Edmund Campion, Father Pro and Brideshead Revsited

Gerard Kilroy has written an interesting essay appearing this week in the Tablet. Prof Kilroy is the co-editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh volume of Waugh’s biography of Edmund Campion. The essay begins with a discussion of Campion’s dying words where he refers, inter alia, to the prayers of “the household of the faith”. Waugh chose as his working title for Brideshead Revisited, which he wrote 10 years after the biography: “A Household of the Faith: A Theological Novel”. Prof Kilroy explains several other connections between those two books as well as between the Campion biography and Waugh’s book on Mexico, Robbery Under Law. In the latter case the connection comes via Graham Greene’s contemporary books on Mexico where he describes the martyrdom of the Mexican priest Fr Miguel Pro which bears marked similarities to that of Edmund Campion.

The essay concludes with this:

Campion and Brideshead were closely linked in Waugh’s mind. In 1945, when sales of Brideshead Revisited in the United States soared past half a million, Waugh asked his agent to “cash in” on its success by publishing the first US edition of Edmund Campion. In a new Preface, Waugh portrays Campion as “amongst us”, the victim not of a moribund Elizabethan regime but of the secular state: “We have seen the Church driven underground in one country after another. The martyrdom of Father Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion’s. In fragments and whispers we get news of other saints in the prison camps of Eastern and South-eastern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England, of the same, pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended. The hunted, trapped, murdered priest is amongst us again, and the voice of Campion’s comes to us across the centuries as though he were walking at our side.” […]

Waugh dated the “End” of his manuscript of Brideshead: “[Eve of Corpus Christi, 1944]”. “A Theological Novel” has to be read as an eschatological assertion: all earthly power will turn to dust while “A Household of the Faith”, the Church, will be crowned in glory. The eve of Corpus Christi occurred on 7 June 1944.

There was a US edition of Edmund Campion published by Sheed and Ward in 1935, but it consisted of sheets printed in England. The 1946 US edition contains a new preface written by Waugh and may reflect other revisions. It was issued by Little, Brown and was the first edition both printed and published in the USA. Prof Kilroy’s essay is highly recommended and may be viewed at this link. A subscription is required but the Tablet will give limited access with a simple registration.

UPDATE (22 June 2019): In a comment received today, Prof Kilroy corrected the last sentence in the above quote and this has been incorporated into the post.


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