About this blogger:
Ronda Chervin received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MA in Religious Studies from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute. A widow, mother, and grandmother, she currently teaches philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Write to her at chervinronda@gmail.com.
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“I still haven’t made up my mind whether I shall publish it all. Some people are so humorless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one’s efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them. Most readers know nothing about canon law. Many regard it with contempt and find everything heavy going that isn’t completely lowbrow. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humor. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down. They seize upon your publications, as a wrestler seizes upon his opponent’s hair, and use them to drag you down, while they themselves remain quite invulnerable, because their barren pates are completely bald, so there’s nothing for you to get hold of.”
— St. Thomas More to Peter Gilles, 1516

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“Old Filth” by Jane Gardam
published 10 January 2013 by Dr. Ronda Chervin

HEN I VISIT my daughters, voracious fiction readers, they have a stack of novels ready for me piled up on the bed in the guest room. I love fiction but I vet each one first to see if it is so anti-Catholic I shouldn’t read it. Anti-Catholic could mean against the Church as such or full of immoral scenes, etc.

There is a middle category. Fiction written by writers who are somewhat religious, or very religious but not Catholic – as least as far as one could tell, but that have important moral and spiritual messages explicit or hidden in the plot and character depiction. A new British writer for me along these lines is Jane Gardam. Her most famous prize-winning novel is entitled “Old Filth.”

It concerns a hero who is called Old Filth because he was the lawyer who invented the joking advice: If you Fail In London, Try Hong Kong: capitals = Filth. The book is about a category of the wounded I didn’t know existed called the Raj Orphans. These were children born in the colonies such as Malaya, Hong Kong, India, etc. who were sent at an early age back to England to foster-homes and boarding schools so that they would not die of infections at the colonies and, also, so that they would be brought up English instead of going “native.”

The man who became Old Filth was such a child. I will not give away the fascinating plot. What I want to focus on is how even though the characters are mostly Christmas/Easter Anglicans and not “into spirituality” she manages to throw in lines about how evil abortion is, how long living together sexual relationships are wrong and unhealthy, and how repentance with confession to a priest can redeem and heal an entire life. In the Von Hildebrand circle it was taught that when reading novels not written by strong Catholics we must look to see, not how much evil is depicted, but where “the light falls.”

I think it is good for Catholics to read such books and copy some of the ways to get across truth in this reader-friendly way vs. only the direct route of truth proclamation pro-life Catholics such as myself prefer.