” A seemingly edenic community is discovered to have . . . . Continue Reading »

Ivan Karamazov's Mistake

From the December 2002 Print Edition

It is has become commonplace to regard Ivan Karamazov’s “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” as a prescient parable glorifying human freedom and defending it against the kind of totalitarian threats it would face in the twentieth century. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s angry atheist delivers an uncanny . . . . Continue Reading »

In Defense of Disbelief

From the October 1998 Print Edition

A healthy dose of Christian disbelief or “holy skepticism” would serve as a much-needed antidote to the soft-core spirituality that saps much of contemporary Christianity, especially in its evangelical expression. An anti-doctrinal sentimentality often rules the worship and the art of our . . . . Continue Reading »