A recent podcast in the series Conversations with Tyler involves an interview with New York Times columnist Russ Douthat. The series is sponsored by George Mason University and the interviewer is Tyler Cowen but the date and the venue are not revealed. It was posted on the internet yesterday and is listed as ep. 32. The subject is “Narrative and Religion” and after winding through consideration of various theological questions including topics such as the novel Watership Downs and cats (the animals not the musical play), the interviewer poses the question: “Evelyn Waugh–Brideshead Revisited, a novel: Underrated or Overrated?” that begins this discussion:
DOUTHAT: There is a little too much sentimentality in the Catholicism. And the Sword of Honor Trilogy is a little more cold-eyed and therefore slightly better.
COWEN: A side question: If you think about a lot of the Catholic authors — Walker Percy, Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Gene Wolfe, Louise Erdrich — do you feel as a whole Catholicism is sufficiently well represented in literature, or in a sense are you a bit let down by the aggregate weight of the better-known Catholic novels?
DOUTHAT: No. I think it’s well represented, and I think that the decline in Catholicism’s importance in literature since that Waugh-Greene golden age has happened in parallel with the decline of literature’s cultural importance in certain ways. … But no, the period that produced Waugh and Greene and a lot of those writers is in certain ways one of my favorite periods in modern literature. And even the writers in that era who are not practicing Catholics seem to me to be influenced in different ways, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald in different ways. For instance, Hemingway is writing in a Catholic cultural context in a lot of his stories and Fitzgerald is, of course, a lapsed Catholic of a certain kind. So I think Catholicism hangs in an interesting way over that whole first-half-of-the-20th-century period of literature. And I think that’s the best recent period of literature, so I’ll claim some chauvinistic pride.
The podcast is available in both an audio recording and transcription on the website medium.com.