Thursday, May 27, 2010

Top 20 "Catholic" Novels

Below I give you my top 20 Catholic novels. This does not mean the author is Catholic or that it is an explictly Catholic theme. The criteria I used to make this list comes from a novel where I find a Catholic world-view amongst great literature. There are some harsh stories and themes in some of the books. But, life can certainly be harsh.

The list is not in order, except for the first book, which is by far my favorite novel of all-time.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - I have never read another novel as good as this one. Top of my list.
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene - Set in Mexico during the government persecution of the Catholic Church. A priest who finds meaning in losing himself in fear.
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather - Nobody paints a picture in your mind's eye like Cather.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - Written decades ago, it describes a frightening future, that in many ways we are living out as foretold by Huxley.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - Classic novel which helped turn hearts against slavery.
  • 1984 by George Orwell - Another great futuristic tale.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - et another.
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe - A great story of how faith can sustain us.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo - Classic French literature.
  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy - A desperate story of needing to find meaning.
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh - Finding the meaning of life isn't always easy, fun, or quick.
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante - A classic tale of a journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven.
  • Father Elijah by Michael D. O'Brien - A fast-paced tale of good vs. evil. If you like explicitly Catholic fiction, this is a good book for you.
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Great fantasy world created by Tolkien that has become popular from the movies, but as is the case most of the time, the books are even better.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes - Fun and moving tale of adventure.
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding - a tale of the dark side of human nature.
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - A family finds dignity amidst their poverty.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - Redemption, hope, justice and forgiveness wrapped in an adventurous tale.
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo - Finding redemption and meaning amidst injustice and trial.
  • Frankensteinby Mary Shelley - Probably not the story you think you know.
  • BONUS (for #21) - The Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis.
Of course, this list reflects my own tastes. So, please add any additions or comments about the lists in the combox.


Equus nom Veritas said...

I would also argue that Walter M Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and/or Michal Flynn's "Eiffelheim" belong on the list, even if you do already have some science fiction entries. I'd probably also include Piers Paul Read's "The Death of a Pope" and probably one of Louis De Wohl's novels ("The Last Crusader" is my favorite so far, but I hear "The Spear" is pretty good, too). And most conspicuously missing: No G.K. Chesterton (The Ball and the Cross, The Man Who Was Thursday, to pick my two favorites).

Otherwise, not a bad list.

Marcel said...

I am a Chesterton fan, but a much bigger fan of his non-fiction works. His fiction is very good, but not on the level of these works, in my opinion.

Lankester said...

Everything is good except the title, these are for the most part not CATHOLIC.

Shapes said...

I think Simarillion should definitely be added for Tolkien, and the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. You can really see the Catholic tradition out of which Tolkien emerged and the Space Trilogy is just a beautiful story with some great insights into creation, culture, and Adam and Eve.

Ryan said...

The Man Who Was Thursday is more Catholic doctrinally and, to my tastes, much more compelling as literature than many of the books on this list. Perhaps one should think about substituting some of the modern fear-motivated works, such as 1984 or Catch-22 or Brave New World (all of which are very similar works) with something like Chaucer (some of the Canterbury Tales are absolutely enchanting), TH White, whose The Once and Future King is a definitive work of genius in all things concerning Arthurian Legend or Flannery O'Connor, for something more Modern and American. You are quite right though, Dostoevsky's Brothers K is the best.

tour86rocker said...

In my opinion, "The Death of a Pope" is not really that special. It's written from a Catholic point of view but I'd be surprised if it wasn't forgotten before five years pass.

I intend to move my copy of the Dostoevsky to the top of my "to-read" list, after Marcel's repeated recommendations of it here, as well as another recent, glowing recommendation.

I'm currently finishing a very interesting non-fiction read for Catholics, "The Brendan Voyage" by Tim Severin, in which the author recounts the story of his crossing the Atlantic from Ireland to Newfoundland in a leather boat based on an ancient Irish design, in order to prove that St. Brendan the Explorer indeed could have crossed to America centuries before the Vikings and Columbus.

It's very light on the Catholicism, treating St. Brendan more as a historical figure, but it's interesting on its own.

badmonkey93 said...

no flannery o'conner (sp?)?

Linus said...

I would include all of Michael O'Brien's books, C.S. Lewis' famous trilogy, Lord of the World by Robert Hughe Benson, and Clowns of God by Morris West. I guess we could all think of a few more. But these are my all time favorites. I've read and reread C.S. Lewis, Lord of the World and Clowns of God half a dozen times at least. I always go to them when I need some inspiring intertainment.

