A Literary Gain: Cardinal Newman’s Novel

Editor Alan G. Hill rightly laments that Loss and Gain (1848), by John Henry Newman “has never received the attention it deserves.” The last major reprinting was by Oxford Press in 1986.

In this religious novel, Newman pokes fun at the fads of evangelicals, high church Anglicans, “no party men,” and latitudinarians. Consider, for example, his description of the pedantic Mr. Bateman:

Did you hear him make but one speech, perhaps you would say he was a pleasant, well-informed man; but when he never comes to an end… or keeps you standing till you are fit to sink, or holds you fast when you wish to keep an engagement, or hinders you listening to important conversation, — then there is no mistake, the truth bursts on you…. you are in the clutches of a bore. You may yield, or you may flee; you cannot conquer.

For all its light humor, the story possesses depth. In the first chapter, Charles’ father perceptively observes that “Boys do not fully know what is good and what is evil, they do wrong things at first almost innocently. Novelty hides vice from them; there is no one to warn them or give them rules; and they become slaves of sin, while they are learning what sin is.” Ultimately, despite it’s genial style, Loss and Gain is the story of a soul and the drama of conversion. As Hill points out, Newman’s work “opened up large new areas of experience for prose fiction.”

From my own perspective, later novelists made stylistic advances but became unnecessarily obsessed with grittiness and angst. This sort of realism has its place. Still there are times when one needs the uniquely sympathetic and reassuring message of a book like Loss and Gain.

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