martes, 16 de agosto de 2016

A sidelong glance at conversion and friendship

Convert Companions: Of Merton and Waugh, Me and You


“Notable & Quotable: Evelyn Waugh on Writing.” It was a column headline in the Wall Street Journal and it grabbed my attention immediately. Waugh, the celebrated British novelist and Catholic convert, is one of my favorite authors – especially his masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited, a tale of heartache and hope, sin and salvation that permanently colored my vision of grace. Waugh’s prose style was exquisitely fluid, which meant that any advice he’d care to dish out would be invaluable.

I read on.

First the WSJ column introduced Mary Frances Coady’s book, Merton and Waugh (Paraclete, 2015), a study of the largely epistolary friendship between Waugh (a Crusty Old Man per Coady’s subtitle) and Thomas Merton – the subtitle’s Monk made famous by his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Next in the column was a lengthy quotation from the book – an excerpt from a letter Waugh wrote to the young American Trappist. “Never end off any piece of writing the moment it is finished,” Waugh instructed. “Examine each sentence and ask, ‘Does this say precisely what I mean?’”

It was a tantalizing hint of further riches to come – the kind of plainspoken wisdom I’d be a fool to ignore. I cut the full quotation out of the newspaper and stuck it above my desk, and then promised myself to track down Coady’s book for more.

When I got a copy from the library and dove in, I indeed I found more – more writing tips, as I expected, but also a raft of insights into the life of faith. Waugh, for his part, provided the former, prodding Merton to tighten up his writing and to avoid sloth in composition as in contemplation. “You scatter a lot of missiles all around the target instead of concentrating on a single direct hit,” wrote Waugh at one point. “Your monastery tailor and boot-maker could not waste material. Words are our materials.”

Merton, on the other hand, had the greater expertise in the spiritual life, and he advised Waugh accordingly. “Really I think it might do you a lot of good and give you a certain happiness to say the Rosary every day,” Merton recommended for example. “If you don’t like it, so much the better, because then you would deliver yourself from the servitude of doing things for your own satisfaction.” Sound counsel, that.

There’s a lot of this chatty back-and-forth in the book, along with helpful commentary and extrapolations from Ms. Coady – and it’s a rich, satisfying read. Since it’s based primarily on extant letters (the two men only met in person once), Merton & Waugh captures moments of vulnerable candor we might not otherwise be privy to. If you’re a fan of either author or both, Coady’s gem of a book is a must.


Read more:

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario