Fr. Dudley wrote newspaper columns and non-fictional books, but he was best known for his seven novels. Below is a summary with the novels in red. A more detailed discussion of his writing style, with quotes, is on the Catholic Literary Revival page. His novels stressed the need for personal holiness among the laity.
Will Men be like Gods? (1924, non-fiction, 93 pages, out of print). Fr. Dudley’s first book in his “Problems of Human Happiness” series was a direct rebuttal to H. G. Well’s Men Like Gods (1923). G. K. Chesterton wrote a substantive introduction, and then went on to write his own rebuttals: including his superb Everlasting Man a year later (1925) which was most directly aimed at Wells’ The Outline of History (1920).
The Shadow on the Earth (1926, fiction, 143 pages, in print). Fr. Dudley’s first novel: it is short and readable. Four of the characters carry over into his second novel: The Masterful Monk. From the author’s introductory note:
…The problem of pain and suffering, with which this book is concerned, is prominent in the minds of men to-day. Unfortunately many only know it as presented by life’s rebels–coloured with malice, twisted with cunning sophisms. It would seem to the delight of certain writers to dangle the problem on the point of a vitriolic pen and hurl it at the heavens in defiance. These rebels offer no solution to the problem of pain and suffering. Instead they sound the clarion of revolt.
They have no solution to offer.
There is a solution, however. It is offered in these pages.
A young, healthy Englishman become a paraplegic due to a mountaineering accident in the Alps, and is taken to a nearby monastery for help: moving from suicidal despair to Christian joy–despite the opposition of an atheist…and disagreements with an “optimist,” and a “pessimist.” Debates among the characters provide insights into philosophy and theology. The novel has humor and friendships, and discusses war and the beauty of nature.
Deathless Army – Advance: A Battle Cry (1927, non-fiction, available only electronically). A brief (19 page) work of apologetics.
The Masterful Monk (1929, fiction, 314 pages, in print). His most well-known novel. Although it is a stand-alone work, it has four of the characters from The Shadow on the Earth. From the author’s introductory note:
“[Julian Verrers, the atheist] in this tale is neither a literary affectation nor exaggeration. He is a spokesman delivering faithfully the ideas of certain materialistic scientists, philosophers, and leaders of thought, whose names are before the public to-day, and whose writings are everywhere on sale. He speaks as they speak and says what they say.”
Fr. Dudley’s focus was particularly on Thomas Huxley, James Frazer, and H. G. Wells (To Promote, Defend, and Redeem, Arnold Sparr [Greenwood Press, 1990], p. 47).
English novelists often write of the gentry, as is the case here: including a woman who is called “Beauty” by her friends. It is a story about the difficulty–and necessity–of putting Christ in the center of your life in a fallen world; and the nature of evil–usually rather thoughtless on an individual level, but on rare occasions intensely malicious. All of his novels have humor and friendships, and this also illustrates Protestant/atheist prejudice against Catholics which is a recurring theme of his novels.
This book was made into a play written by William Hocker and George H.H. Lamb in 1937, and it was first presented in Scranton, Pennsylvania (USA) on 2/11/1938.
Pageant of Life (1932, fiction, 343 pages, in print). His darkest novel, but a redeeming one. It give the background story of the young Anselm Thornton who is the Masterful Monk throughout the series. It deals with the lives of the poor even more than his other novels; and it delves into philosophy. It gives his most detailed description of, and meditation on, war. The author’s interest in psychological problems makes an appearance, becoming even more apparent in The Tremaynes. This book deals with (Communist) atheistic hate, as does The Coming of the Monster and Last Crescendo. This is also the book that most bluntly (although not graphically) addresses sexual sin.
The Coming of the Monster (1936, fiction, 275 pages, in print). A study of economic and political events focusing on Communist efforts to gain a foot hold in England. There is an officer in the French Intelligence Service, as well as a brief look at Hollywood–but the English lady resists its vulgar allure to the obvious satisfaction of the author. A discussion of the working class, and an economic analysis along the general lines of Distributism (Chesterton, Belloc, and others).
A Punch at Everybody (1937, non-fiction, out of print and virtually unavailable). A collection of Fr. Dudley’s articles in the Daily Mirror on social questions.