Andrew said...

Although I liked Brideshead, I think Waugh's "Sword of Honour" trilogy was better.

David Wagner said...

Bravo on 1st 2 choices, but Brideshead shd be much higher. (So shd Divine Comedy -- if it's a novel.)

Anthony said...

No Flannery O'Connor?

Adriano Araujo said...

The Brothers Karamazov, this is one of the errors spread by Russia!

Jim said...

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Conner

Oldonariel said...

Where's Flannery O'Connor? (I haven't read her, but I heard great things about her).

Margaret said...

I understand that Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was influential, but I find it barely readable. I think we should require more than good intentions to assign a place on this list. Could we please skip the politically correct pablum and instead include some material that is stirring as well as instructive? Chesterton fits the bill. Perhaps we should consider Flannery O'Connor or even (!) William F. Buckley.

dominic said...

I have to agree with you, Marcel, about Chesterton. His apologetics and other discursive works are truly outstanding; his fiction, while still fine stuff, not quite in the same league.

I think i must agree, above all with the Brothers Karamazov as being very near the top (but above the Divine Comedy? hmmm....: somehow it's not quite comparing like with like). In some ways I think "The Devils" a.k.a "The Possessed" by Dostoyevsky goes even deeper and to the heart of the matter about the truth of and the necessity for Christian faith). Yes, it is polemically, explictly, unambigiously "anti-Catholic" (with the "bad guys" as nihilistic terrorists who want to hand control of this world to the Pope) , probably more than any other of his novels, but somehow this rather political/polemical prejudice doesn't cut too deeply or counteract the real message.

But...I would probably add, to my list, two other Russian works "The Master and Margarita" by Bulgakov (showing that in a world in which it is not permitted to demonstrate the existence of God, one has no option other than to show the workings of the Devil), and "Moscow Stations" a.k.a "Moskva-Petushki" (and other names depending on translation) by Venedikt Yerofeyev, a kind of Dantean journey through the dystopia of Brezhnev-era Soviet Russia.

And something by the great Georges Bernanos. Either "Monsieur Ouine" a.k.a. "The Open Mind": on the sheer destructive force of liberalism and relativism, or, perhaps, far more comprehensibly "Diary of a Country Priest".

And "Kristin Lavransdattir" by Sigrid Undset.

And of those I've read on your list, I rate almost all of them very highly. Am somehow a little lukewarm about CS Lewis for some reason. A little too "dry" or something. And I couldn't seem to get into "Catch 22" either of the times I started it. And I really really must get round to "Don Quixote" soon....

Fr. Barnabas said...

The Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson. A wonderful read with a wonderful depiction of the return of Christ at the end of the world in its final pages.

M. Swaim said...

Definitely on the Canticle for Leibowitz, but not for any of its sequels.

Also, if you're going to read any Chesterton novels, everyone always recommends The Man Who Was Thursday, but I've always thought The Napoleon of Notting Hill was his best.

Liam Ronan said...

I would suggest 'The Heart of the Matter' which is also by Graham Greene; and, 'Viper's Tangle' by Francois Mauriac. And then there's 'Wise Blood', a novelette by Flannery O'Connor.

Joe said...

short stories:
all of Flannery O'Connor's stuff
G.K. Chesterton's Fr Brown mysteries

tomschulzte said...

I would also add Thomas Costain's "The Silver Chalice", which was a best selling novel, some of Jon Hassler's novels (North of Hope, Dear James, A Green Journey), and don't forget Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde, who are both classics. These are all very good Caholic novels.

Equus nom Veritas said...

I'm not so sure I entirely agree, but (as you noted) this is also a matter of personal taste. I will say, though, that Chesterton's best non-fiction works are better than his best fiction works.

Marcel said...

As I said - it isn't about Catholic doctrine, but a Catholic world-view. It is about seeing the world through Catholic eyes. Frankenstein is about the evil that resides in each one of us, our concupiscence if you will. Otherwise, it doesn't deserve to be called "Catholic" in any sense.

I like the diversity of the additions. My only problem with Flannery O'Connor is that her short stories are better than her best novel - which is generally regarded as Wise Blood (she only wrote one other if I am not mistaken). It could have made the list as well, but I limited myself.

latinmass1983 said...

Funny. I think that "Les Miserables" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" were at some point in the Index of Forbidden Books (that Catholics should not read).

Marcel said...

Dumas didn't have the Count on the list as far as I know, but his love stories did make it. Yes, Les Miserables was on the list.

Equus nom Veritas said...

M Swaim:"Also, if you're going to read any Chesterton novels, everyone always recommends The Man Who Was Thursday, but I've always thought The Napoleon of Notting Hill was his best."

I just finished reading that one, and it was pretty enjoyable--quite humorous, as always--but I liked "The Ball and the Cross" the most.
Joe: "G.K. Chesterton's Fr Brown mysteries"

Those were my favorite of all his fiction, but they're more like a collection of "related" short-stories than a novel proper. You can read almost any one of them without having read the others and not be lost or confused as to the plot, characters, etc.
M. Swaim: "Definitely on the Canticle for Leibowitz, but not for any of its sequels."

I only just read "Canticle," but haven't read the sequel yet. It has actually become my favorite science fiction novel so far!
David Wagner: "Bravo on 1st 2 choices, but Brideshead shd be much higher. (So shd Divine Comedy -- if it's a novel.)"

He said that the list is not in any particular order, except for the first book.

Liam Ronan said...

I would also suggest two by Georges Bernanos, 'Diary of a Country Priest' and 'Sous le soleil de Satan' (under Satan's Sun), both excellent.

Winfield said...

"The Divine Comedy" is an epic poem written centuries before the development of the novel. Perhaps you could broaden your description to include poetry.

I'd add "The Last Gentleman" by Walker Percy.

A. de Barros said...

I found it weird.

Great books. No doubt. I've read at least half of them myself. But I wouldn't call half of them "catholic".

And what happened to Bernanos? If I'm not mistaken, last year Benedict XVI gave President Obama a DeLuxe edition of his complete works. He's a great catholic novelist by any account.

Cheryl said...

You made it through Don Quixote? I'm impressed. Not because it's long, but because the characters just blather on and on and on. I gave up two thirds of the way through, because I just couldn't take it anymore.

Tap said...

I agree with Linus: "Lord of the World" by Msgr Benson is still in my library, GK Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries always had wonderful Catholic insight, yet gentle to the reader.
CS Lewis' Narnia series especially the 'Last Battle' really brought in the whole concept of the end of the world . My favorite line when Aslan said to the soldier: 'when you worshipped him you worshipped Me".

Marcel said...

There is a very good reason Diary of a Country Priest didn't make the list. I haven't read it yet. It is on my list for the summer.

Frank Swarbrick said...

I number of your twenty chosen books were on the old INDEX of forbidden books for Catholics as being a danger to the Faith! Do you think it right to 'advertise' such books (e.g.Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Dante and ye, I will include Graham Greene?

Marcel said...

If the Church had a current list, then we certainly would follow it. But, there is no list.
Almost every seminarian reads a number of those previously on the list in their philosophy classes.

Marx, Hitler, and Darwin never made the list yet St. Faustina's diary did. Ask your bishop about whether he approves of an Index of Forbidden Books next time you see him and let me know what he says.

This is a tangential argument and will not be discussed further.

Jaceczko said...

Brothers Karamazov is my favorite novel as well, but is it a #1 "Catholic" novel? As a matter of fact, one could make a case that it is an anti-(Roman)Catholic novel!

Marcel said...

Dostoevsky is anti-clerical. But, his faith is rock solid and it comes out in the book in a real an en-fleshed way. There is no piety hiding as bad literature there.

Remember that error can bring us deeper into the human state as well. So, we shouldn't always read because we agree with something. We should read to grow. Sometimes the only way to grow is to be challenged outside of ourselves and to see what others do. This does not mean everything should be read, viewed, etc. Rather, what it means is that we can not be so short-sighted as to think that our Catholic faith is so small that it can't grow in the midst of disagreement.

Remember, there is only one perfect Word - Christ. His revelation to us in the Sacred Scriptures is the only perfect book. Thus, all others should be thought of as a means to an end of achieving growth as humans. If a book can achieve such an end - then read it.

If we are at a point where such challenges to our faith would not build us up, but tear us down - then do not read these books.

FYI - I could have also added a couple of more, now that I think about it. To Kill a Mockingbird would probably be one of them.

Christina said...

While "The Power and the Glory" is a great Graham Greene novel, I wonder how others would rank "The End of the Affair" in comparison. For me, it was much more powerful, a more enjoyable read and even more though-provoking at the end.

