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April 02 , 2008

Merton & Waugh

A Monk, A Crusty Old Man, and the Seven Storey Mountain


From 1948 to 1952 the lives of Trappist monk Thomas Merton and British novelist Evelyn Waugh were closely intertwined. During these years, Waugh became enthusiastic about American Catholicism, and in particular, monasticism as seen through the eyes of the author of The Seven Storey Mountain. He agreed to edit Merton’s autobiography and the subsequent Waters of Siloe for publication in Britain. In this close examination of their friendship, through their correspondence, we see Waugh’s coaching of a younger writer and Waugh’s brief infatuation with America. Most of all, we witness Merton the writing student and spiritual master and Waugh the master of prose and conflicted penitent. And we see how the two men diverge as the Second Vatican Council takes hold in Catholicism and the church experiences profound change. "This careful study sheds light on Merton the writer with Evelyn Waugh as his tutor. It is also an interesting snapshot of the culture of midtwentieth century Catholic renewal." —Lawrence S. Cunningham, John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology (Emeritus), The University of Notre Dame “An absorbing exchange of letters between Thomas Merton and Evelyn Waugh, focusing principally on Waugh’s editing of the British publication of The Seven Storey Mountain and The Waters of Siloe. Waugh’s sometimes barbed comments caused Merton to reflect deeper on what he was writing and how he should respond, as positively as he could, to this influential Catholic novelist. A wonderful, brief study of both men.” —Patrick Samway, S.J., editor of The Letters of Robert Giroux and Thomas Merton (forthcoming, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015) “Dedicated readers of Evelyn Waugh and Thomas Merton know of the connections between two major Catholic writers, especially of Waugh as editor and writing coach for Merton's work. But in this brief but thoroughly researched book, Coady provides important new details about Merton's role not just as willing student but as spiritual advisor to Waugh and puts those details into the cultural and religious context of the years after World War II in clear and sometimes eloquent fashion.” —Robert Murray Davis, author of Brideshead Revisited: The Past Redeemed
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