The Tremaynes and the Masterful Monk (1940, fiction, 333 pages, in print). A character study illustrating how evil a “respectable” person can be without actually being considered a criminal, and that even the worst among us can be redeemed. It illustrates how art and music can speak to the human soul, as well as the author’s love of children and interest in psychology. And it describes a little more of the life of Anselm Thornton before he became a monk as well as one of the heroes (Cyril Rodney) in The Pageant of Life.
Michael: A Tale of the Masterful Monk (1948, fiction, 307 pages, in print). Fr. Dudley is often struck with the spiritual dimensions of beauty: in this case, the beauty of gardening. Although, like all his novels, it has lots of humor, you learn what it was to live through the Battle of Britain (which the author experienced first hand) and Dunkirk.
This book was published after the author’s world tour (as the Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society): you get his impressions of his travels to the USA, New Zealand, Australia, and some islands. You also get his view of what can be good about the refined English country life–and, as always, what can go terribly wrong with the aristocracy.
In this book, the Masterful Monk gives a talk entitled “You and Thousands Like You” which became the title of the below book. Here he first lays out his vague, confusing proposal for a International Force with disarmed nations, although he gave up on the United Nations in his January 1947 Catholic Gazette article. His theme recurs in is last two books as well, but it is never overwhelming–and they are interesting reads! (Fr. Dudley saw much in World War I, and was wounded as was one of this brothers…and another brother was killed. He experienced the bombing of London, and then came the atomic bomb. He was grasping at straws…but so were a lot of people at the time…and if we do eventually blow ourselves up, these views will look much more reasonable in retrospect. 😳)
You and Thousands Like You (1949, non-fiction, 157 pages, in print). Fr. Dudley starts out with his concerns about a future World War III, and the need to turn to God, and then gets into the heart of the book: coming to Christ. An interesting, readable approach.
Last Crescendo (1954, fiction, 311 pages, out of print). Fr. Dudley’s last book: finished just before his death in 1952, and published posthumously. A good read, and his second darkest novel (after Pageant of Life) dealing with drug addiction, Red (Communist) hate, the plight of the poor (in England and in devastated Berlin just after WW II). It also deals with toxic (self-righteous) Catholicism and upward mobility. A major theme is the potential spiritual dimension of the beauty of music. This is a description of part of a performance by Paul Gray (the pianist who is the subject of the novel) is set in devastated and disillusioned Berlin where Communists have been urging atheism as a response:
Paul played the legato on the piano, slowly, significantly, identifying the Birth in a stable with the Light of the world. He re-introduced some of those ideas chords of hate and then opposed them with the legato again, accentuating the tremendous antithesis, Darkness and Light, insensate hate and Incarnate Love. There was a haunting passage, a conveying in sound of the Story the world could never forget, of the Light Who had illuminated the darkness… He was weaving in Christmas Noels of Germanic origin that the simplest in his audience would recognize–lovable, intimate melodies identifying the Light with Eternal Love. The harp came in with the ancient carol of Corpus Christi and its mystical tribute to the Sacrament of Love’s abiding Presence on earth. They were singing it in harmony, reverentially, from all parts of the hall…
The plot begins with a newspaper column (pictured above) that Fr. Dudley wrote on July 2, 1937 in response to reader letter threatening suicide: that column is incorporated into the novel word for word, and the plot of the novel is then shaped to conform to it. Fr. Dudley wrote of what he knew.
Book availability. Six of the books which are currently in print are published by St. Bonaventure Publications in the USA. They are well-made hard covers, and yet their price is remarkably low. (There is no commercial connection between this page and any business.)
Michael is available from Facsimile Publisher distributed by Ryan Books Pvt. Ltd. (India) available through Alibris.
The following books are available electronically (for free) through Open Library: The Shadow on the Earth; The Masterful Monk; The Coming of the Monster; and Michael.
If there are any other current publishers anywhere in the world, this site is unaware of it (so please let us know).
The books which are out of print are typically available through used book sources: sometimes at a very reasonable prices, and at other times at high prices (depending upon supply and demand at that moment).
Reading order. The novels may be read in any order, but when you have a series like this, reading them in the order written has the advantage of following character development along with the author. Further, they become increasingly more powerful because of the background understanding of the series as a whole.