Ben said...

Diary of a Country Priest - Georges Bernanos

Memories of Old Jack - Wendell Berry

Silence - Shusaku Endo

The Last Gentleman - Walker Percy

Wheat that Springeth Green - J.F. Power
Morte D'Urban - J. F. Power

Wise Blood - Flannery O'Connor
Collected Stories - Flannery O'Connor

Collected Poems - Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The Book of the Dun Cow - Walter Wangerin

Canterbury Tales - Chaucer

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

Choruses from 'The Rock' - T.S. Eliot

Dayspring - Harry Sylvester

A Canticle for Liebowitz - Walter Miller Jr

feminine-genius said...

I second dominic's suggestion of Kristin Lavransdatter. Perhaps women like it more than men do, but it's a tie for first place in my estimation with Brothers Karamazov.

Anthony S. "Tony" Layne said...

I'd like to thank you all for giving me so many great ideas for new book purchases. (I don't dare take 'em out of the library because they may never get back there!) I would definitely argue for Lewis' Space Trilogy.

Gibbons Burke said...

"Come Rack! Come Rope" by Fr. Robt. Hugh Benson

"Jean de Florette" by Marcel Pagnol

"Quo Vadis" by Henryk sinkiewicz

Wild Bill said...

Another vote for Morte d'Urban. It's a wonderfully well told story of a priest struggling with fidelity to his vows, especially of chastity. One of the most stirring near-seduction scenes in the English language, I think.

RB said...

Nacho Libre, a classic

Rebecca said...

This is an excellent list! There are always exceptions that can be made, but no one should doubt they are "catholic" or Catholic. And you explained your 'disclaimer' quite clearly from the top. Some of these folks need a good Catholic professor to walk them through the literature. I, for one, am happy that a person with such knowledge is working with young people. Good for you! said...

Gibbons Burke has made a wonderful suggestion by including Jean de Florette. That story, plus the conclusion (Manon des Sources) are terrific stories.

My French isn't really good enough for reading works of literature, but for those of you who don't need the translation, my wife tells me that Pagnol's writing is awesome.

If you don't really feel like reading it, you can watch the 1986 film with Yves Montagne, Daniel Auteuil, and Gerard Depardieu. The movie is remarkably faithful to the novel and extraordinally well-acted.

Ibid said...

Agree with the suggestions for J. F. Power (Morte d'Urban shows what happens when you put a city priest in the country; Wheat that Springeth Green shows what happens when a good priest faces the changes of the 60s and 70s) and Canticle for Lebowitz.

Brideshead Revisited, The Moviegoer and The Power and the Glory are among my top three favorite books of all time (sharing the top spots with Crime and Punishment). As far as the worthiness of Greene's place on the list, The Power and Glory bleeds Catholicism. Its a realistic look at the harshest persecution of the Church in the Americas (the characters are based on real people).

I would say that some of the books on this list are a kind of stretch (I wouldn't put Frankenstein on it, even though it does provide the warning of playing God and of our own concupiscence) and I'm sure that Some of the authors listed (Dostoyevsky, for example) would probably be offended by being placed on this list.

But its a good one. I feel like making a list like this too. . .

Rouxfus said...

Many of the great titles mentioned are available on Project Gutenberg for free.

mforster1uk said...

Hmmm... so how come you all missed the greatest of all Catholic novels - "I Promessi Sposi" (The Betrothed) by Alessandro Manzoni - for whom Verdi wrote his Requiem?

karen said...

Just read this article/post and would like to add "Fatherless" by Brian Gail. It was excellent!! He is currently working on "Motherless" which will be followed by "Childless." Can't wait!! His book used to be available on Amazon but is now only available through HLI's website. Great list. I also LOVED Kristin Lavransdatter and will get Brothers Karamazov asap. Thanks.

TREECIE said...

"The Second Coming," by Walker Percy
"Bread & Wine," by Ignazio Silone
"The Little World of Don Camillo," by Giovanni Guareschi
"Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc," by Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain
"The Swallows of Kabul," by Yasmina Khadra

JD Cowan said...

Some people have a very limited definition of what being Catholic actually is and what it encompasses. To say you have to be Catholic to write a "Catholic" novel is not how it works.

Walker Percy - Lancelot
G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None
George MacDonald - Phantastes
Shusaku Endo - The Samurai

Those would be my additions.

I agree wholeheartedly with Frankenstein. That book affected me in ways that surprised me.