Julian Green — A Turbulent Passage — from Crisis Magazine, Feb. 1, 1996.


The penultimate volume of Julian Green’s four-part autobiography, anglicized as Love In America, borrows its haunting epigraph from Francois Villon, “In my own country I am in a distant land.” Certainly, no writer’s personal situation was ever more appropriately limned by this striking verse than that of Julian Green. Born ninety-five years ago in Belle Epoque Paris to a genteel Southern family, Julian Green is an internal exile twice over. Another fact equally important for our understanding of Green’s literary art is his sense of being a pilgrim on this earth.

Following his demobilization from the French Army at the conclusion of the sanguinary 1914 War, young Julian Green takes ship for an unknown America where he is to matriculate at the University of Virginia. Green would remain there for three years with profound repercussions for his entire life.

His initial impressions of his ancestral country were none too complimentary. Julian Green believed that Americans were “barbarians.” For this mannerly, French-reared Southerner spending his first American night in brash New York City, surely the culture shock must have been immense—at the very least. On that same evening, Green attends the fabled New York theater with his maternal uncle Walter and cousin Sarah, the vivacious Savannah belle who previously had lived with the Green family in Paris for five years.

As he watched the performance of La Befta, a swashbuckling melodrama starring John and Lionel Barrymore, Green recounts, “I could not understand a word…. It seemed to me that the actors were speaking in a foreign tongue, so different was their accent to the one I was used to.” Turning to his pretty cousin Sarah, Green tells her that the eminent Barrymores “spoke like Yankees.”

Fortunately, Julian Green experienced a change of heart about American visigothism when he and Uncle Walter crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Virginia. Green recalls his first reaction to being in the South: “This was my first night in my mother’s country, the South, and everything she had told me about it those long years ago came flooding back into memory. It was as if that whole world which she had loved were being offered to me in one simplified image because I saw it through the eyes of my mother. Within a few seconds, I understood everything: the Secession, the will to survive and not to be absorbed into a nation that was too vast.”

The school at which Green found himself a freshman in 1919 was like no other university in either the North or the South. It bore the indelible imprint of its remarkable founder, America’s renaissance man par excellence, Thomas Jefferson. Like so many students before him and after him, Julian Green would never forget his first sighting of Mr. Jefferson’s lovely box-trees, neoclassical pavilions, and the famous winding wall. Throughout the beautiful landscape of the University (which Green always capitalizes in French), one begins to appreciate symbolically the classical mind of Jeffersonian Virginia, which stood for what was truly best about the Old South.

Julian Green took in Mr. Jefferson’s academic village and thought that the Sage of Monticello must have known dreams in which he “must have walked among [Rome and Pompeii] through a forest of white columns, for I have never seen so many in my life: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, they rose up on all sides to such an extent that one might think it was a hallucination.” It would seem that only a writer like Julian Green whose novels Andre Gide termed “visionary” could perceive the hallucinatory recesses behind the harmonious, classical facade of Jeffersonian architecture. One wonders how Edgar Allan Poe, another haunted alumnus of Mr. Jefferson’s academic village, and a “visionary” writer favored by Green, might have responded to his kindred spirit’s singular comments.

It is, however, undoubtedly true that young Julian was terrified of being surrounded by so many Anglophones, even though they were fellow Southerners. In Paris, his schoolmates had taunted Green for being a member of a vanquished Southern nation that had disappeared from history. In Charlottesville, Green’s Virginian classmates regarded him as a Frenchman, or, at the very least, an eccentric cultural hybrid no doubt destined for the cloister.

Young Virginia gentlemen were expected to conduct themselves with studied nonchalance, something which Julian Green emulated with high seriousness. But as for the fraternity carousing that flavors much of Southern collegiate existence to the chagrin of deans of student affairs, the ever-fastidious Green condemned it as both “disgusting” and “bestial.”

