Friday, March 15, 2013

A marriage plot in disguise …

… A Commonplace Blog: The irreconcilable conflicts within. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In Frances and Bernard, Bauer imagines literary life and religious life under different circumstances. Frances Reardon is a Philadelphia-born fiction writer who has “just escaped from the workshop at Iowa.” (Her first novel, about a nun who receives stigmata, sounds suspiciously like Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy.) Bernard Eliot is a Harvard-educated poet with Puritan ancestors and sounds of John Donne “prowling around in the boiler room” of his poems. In the summer of 1957 they meet while in residence at “the colony” (it’s never called anything more than that). Both are Catholics. Frances is a cradle Catholic, and “a little Mother Superiorish,” according to Bernard. He is a convert. As a senior at Harvard, he met a theologian who urged him to read Jacques Maritain. (Reading Maritain became a convention of American literary intellectuals’ postwar Catholic conversion narratives, although by now Maritain is more a name to be mentioned than a text to be quoted.) After reading Maritain, Bernard decided to become a Catholic. He glimpsed in Catholicism “a way to make a sustained and coherent statement about what I believed.” Although Frances worries that it “could be a sign of delusions of grandeur, when a Puritan turns to Rome,” within a month of leaving the colony they commence an eleven-year correspondence.

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