Thursday, June 24, 2010

Paolo Rodari on Sensible Criticism

Paolo Rodari in his blog article Ma a me Dan Brown piace (But I LIke Dan Brown) gives a good comment on a recent article in the Osservatore Romano on the re-opening of the Apostolic Library in September 2010.

The article in The Osservatore Romano is prefaced by a long attack on Dan Brown and his "novels". In fact the article in The Osservatore Romano is even headed “Dan Brown s’inventi qualcos’altro” even although the article is really an interview with the Prefect of the Library, Monsignor Cesare Pasini, about the reopening of the library after a number of years.

Rodari, like me, enjoys Dan Brown`s novels. You read them all at one go, hooked by the suspense and the pace of the narrative. Characterisation is nil. One has to willingly suspend disbelief. After you have read it, you throw it away or pass it on, never to read again but waiting for his next novel.

His works are not a work of literature but good "page turners" where one can lose oneself for a few hours. I don`t think they are meant to be anything else. They are written and published for money. They are works of their time. They will not last and will be forgotten.

Look at the many long forgotten penny Victorian novels: popular at the time. Totally unread and forgotten about after a few years. Many of these were on popular anti-Catholic themes: nuns imprisoned in convents and the like.

Don`t give them publicity if you wish to counteract them. You only give them more sales. Most people are grown up to realise that it is all hokum.

Perhaps the Vatican authorities should take a leaf out of Cardinal Wiseman`s (1801-1865) book.

He was a distinguished man of letters as well as the first Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster amongst other things.

In 1855 the poet Robert Browning wrote a length poem (over 1000 lines)entitled " Bishop Blougram's Apology"

It is one of his "dramatic monologues" - spoken entirely by one character. The speaker is in conversation, intending to communicate one thing but accidentally revealing his true character in the process

A Roman Catholic bishop, Sylvester Blougram, invites a young, aspiring journalist, Mr. Gigadibs, into his quarters. Blougram discerns (probably correctly) that Gigadibs is a non-Christian humanist who is totally dedicated to the ideals of truth, honesty, and justice, and whose great dream is to become a world-renowned author who promotes these ideals.

Blougram also knows that Gigadibs thinks that he, the bishop, is a shyster. And Blougram's idea is to toy with Gigadibs a bit, match wits with him, establish the superiority of the bishop's own philosophy of life, puncture the young man's idealistic naivete, and put him in his place.

Throughout the poem, the bishop sees himself as both a representative and an exemplar of the Christian faith. What we (and Gigadibs) discover is that, in reality, the bishop is "two faced" and represents only self-serving calculation.

It was clear from all the hints in the poem that Bloughram is meant to be Cardinal Wiseman.

Tomb of Cardinal Wiseman in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral, London

It is clear that Browning spent a great deal of time and effort to capitalise on the then current unpopularity of the Catholic Church in England and in particular the feelings of almost hatred towards Wiseman himself.

So what did Wiseman do ? Sue ? Write a counter-blast ? No. He wrote a review praising it.

Browning was most put out. Satirists do not like it if their victims do not sqirm or at least evince discomfort. Browning wrote in a letter to a friend in 1896:

"The most curious notice I ever had was from Cardinal Wiseman on --, himself.

It was in the, a Catholic journal of those days, and certified to be his by Father Prout, who said nobody else would have dared put it in.

This review praises the poem for its "fertility of illustration and felicity of argument," and says that "though utterly mistaken in the very groundwork of religion, though starting from the most unworthy notions of the work of a Catholic bishop, and defending a self-indulgence every honest man must feel to be disgraceful, [it] is yet in its way triumphant."

Game, set and match to Wiseman, I think. And who today remembers the poem ?