Book Review

A Tempestuous Evelyn: Book Review

Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been reading lately?

Christopher Sykes’s Evelyn Waugh: A Biography.

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This is a thick book – 450 big pages.  Totally worth it.

Before reading this  book, I had a good idea who Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was, but now I’ve got a lovely, full, and ferocious picture him.  He was no sweet pastel painting of flowers either.  No.  I’d compare him to a Jackson Polluck, which he’d probably hate, as he detested modern art, but maybe I could say he was like Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire?

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The old and famous Téméraire is solemnly being towed to its death.  The scrapyard.  Waugh was like that old ship – magnificent, famous in his day, and not afraid of a good storm.

Now I’ve always liked Waugh, as I was introduced to him in grad school with Brideshead Revisited and some of his short stories.  I knew that he had a fiery personality and was a bit eccentric, but wow did I underestimate him.

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He’s in the middle, looking good.  He thought it deplorable to not dress well.

Prior to converting to Catholicism, he was a rowdy, drunken homosexual.  After his conversion, he was a rowdy, drunken Intellectual.

Let me quote a passage from the book:

‘Do let me’, he [Waugh] wrote to his young friend, ‘most seriously advise you to take to drink.  There is nothing like the aesthetic pleasure of being drunk, and if you do it in the right way you can avoid being ill the next day.  That is the greatest thing Oxford has to teach.’

Not only did Waugh drink excessively and raucously in Oxford and beyond, he was also a melancholic insomniac.  In fact, it was likely the drugs he was taking for insomnia that killed him at the fairly young age of 63.  For you see, these medications were not to be mixed with alcohol, and he just couldn’t not drink.

And then, can you imagine how cranky he was after not sleeping?  (I know how cranky I am after nights of insomnia.)  His friends remember him saying repeatedly,  “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic.  Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”

But for all his raw and rough behavior, he really was a good man.  He fought in WWII, traveled all over the world, spoke multiple languages, and did a lot of good.  For example, he would go out of his way to help fallen-away Catholic friends recover their faith.  He also quietly, and unknown to anyone at the time, gave all the profits from his book on Edmund Campion to Oxford specifically for the building of Campion Hall.

Waugh was also funny and witty.  When he was courting his wife, he wrote the following in an attempt to convince her to marry him:

I can’t advise you in my favor because I think it would be beastly for you but think how nice it would be for me.  I am restless & moody & misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve.  In fact its a lousy proposition.  On the other hand I think I could do a Grant and reform & become quite strict about not getting drunk and I am pretty sure I shall be faithful…

In the end, she did marry him, and they had seven children, with one dying in infancy.  But this biography doesn’t get into a whole lot of family life; rather, this biography focuses more on his literary life.

Conclusion

If you’d like a good picture of what kind of man produced such famous novels as Brideshead Revisited or A Handful of Dust, check out Sykes’s book.  But be warned.  Most of the novel discusses Waugh’s literary endeavors.

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Here’s a few more Waugh books.  Read ’em all.  Especially Brideshead Revisited, Edmund Campion, and Helena.  Now I want to get my hands on his War Trilogy, as Sykes insists that it’s his best.  (But Waugh considered Helena his best.)

 

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Good Friday, Allegri, and A White Easter

Today is Good Friday.

Now I know that I ought to be focused on the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and I am, but I am also a mother.  Therefore, I must plan ahead for my family accordingly.  And this entails preparing any necessary music that my family will want to sing and listen to for the appropriate liturgical seasons.

So today, our family will listen to Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus.  (Click HERE for it on YouTube.)

This piece has an interesting history, by the way.  It’s title comes from Psalm 51 and means, “Have mercy on me, O God.”  It was composed in the seventeenth century and was reserved exclusively for use in the Sistine Chapel during Lent.  In other words, nobody else was allowed to use it anywhere.  Well, the story goes that 14-year-old, smarty-pants Mozart was visiting the Vatican during Lent and heard this song performed.  He simply went home, copied it out from memory, and that was that.

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Michelangelo’s Last Judgement.  This beautiful fresco can be found in the Sistine Chapel, where Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus used to only ever be sung.

And now for Easter.

I know that you are all familiar with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”  But maybe you’re not familiar with the Easter version?  My children began singing this a few days ago, so I thought I’d send it along, so that you might have a new song to sing Easter Sunday.  This song is especially appropriate for those of you living in colder climates, like mine, where it snows forever and ever.  Amen.

White Easter by Kim Heilman & Kids

I’m dreaming of a white Easter,
just like the ones in North Dakota.
Where the Easter Bunny skis and children listen
to hear Alleluias at the Mass.

I’m dreaming of a white Easter
with every Easter basket I fill.
“May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Easters be white!”

Book Review

Loosing the Lion: An Unscholarly Book Review

A week or so ago I received my copy of Dr. Leroy Huizenga’s Loosing the Lion.  I immediately* flipped to Chapter One and read the opening line, “Our age is numb.” Yes, and I’d probably add “and dumb.” Huizenga then went on to say that we need to shock our age into reality through the means of beauty. To which I thought, yes again, like the great Flannery O’Connor with her shocking short stories.

I had to put the book down, though, because I had six children clamoring for my attention at the time. My sons, however, noticed the cover and if critiques from 6 and 9 year-olds matter, they liked it—no sissified rainbows there, just fierce-looking lions.

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Praise from 6 and 9-year-olds.  Check out that awesome book cover.

It was only later upon picking it up again that I noticed Huizenga closes Chapter one with a Flannery O’Connor quotation. Man I’m good.

But I’m not very smart, being a recovering member of our numb age, so it was with great trepidation that I continued reading this scholarly work. After all, I’m a stay-at-mother, what do I know?

Incidentally, this is why I read the book. I don’t know much about Mark. Yes, I’ve read all four Gospels in their entirety, but really, I could stand a little more Biblical Education. And I like a challenge.

Part 1: Preaching the Gospel of Mark

This book is divided into two parts, and I was pleasantly pleased with Huizenga’s opening chapters discussing beauty. We all know our culture is desperately in need of a restoration of all things beautiful, especially in the liturgy, which he mentions.

His point I most appreciated, however, was that we ought to just read Mark as a whole—not chopped up into bits. It’s a short Gospel after all about one rollicking ride of a battle between good and evil. So just pick the Bible up and read it.

As an aside, Huizenga also makes a great case for classical education, whether or not he realizes it, with his emphasis on great story telling and rhetorical preaching and beauty and all the rest.
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Dr. Leroy Huizenga.  Professor, Speaker, and Author.  He and his wife also homeschool their 3 children.

Part 2: The Gospel of Mark in the Lectionary

In any case, after the opening chapters, Huizenga then digs into the Lectionary for the Year of Mark, which happens to be this year in our liturgical readings.   And it was a challenge for me to read this section of the book, for he mentions all kinds of foreign terms. You know, like chiastic structures, ABA sandwiches, and synecdoches.   (What any of these are I don’t know. It’s beyond my stay-at-home pay grade.)

But still his style of writing is engaging, and I did appreciate his analysis.  He wrote of many things that I had never thought of before.  For example, I have never read the stories of Jairus’s daughter and the hemorrhaging woman together, as a “sandwich,” not to be picked apart in Mark 5:21-43.

In this story, Jesus is on his way to Jairus’s house to heal his fatally ill daughter, only to be interrupted by a hemorrhaging woman reaching out to touch him, only to be interrupted again by one of Jairus’s servants announcing his little girl’s death.  (I understand this pattern is called an “ABA sandwich.”  Look at how much I learned!)

In both cases, ritual impurity is involved–one being a dead corpse, the other experiencing embarrassing bleeding.  One is a 12-year-old upon her “death,” and the other has had 12 years of bleeding misery.  Therefore, the good Jew that He is, one might think Jesus would stay away from such uncleanliness.  But of course he doesn’t.  Rather, he heals both women and calls them “daughter,” which is not insignificant.

But what’s my point?  Part 2 of Huizenga’s book is loaded with great information about Mark that only serves to help one enter more deeply into Scriptures.

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This is St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.  I took this picture a bazillion years ago, when studying art.  I can’t think of Mark without thinking of this iconic Basilica and campanile.  You should look it up for fun.

Conclusion

The most important thing about Huizenga’s book, however, is that it inspired me to read Mark again–in its entirety–and to ponder Jesus Christ, true God and true man, a little more deeply.

Any book, painting, sculpture, or whatever that points one towards the Truth is worthwhile.  So my advice is to pick up both books–Loosing the Lion and Mark–and read on!

 Want More?

Dr. Huizenga will be featured on Jennifer Fulwiler’s Sirius XM radio station on Wednesday, January 24th, at 1:20pm.  You should all tune in.  Click HERE for Fulwiler’s website.  Some of you may remember that I mentioned Fulwiler in a previous post?  She’s hysterical.  Click HERE for that post and look under Point 1.

For more information on Dr. Huizenga, click HERE for his website.

And for those of you interested in my series “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool,” I’ll be posting Part 3 very soon.

*Immediately.  Mark is particularly noted for his use of this word.  It was his favorite; he used it 41 times.
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Christ’s Circumcision

I’ve had a request to repost something I had written yesterday on Christ’s Circumcision.  I’m happy to oblige.  Pass it along, if it’s helpful.

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Italian Renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegna.  The Circumcision of Christ.  1460-1464

Happy New Year and Feast of the Mother of God!  And, the lesser known, Feast of Christ’s Circumcision!

As we were driving to Mass yesterday and listening to Catholic Radio, we came upon an interesting program, which is aired every Sunday.  It’s Called Light of the East, and is hosted by a Byzantine Catholic priest named Fr. Thomas Loya.

Yesterday he spoke about Christ’s Circumcision, and it was fascinating.  I’ve never stopped to think about why this particular event in Christ’s life might be a holy day.  And a holy day with a lot of history.

For example, did you know that many artists, when painting a crucified Christ, will intentionally trickle his blood from his lance (heart) wound to his groin area, connecting his passion with his circumcision?  Because Christ’s passion begins with that shedding of his blood first?

Of course he speaks of the connection between Circumcision and Baptism, but then he speaks of the nuptial meaning of it all – life and love coming from pain and sacrifice.  And if you choose to circumcise your boys, it is meant to serve as an everlasting bond with Christ and a reminder for your boys that they’ll have to die to themselves as Christ did, either for the Church or for a wife.

If you find any of that interesting, and there’s a lot more, you may listen to Fr. Loya’s half hour podcast by clicking below.

Light of the East – Christ’s Circumcision