Another Southern cultural lesson Julian Green acquired at UVA was the revered “Honors System.” Any student caught cheating at Mr. Jefferson’s University “no longer existed for either the authorities or the students.” Green notes that during the three years he studied at the University, there was not one reported case of academic misconduct. Our autobiographer makes this wry comment about Southern student mores: “In this way, all the boys came to form their idea of what was known as ‘a Virginia gentleman.’ You could do whatever you wanted, except to cheat.”

Perhaps the first thing the pious Julian Green sought out besides textbooks was an islet of Catholicism within the Protestant realm of shady Charlottesville. At the time there existed in the old town a homely Catholic chapel made of wood. Green describes its “miserable little bell-tower… that would discretely summon the faithful to Mass.” During the weekdays, the “faithful” at Mass meant Julian Green who punctiliously attended the early Eucharist sleepily celebrated by a constantly yawning priest. The young would-be monk found much comfort within the chapel’s quiet walls. Green reminds us that “to be seen by God in silence is also a form of prayer.”

The Southern education of Julian Green reached a pivotal moment in Dr. Fitzhugh’s Latin class. It happened one day when Julian and his classmates busied themselves with the translation of a perplexing passage from Virgil. Professor Fitzhugh interrupted the students’ declensioning with words that silenced the classroom: “Gentlemen, it seems pointless for me to disguise the meaning of this passage: we are dealing with the shame of Antiquity.”

Professor Fitzhugh’s unambiguous explication de texte elicited an epiphany in Julian Green’s mind. Suddenly, the revelation of “Greek love” answered questions Green had regarding the unsettling desires troubling his whole being. Green recalls, “In a second I understood a thousand things, except for one which was essential. I realized that the strange passion of which Virgil spoke resided in me. A blinding flash that had clarified my entire life. I was frightened by this revelation which identified me with the young men of antiquity. So I bore the shame of Antiquity. I alone bore it.”

The epiphanic discovery of his own inversion made Green feel cut off from the rest of humanity, beginning with his Virginia classmates. His extraordinary sexual innocence compelled him to feel that he alone had inherited the shameful virus of Antiquity. Once more, Julian Green withdrew into the “interior homeland” of his Catholic faith. Green’s painful self-isolation due to his sexual discovery drove him to replay old conversations between himself and his erstwhile spiritual director, Father Crete. In his Charlottesville boarding house room, Green eagerly reread the good abbe’s letters of spiritual instruction. Father Crete’s great wish was for Julian to embrace the monastic vocation (Benedictine no less). Father Crete appreciated the fervent young convert’s spiritual qualities; moreover, the mature Green has intimated upon more than one occasion that his beloved confessor might not have been innocently unaware of Green’s private proclivities, which were to cause him so much future suffering. In desiring Julian’s embrace of a religious vocation, Father Crete hoped to see him saved.

A particular trait of Julian Green’s fictional characters is their frequent vulnerability to the coup de foudre, or love at first sight. Romantic love exists in Green’s universe as a powerful, ineluctable response to the beloved at first glance. The original French title of the third volume of Green’s autobiography is Terre lointaine, meaning “the distant land,” hence the Villon allusion. But when the book was translated by Euan Cameron, the title Love In America was chosen instead. We shall shortly understand the crucial reason for this, rooted as it is in Green’s experience of the coup de foudre at the University.

Early on in his collegiate career, Julian Green fell deeply in love at first sight with a handsome Virginia student identified pseudonymously as “Mark.” The event occurred one cold winter day as young Julian walked from Cabell Hall to the Rotonda. He remembers: “Suddenly, I was no longer a free man. Because of someone, I had seen for only three or four seconds, I was now enslaved… Love, I could only see only too well, brought unhappiness.”

The Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality is unequivocable. Humana persona states that it is an unnatural and disordered condition. The Holy Trinity is best mirrored in the sacramental marriage of man and woman and the family God may bless them with. The Church, however, does not condemn an individual for having homoerotic inclinations. She simply disallows its sexual practice as “intrinsically disordered.” The road to salvation for the homosexual person will be achieved through embracing chastity for Christ’s sake. “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom,” declares the Church, “at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

The Catholic Julian Green fully understands the Church’s distinction between nature and volitional acts. Of his love for Mark, Green writes, “It was all the more painful for me for I did not feel that I was to blame in any way. There was nothing carnal about this love. And that was the strangest thing in all this. In my own mind, love could only be pure. Desire was something quite different. Desire was a sin.”

