In the English-speaking world, the Catholic Literary Revival is typically associated with the work of G. K. Chesterton/Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. But in fact the Revival’s most numerous members were women. While some of these women remain well known⎯Muriel Spark, Antonia White, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day - many have been almost entirely forgotten. They include: Enid Dinnis, Anna Hanson Dorsey, Alice Thomas Ellis, Eleanor Farjeon, Rumer Godden, Caroline Gordon, Clotilde Graves, Caryll Houselander, Sheila Kaye-Smith, Jane Lane, Marie Belloc Lowndes, Alice Meynell, Kathleen Raine, Pearl Mary Teresa Richards, Edith Sitwell, Gladys Bronwyn Stern, Josephine Ward, and Maisie Ward.
There are various reasons why each of these writers fell out of print: changes in the commercial publishing world after World War II, changes within the Church itself and in the English-speaking universities that redefined the literary canon in the last decades of the 20th century. Yet it remains puzzling that a body of writing so creative, so attuned to its historical moment, and so unique in its perspective on the human condition, should have fallen into obscurity for so long.
The Catholic Women Writers series brings together the English-language prose works of Catholic women from the 19th and 20th centuries; work that is of interest to a broad range of readers. Each volume is printed with an accessible but scholarly introduction by theologians and literary specialists.
The first volume in the series is Caryll Houselander’s The Dry Wood. Houselander is known primarily for her spiritual writings but she also wrote one novel, set in a post-war London Docklands parish. There a motley group of lost souls are mourning the death of their saintly priest and hoping for the miraculous healing of a vulnerable child whose gentleness in the face of suffering brings conversion to them all in surprising and unexpected ways. The Dry Wood offers a vital contribution to the modern literary canon and a profound meditation on the purpose of human suffering.
"The Catholic Literary Revival that began in the late nineteenth century includes towering and well-known figures such as Chesterton, Greene, Tolkien, and Waugh, but its most numerous members were women whose literary contributions have been unjustly neglected and largely forgotten. In this important new series on Catholic women writers of the past two centuries, Johnson and Meszaros provide a welcome opportunity for us to gain a deeper appreciation of the contributions of Catholic women to the literary arts. I am truly grateful to these editors for rescuing these works from obscurity and bringing them back to our attention."~Jennifer A. Frey, University of South Carolina, and host of the literature, philosophy, and theology podcast Sacred and Profane Love
"The Catholic Women Writers series adds immeasurably to scholarship about women’s writing, the novel, book history, and religious experience. To be modern is not inevitably to be godless or to write novels about a world abandoned by God. The novels reissued in this series widen our knowledge of the spiritual dimensions of women’s lives and experience."~Allan Hepburn, McGill University
"This new series edited by Julia Meszaros and Bonnie Lander Johnson is both redress and invitation: redress in that there seems to be insufficient reason why writers of the Catholic Revival such as Maisie Ward, Sheila Kaye-Smith, Caryll Houselander, and a host of others have suffered an eclipse justified neither by their literary merits nor by the range of their fiction and non-fiction; invitation in that it is only by the re-publication of their work long out of print that a reader may come to see perspectives and thematics that are original and fresh and add to the contributions of the Catholic Revival’s male stalwarts."~Cyril O'Regan, University of Notre Dame
"This is a wonderful publishing initiative. The novel allowed Catholic women writers space and freedom to present nuanced accounts of their world and their faith during this formative period for English letters."~Janet Soskice, Duke University
"This series fills a significant gap. Modern women writers of deeply formed Catholic conviction, despite the equal, and sometimes greater, subtlety and insight of their work, have often been overshadowed by male counterparts.. It is a great gift to have the works of Catholic Women Writers available for renewed study and enlightenment."~Rowan Williams