Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rereading MR. BLUE

Mr. Blue is a novella by Myles Connolly, screenwriter and editor of The Knights of Columbus Columbia magazine (in fact, during the Cristiada era in Mexico). I first read Mr. Blue while attending Kapaun-Mt. Carmel High School; Sister Eustacia had a list of extra reading, which included some Catholic classics -- she also had Sheila Kaye-Smith's Superstition Corner on that list (but that's another post!)

Loyola Classics brought out a new paperback edition a few years ago with an introduction by John Breslin, SJ. Father Breslin points out two disparate models for the character J. Blue--G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. Father Breslin offers more thoughts on J. Blue and the novel here:

Recently, I read Mr. Blue again, and I have come to realize that the character of Blue must also have appealed to us all, and to countless other readers, because he was a uniquely American personality. As Myles Connolly wrote him, J. Blue was the man that the ambitious Jay Gatsby might have become had he steered by a higher truth than the sound of money in Daisy Buchanan's voice.

It is hard to overestimate G. K. Chesterton's effect on several generations of young Catholic intellectuals-in-the-making. He took on the modern world with all its scientific works and philosophical pomps in the name of a reimagined Christendom, alive with story and redolent of paradox. "To have fallen into any of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame," he wrote in Orthodoxy. "But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. . . . There are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands."

Chesterton's method was simple but brilliantly realized: One by one he raised and demolished, often through ridicule or humor, the suppositions of pseudoscience and the secular nostrums of the educated classes. In response to the Freudian notion that Gothic spires were phallic symbols, Chesterton sagely agreed; otherwise, he deadpanned, they would surely have been built upside down.

Chesterton saw himself as an apostle of affirmation in a world gone gray. At the same time, he threw open doors and windows in a Church that seemed cautious to a fault and not very interested in new ideas. The Council of Trent had settled all the important questions four centuries before, but G. K. made orthodoxy exciting, even dangerous. Rather than viewing it as a straitjacket that stifled Christian theology, he preferred to see orthodoxy as a glorious balancing act and spoke of its "romance." Myles Connolly made young Mr. Blue its ardent embodiment.

I re-read it last week myself, and found Breslin's frame of reference very helpful. The part of the novella I remember having a great impact when I first read it was J. Blue's idea for a movie about a dystopian future where Christianity and free will have been obliterated--one man, a mere number in his cell, turns out to be a Catholic priest celebrating the Last Mass on Earth even as the world comes to an end and Jesus returns.

(BTW: I am not very happy with the new blogger interface as it adds spaces between paragraphs; after awhile, I give up the struggle to take them away! I apologize for the odd spacing.)

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