Perhaps the major theme underlying Green’s literary work besides that concerning the hell of a loveless self-isolation from God and other people is the unceasing war between the desires of the flesh and the yearning for God. Obviously, this dualistic theme provides the central matrix of Julian Green’s emotional life.

The explosive awakening of sexual yearning during a normal adolescence produces sufficient trauma, but when this desire is identifiably homoerotic and felt by an unusually sensitive Catholic intelligence such as the one possessed by Julian Green, the ensuing pain must reach the highest decibels of inner agony. Young Julian reeled from acute bouts of melancholy. The mature author somberly confesses to his readers: “Now I know that until my dying day, my desires will always be forlorn ones.”

This remarkable self-knowledge is missing from the debate over homosexuality in our disordered age. By its very nature, homosexuality is sterile and unfulfilling because it cannot attain the right complementarity found within the sacramental relationship between a man and a woman. For Julian Green, the Christian, his strong attraction toward handsome young men became an unending torture. He cries out, “How did people manage to live, if, like me, they had this strange craving? What did the future hold for me? I did not wish to know, and this was where religion eventually intervened powerfully and irresistably. There was quite enough evil in a single day.”

The crescendo passage of Green’s Southern autobiography is played on one April evening. It was following supper that Green walked in a trancelike state along East Gallery. Mustering up his courage, Green knocked on the door of number 34 directly across from Poe’s old room. The door opened to reveal Mark. The young Virginian smiled warmly and invited a nervous Julian to come in. After the two had settled themselves comfortably, Mark explains to Green that he had heard about him and was “glad” to see “Julian.” For the two seated students, this moment was the debut of a lifelong friendship. They saw one another daily. Julian agonizes over the lost years of friendship that he might have enjoyed with Mark. This young Virginian who was Green’s first great love seems to have been a truly kind, upright Southern gentleman able to put people quickly at ease, even people as self-conscious as the young Julian Green.

Green admits, “I was in another realm, that of perfect passion which lies beyond our physical bodies. I had been purged by the purity of Mark’s expression. I loved someone of my own sex without having committed any sin against the flesh.” Being only human, Green discretely asks Mark one evening if he had ever loved a woman. His friend replied, “No one from here, but I was in love with a girl from home who died last winter.” Of this kind, generous, and deeply ethical human being, Green makes the following pronouncement, “There was something aloof about his manners. I have never known anyone who so typified all that is best about the South.” Mark’s avatars reappear in several Green novels “as the person to whom no one declares his love, and he is a cut above anyone else.” Apparently, Mark came to his own judicious conclusions about the nature of Green’s affection for him; however, this did not cause him ever to withhold his friendship from his unusual Southern friend from faraway Paris.

The time eventually came for Julian Green to quit Virginia for France. By now he noticed that, despite his inner sufferings, he had become quite attached to the University and to the South. Moreover, there would also be the painful separation from Mark.

Once more Julian Green found himself at home in the family drawing-room. Finally, he was back in the Paris for which he had so long yearned. Except during the years of the Second World War, Green would never again be separated for such an extended period from his cherished France.

“Everything,” Green observed, “was still, or so it seemed to me, in order that I should receive that silent voice, not a voice that emanated from books, but one that came from much further away. The Lord was giving a pledge.” God would thus grant Julian Green “the one cross which, had the choice been given to me, I would have taken care not to adopt.”

According to Humana persona, individuals in Green’s moral situation are “called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and… unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross.” By taking up the cross of the Lord he loved, Julian Green created original works of literary art. His autobiography, Love In America, is a courageous and elegantly written confession of the moral education of a great Christian writer who delineates the struggles that all human beings must face regardless of their sexual orientation if they are to achieve Christ-like holiness. However difficult it may have been for Julian Green (he spent a decade during the thirties outside the borders of the Church), a day would come for him in God’s good time, when a spiritual spring appeared following what had been an unusually long, hard winter of the soul.

Catholics and the GOP: an Uneasy Fit — my op-ed from the Los Angeles Times — January 23, 2000.

Catholics make up the largest single religious denomination–65 million–of any kind in this country. They also make up one-third of the electorate in a presidential election, approximately 30 million. Yet in more than 200 years, a Catholic priest has never served as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In December, an 18-member bipartisan committee verbally expressed a preference for Father Timothy O’Brien, a political science professor at Marquette University, for the job of House chaplain. Yet when Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt met to decide who to nominate as chaplain, they chose a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Charles Wright, over O’Brien. There were charges of anti-Catholic bigotry, and when Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), a highly respected Catholic, raised the same question, Catholics took notice.

This controversy comes at an awkward moment for the GOP. Leading presidential contender George W. Bush has demonstrated a strong pull on the decisive Catholic swing vote. Our Crisis magazine polling indicates that up to 40% of the Catholic vote–12 million–can shift parties in presidential elections. The Democrats would like nothing better than to undercut Bush’s appeal by adding anti-Catholic prejudice to the list of moral complaints they aim at Republican conservatives.

The full House will vote on Wright later this month, and the Democrats appear ready to contest it. If they raise the issue of anti-Catholicism on the House floor, they will be touching a deep nerve among this nation’s Catholics.

The Democratic Party was the traditional home for most Catholics until the late 1960s when a slow migration into the conservative movement and the Republican Party began. Today, Catholics make up the largest single Republican constituency, about 31% of the party. Yet the size of the remaining swing vote indicates hesitation and discomfort about the fit of Catholics into the GOP. Our research indicates that Catholics who are in basic agreement with the conservative social values of the GOP often are turned off by the harshness of Republican rhetoric, a preoccupation with economic matters and vituperative attacks on government programs aimed at the needy. In short, Catholics remain unconvinced of Republican compassion.

The selection of the House chaplain gave Republicans an opportunity to reach out to Catholics and to refashion the image of a party frequently portrayed as in the clutches of the religious right. Instead, the House leadership provided Democrats their opportunity to begin recapturing a generation of Catholics grown accustomed to voting for the Republican Party. Democrats can paint a picture of a WASPy party hopelessly out of touch with–even intolerant of–this nation’s religious diversity.

Democrats won’t find it hard to persuade such old Catholic left-wingers as Father Andrew Greeley, who recently opined on CBS’ “The Early Show,” that any Catholic who is a Republican is “probably” in a state of mortal sin. When host Bryant Gumbel expressed disbelief, Greeley explained: “Republicans tend to be the party of the affluent, the self-righteous, the haters and racists.” Extreme as it may be, this attitude pervades a significant minority of Catholic voters and tinges the fears of the Catholic swing vote.

In a January 3 letter to William A. Donohue, president of the 350,000-member Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Armey explained that his decision to vote for Wright over O’Brien was because of “Wright’s interpersonal skills and pastoral experiences” versus O’Brien’s 22 years as a professor of political science. As Armey told me, he never focused on the denominational ties of the three candidates but on their qualifications to be a pastor to House members.

The political turmoil and Catholic backlash following the selection of Wright came as a surprise to the House leadership. It shouldn’t have. The GOP has gradually become the home of more Catholic voters whose social conservatism is closely intertwined with their Catholic identity. The voter concerns that bring Catholics closer to the GOP are directly connected to issues informed by their Catholic faith. This includes not only the defense of life but also the general social decay caused by the decline in morality.

The blunder of the GOP leadership was not the result of anti-Catholic prejudice, but of lack of awareness of where Catholic voters are moving and why. Armey’s deliberate inattention to the religious affiliation of the three candidates tells the story. The GOP doesn’t need to examine its conscience, but rather to start doing its homework on Catholic America.

The Bishop’s and Pope’s concern for immigrants is bogged down in politics

At NEWSMAX, I discuss how unintelligible it is when Pope France says the rights of immigrants “always” override national security concerns. That makes no sense at all if you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Prof. Francis O’Gorman talks about John Ruskin’s life, writings, and devotion to beauty, July 14, 2018, hour 1

Prof. Francis O’Gorman, chairmen of the Ruskin Society, talks about John Ruskin, the Evangelical art critic who considered the art of the Italian Renaissance, and Venice in particular, as the idea of beauty. Ruskin, as O’Gorman explains, didn’t remain in Evangelical in later life. Prof. O’Gorman teaches at the University of Edinburgh.


Music critic Jens F. Laurson plays and discusses​ of the late romantic composer, Othmar Schoeck, July 28, 2018, hour 1

Jens F. Laurson is one of the most respected music critics in the world. I was privileged to have him join me on ‘Church and Culture’ to discuss the music of the late romantic composer, Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957). Schoeck, who was Swiss, stands at the border between romantic and modern, but he never loses touch with the human ear. Schoeck finds the beauty in the soul’s search for what appears to be lost.


Bob Reilly discusses the Trump/Putin meeting and the real threat posed by Jinping’s China — July 28, 2018, hour 2

Bob Reilly returns to ‘Church and Culture’ to explain why the focus on Trump and Putin in Helsinki draws attention away from the far more serious threat posed by China under the leadership of Xi Jinping.


Review of ‘Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music’ by Robert Reilly and Jens Laurson

The Claremont Review asked me for a review of Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music by Robert R. Reilly and Jens F. Laurson (Ignatius Press, 2016).

A  Baedeker to Beauty

Deal W. Hudson

January 8, 2018

As a Baedeker for the musically literate, Robert Reilly’s Surprised by Beauty: A Listeners Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music reveals vast, previously unknown territories. It demolishes the long-accepted narrative of how composers embraced Arnold Schoenberg’s rejection of tonality without considering what in music was previously found pleasing. And it introduces us to some of the most beautiful music ever written.

The 1960’s symphony audiences were frequently treated to variations on a three-piece program: two great pieces from the standard repertory—Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss—and a third, by a “contemporary” composer, which would be nothing less than cacophonous ugliness. New listeners might have wondered, “Is this really music?” and “Why is anybody listening to this?”, yet even prestigious magazines like Gramophone or (the now-defunct) Musical America always found something to praise. At the time, it seemed senseless that composers no longer wrote beautiful music, or that we somehow already knew the names of all great composers.

Many complained, but Robert Reilly, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, did something. Starting in 1995, his Crisis Magazine monthly columns reviewed hundreds of recordings featuring ignored or forgotten composers, past and present, and included the occasional interview, such as with composers David Diamond and Gian Carlo Menotti. Surprised by Beauty, a selection of these columns, first appeared in 2002. The present “revised and expanded” edition, co-written with journalist Jens F. Laurson, far exceeds the earlier book’s achievement. Doubled in size, the new book updates previous entries and adds chapters on 40 additional composers. 

In Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, op. 1, Laurson finds a key to beautiful music:

What makes the difference between perceiving Berg’s Sonata as an early exercise in pantonalism and perceiving it as an achingly beautiful, wistful romantic statement saturated with the fleeting airs of Viennese coffeehouse atmosphere is the ability to keep the notes “in the air” and recall them when the notes that give them their proper context finally arrive.

When notes are heard in “their proper context,” music communicates through the ear to the mind and heart. I lost count of the times Reilly quoted composers emphasizing their desire to communicate with listeners rather than write to an established theoretical formula.

American George Rochberg was the first major composer to break with the subsidized serialism demanded by the academy, foundations, and orchestra leaders. A painful personal experience—the death of his son to cancer—elicited Rochberg’s decision to re-appropriate tonality: “It was a shock of a kind that necessitated a new sense of how I had to live the rest of my life…. It’s like taking on some sort of spiritual or moral obligation to perform at a level which is outside the bounds of the normal human. So, in a way…the Third [String] Quartet [1972] is really a declaration of that idea in music.”

Rochberg serves as a kind of touchstone for Reilly, because of the courage it took for the leading US composer of serial music to emerge from Schoenberg’s shadow. Rochberg wasn’t timid: “Modernism has done little to satisfy the hunger for the experience of the marvelous…. Whatever the art of this new epoch may be capable of, we can ask nothing better of it than to reveal once again, in new ways and images, the realm of the marvelous.”

Wonder is central to Surprised by Beauty’s purpose. Reilly helps us “recover the sacred in music.” The two essays that bookend the work, and six included interviews make this explicit. “Music is sacred,” he writes; its beauty “makes the transcendent perceptible.”

Most discussions of Surprised by Beauty have focused on these themes, and on Reilly’s claim that tonality’s rejection was intimately linked to artists and intellectuals’ loss of faith in the post-World War I world. Reilly substantiates this thesis with numerous quotations linking belief and art. Do Reilly’s unearthed correlations demonstrate causality? The reader’s own predisposition towards matters of faith will likely inform his answer to this question. But I congratulate Reilly for letting composers speak for themselves and letting his readers determine his argument’s truth.

Take, for example, composer John Adams, one of Reilly’s compositional heroes.  Adams learned in college that “tonality died somewhere around the time Nietzsche’s God died.” As with Rochberg, a powerful experience—the birth of his daughter in 1984—changed Adams’ view of tonality: “There were four people in the room, and then there were five.” Reilly modestly calls this a “metaphysical jolt,” but he could have gone further along philosophical and theological lines. Instead, he lets Adams, who emphasizes his music’s communicative aspect, speak for him: “The most important thing is the humanity of the message, the depth of the emotional experience.”

Reilly’s simple act of rescuing composers from obscurity is as valuable as his argument. It is only through their music’s beauty, after all, that we can determine whether “transcendence” or “wonder” are useful modern categories. When it comes to obscure composers, I’m no slouch—I was listening to Delius, Finzi, Korngold, Rubbra, and Braunfels long before their recordings began to multiply. But Surprised by Beauty could easily deplete my bank account.

Reilly reintroduces the musically literate to composers they likely already know—Argento, Arnold, Barber, Britten, Cage, Corigliano, Durufle, Elgar, Finzi, Górecki, Gould, Harris, Herrmann, Holmboe, Janacek, Korngold, Lajtha, Lauridsen, Malipiero, Martinu, Mathias, Martin, Nielsen, Pärt, Poulenc, Roussel, Rota, Sallinen, Sæverud, Schickele, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Schmidt, Schoeck, Simpson, Taneyev, Tippett, Tubin, Vaughn Williams, and Villa-Lobos.

But then there are the composers whose names are either unknown, vaguely recognizable, or slightly familiar—James Aikman, Stephen Albert, George Antheil, Richard Arnell, Charles Roland Berry, Walter Braunfels, Alfredo Casella, Einar Englund, Paul Fetler, Arthur Foote, Kenneth Fuchs, Hans Gal, Jack Gallagher, Stephen Gerber, Vittorio Giannini, Daniel Godfrey, Daron Hagen, Stephen Hartke, Jennifer Higdon, Stephen Jaffe, John Kinsella, Ian Krouse, Libby Larsen, Benjamin Lees, Jonathan Leshnoff, Lowell Liebermann, David Matthews, Franz Mittler, Ahmed Saygun, Alexander Tcherepnin, George Tsontakis, Geirr Tveitt, Gunther Raphael, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Peteris Vasks, Karl Weigl, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Eric Zeisl, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

For those composers who are unfamiliar, Surprised by Beauty provides starting points for listening and recommended recordings. The descriptions had me annotating page after page, to remind myself of the compositions I had to hear.

Imagine if half of the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the National Gallery’s modern art disappeared into a deep cellar where it could be seen by only a privileged few. For most of us, this was the musical landscape before Surprised by Beauty: half of the greatest music written since 1900 was virtually unknown. Serious musical literacy depends on this book receiving the largest possible circulation.