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Catholic Modernism and the Irish "Avant-Garde"
The Achievement of Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin, and Thomas MacGreevy
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
This study constitutes the first-ever definitive account of the life and work of Irish modernist poets Thomas MacGreevy, Brian Coffey, and Denis Devlin. Apprenticed to the likes of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett, all three writers worked at the center of modernist letters in England, France, and the United States, but did so from a distinctive perspective. All three writers wrote with a deep commitment to the intellectual life of Catholicism and saw the new movement in the arts as making possible for the first time a rich sacramental expression of the divine beauty in aesthetic form. MacGreevy spent his life trying to voice the Augustinian vision he found in The City of God. Coffey, a student of neo-Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain, married scholastic thought and a densely wrought poetics to give form and solution to the alienation of modern life. Devlin contemplated the world with the eyes of Montaigne and the heart of Pascal as he searched for a poetry that could realize the divine presence in the experience of the modern person. Taken together, MacGreevy, Coffey, and Devlin exemplify the modern Catholic intellectual seeking to engage the modern world on its own terms while drawing the age toward fulfillment within the mystery and splendor of the Church. They stand apart from their Irish contemporaries for their religious seriousness and cosmopolitan openness to European modernism. They lay bare the theological potencies of modern art and do so with a sophistication and insight distinctive to themselves.
Although MacGreevy, Coffey, and Devlin have received considerable critical attention in the past, this is the first book to study their work comprehensively, from MacGreevy’s early poems and essays on Joyce and Eliot to Coffey’s essays in the neo-scholastic philosophy of science, and on to Devlin’s late poetic attempts to realize Dante’s divine vision in a Europe shattered by war and modern doubt.
James Matthew Wilson is Cullen Foundation Chair in English Literature and the Founding Director of the Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at the University of Saint Thomas, Houston and the author of The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition.
"Wilson brings to his subject considerable expertise in the theological and philosophical contexts of Catholicism. These authors' relationship with the Catholic Church, and the dialogue between Irish and European Catholicism, are illuminated to fascinating ends."~Sarah Bennett, Durham University
"James Matthew Wilson should be congratulated for revealing the Catholic roots of the three modern Irish poets who drew inspiration from St. Augustine, Jacques Maritain, and Michel de Montaigne. Among the book's many accomplishments, Wilson pulls down the barrier put up by so many Catholics between their faith and modernism in art. He shows that the Catholic tradition itself is far from monolithic, it contains three distinctive perspectives that touched the heart and fueled the inspiration of three poets who found their voices to praise God."~Deal Hudson, Host, Church and Culture
"James Matthew Wilson is a true poet, a true philosopher, and a true Catholic. He is, therefore, perfectly placed to understand the poetry, philosophy and Catholicism of Coffey, Devlin, and McGreevy, three of the finest poets of the Irish avant-garde. He shows their connections to other great poets, such as T.S. Eliot, and their indebtedness to great philosophers, such as Augustine, Aquinas, and Pascal. He also shows how literary modernism can counter theological modernism, the dynamic orhtodoxy of the former undermining the stale and stolid heterodoxy of the latter. In doing so, he champions the perennial dynamism of the Heiliger Geist over the transient shallowness of the Zeitgeist. Lovers of the goodness, truth, and beauty of great poetry will rejoice that these three poets have found such a champion."~Joseph Pearce, author of Catholic Literary Giants