The debate has been percolating again recently. Gregory Wolfe goes one more round, defending his thesis that faith hasn’t disappeared from the literary landscape, but writers are handling religious themes with more nuance and reserve than before. He does, however, admit one bit of nostalgia, looking back with envy at the Christian public intellectuals who … Continue reading Has The Novel Lost Its Faith? Ctd
Last year around this time, Paul Elie dropped a debate-spurring essay (NYT) on the decline of Christian novels in America, which the Dish covered here and here. In a new interview with the magazine Dappled Things, Elie furthers the discussion about faith in fiction: DT: The [Catholic] faith is in decline in culture—at least on … Continue reading Has The Novel Lost Its Faith? Ctd
J.L. Wall examines an exception to Paul Elie’s much debated claim that the “novel of belief” is disappearing – fiction by Jewish-American writers: Even novels that aren’t explicitly about belief have taken to depicting—sometimes in great detail—the lives of traditional believers. The imagined Alaskan Jewish community in Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is defined … Continue reading Has The Novel Lost Its Faith? Ctd
The Dish has debated at length whether the religious novel is dead, a discussion kicked off by a Paul Elie NYT article. Millman joins the debate: I must admit, I both do and don’t want to believe Elie is right, personally, about belief and American storytelling today. I both do and don’t want to believe it, because one of the scripts I … Continue reading Has The Novel Lost Its Faith? Ctd
Karen Swallow Prior reframes the debate, arguing that the novel always has been tied to unbelief: The novel was the outgrowth of the passing of the age of belief into the age of unbelief. It is the literary form that developed as an expression of the modern subject: the record of individual, particular and progressive … Continue reading Has The Novel Lost Its Faith? Ctd
My old friend Paul Elie recently penned a long New York Times essay on the decline of great Christian novels in America. A summary of his case:
This, in short, is how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover. Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. Half a century after Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price and John Updike presented themselves as novelists with what O’Connor called “Christian convictions,” their would-be successors are thin on the ground.
Alan Jacobs, while thinking Elie "maybe" is right, emphasizes the perennial difficulty of writing faith-informed fiction:
Faith, being the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, has never been easy to portray aesthetically. This is why Johannes de Silentio, Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous author of Fear and Trembling, has to throw up his hands in incomprehension when faced with Abraham’s trust in a God he scarcely even knows. In any time or place, a strong and vivid and truthful story about faith is a rare bird indeed.
Meanwhile, D.G. Myers finds Elie's treatment of Marilynne Robinson, whose work brims with Christian themes, especially puzzling: