I picked up Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone (2012) because I am a sucker for novels about flappers and because I am a sucker generally. In the summer of 1922, fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks (real personage) takes a train from Wichita to New York, there to study modern dance with Denishawn (real dance troupe). She is chaperoned by Mrs. Cora Carlisle (fictional personage), the not-quite-middle-aged wife of a wealthy Wichitan attorney. Cora has ulterior reasons for making this trip: Born in New York, she had gone to Kansas as a child on the Orphan Train; by returning, she hopes to discover her birth parents and incidentally herself.
This novel does that thing that historical novels obnoxiously do (which is one of the reasons the genre is not entirely respectable), namely give the “good” characters personal journeys (the cliché seems apt) that limn the March of Progress. So corseted Cora learns from liberated Louise that chastity is silly; at any rate, she is made to recognize that her sermons about female purity always devolve into awkward metaphors (“Men don’t want candy that’s been unwrapped”). A housewife in a sexless marriage, Cora is not quite middle-aged (she is thirty-six), so the Jazz Age is hitting just in time for her to find unconventional erotic love (with an immigrant handyman, if you want to know), and to play it safe.
Back in Wichita, she becomes an undercover bohemian among the bourgeoisie. From a late chapter: “She’d just enjoyed all that fresh melon and a glass of tea; she couldn’t very well excuse herself now. But she hadn’t dreamed this brunch would be a call to arms against condoms.” Years pass, and Cora becomes a birth-control activist and an advocate for unwed mothers; along the way, she accepts her gay husband’s love for his partner and expresses serious reservations about the Ku Klux Klan. In a moralistic passage, Moriarty allows that we should beware arraigning those from earlier times who deviate(d) from present standards. Cora says, “You don’t know what a younger person might someday think of you.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Moriarty that we should be wary, too, of congratulating those from earlier times who happen(ed) to conform to present standards—especially fictional personages, who hold unfair advantages over us flesh-and-blood types. This is the Novel as Whig History.
J. David Nolan
Karl Barth argued that the Catholic Church's understanding of Mary reveals “the one heresy of the Roman Catholic Church which explains all the rest. The ‘mother of God' . . . is quite simply the principle, type and essence of the human creature co-operating servantlike in its own redemption.” In Mary's Bodily Assumption, Matthew Levering responds to Barth's broadside by arguing that not only are the Immaculate Conception and Assumption defensible on grounds of the Church's teaching authority, but also as compelling conclusions flowing from reading the Biblical narrative.
He defends a typological reading of the Bible, meaning that one event or person can prefigure and point towards another. He points out that Protestants often use this type of reading and insists that if this way of understanding scripture is allowed in other areas of theological reflection, it should certainly be applied to the question of Mary's role and status in the history of salvation. In this way, we can arrive at reflections upon Mary as the new Eve, and Mary as a type of the Church. Levering's introduction charitably engages with theologians of a variety of traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed—to illuminate key questions about the woman who bore the Christ. A readable introduction, highly recommended.
Matthew H. Young
This week, I have nearly finished reading Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, by Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith. In this short book, Smith writes a series of letters to a younger version of himself—newly introduced to the Reformed tradition. I picked up the book out of genuine curiosity: I have read several of Smith's other books, and I was curious what counsel he might offer to a young Calvinist such as myself. Smith's book is engaging and conversational, and offers useful summaries of Reformed theology and history (his explanation of the difference between the Scottish and Dutch branches of Reformed thought was particularly helpful). Smith devotes a great deal of time to warning his young self against pride, combativeness, and theological insularity—all faults that I have witnessed in Reformed circles, particularly in the youthful branch of the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” subculture.
There have been some points on which I disagree with Smith—for all of his emphasis on peace and the catholicity of the whole Reformed tradition, he takes several low blows at those who are of the Baptist persuasion such as myself—but I have routinely found myself nodding along in agreement. There are several moments when the format of his book comes across as cloying and contrived (such as the “postcards” he sends from important places in Reformation history), but the same format also makes his book imminently approachable. While I simply cannot agree with all of Smith’s conclusions, I deeply appreciate the advice he offers to young Calvinists such as myself.