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.

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.

Buckley’s ‘Republic of Virtue’ Chronicles America’s Fight for Integrity

Deal W. Hudson
December 18, 2017

Frank Buckley, a law professor at the Scalia School of Law at George Mason University, has written an extraordinary book that deserves to find a wide readership and, hopefully, to wield considerable influence on the future of U.S. politics. Why such large claims? Simply put, “The Republic of Virtue” pinpoints and clarifies the issue of political corruption responsible for the widespread confusion, frustration, and growing cynicism about the power of the presidency and the sadly comic mayhem exhibited by the Congressional branch of government.

What seems an impossible task is achieved by Buckley by skillfully weaving together seemingly disparate main narratives — the debates over the Constitution, the Clinton Foundation scandal, the corruption of the Mississippi judiciary, and the search for campaign finance reform. Several shorter narratives — the IRS persecution of Tea Party groups, the 1972 bribery trial of Sir Francis Bacon, and the 1976 Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, shed further historical light the issue of the corruption in American politics.

It’s interesting that Buckley relegated “corruption” to the subtitle of the book, giving pride of place to “virtue,” but his reason becomes apparent as he traces the self-conscious attempt of the Founders to write a Constitution that would avoid the corrupt practices that dominated the British political system. The end sought by the Founders was precisely a framing of what would become, “The Republic of Virtue.”

The word “virtue” throws many people off who immediately associate it with the Neo-puritan demands for men and women in politics who have never misstepped in matters either sexual or obedience to the demands of political correctness. The virtue the Founders had in mind both more simple to explain and reasonable to expect — to put the interests of the nation, its common good, ahead of personal interests such as money, power, and advancement. Republican virtue requires the sacrifice of self-interest to the good of the nation. The Founders took as the “ideal of Republican virtue” the founder of the Roman Republic (509 B.C..), Lucius Junius Brutus, who overthrew Tarquin the Proud but subsequently had two of his sons executed for attempting to restore the monarchy.

At the heart of his book, Buckley describes how the focus of the Constitutional Convention was to prevent “importing corruption” from the Britain they had rebelled against. Thus, they were determined not to have a strong presidency, a monarch-in-disguise. Thus, “Our government was designed to resemble a parliamentary regime, with the president selected by the House of Representatives or by electors exercising their own discretion.” Buckley argues for the superiority of a prime minister who must defend his government on a daily basis in a House of Commons, rather than a President who is nearly impossible to remove from office and are “relatively immunized from accountability.…”

This is not to suggest that the author, a Canadian by birth, is snootily anti-American — far from it. He points out that the final outcome of the Framers’ deliberation was masterful compromise between the competing faction of those wanting a powerful central authority — the Federalists — and those who wanted to preserve the power of the States. For example, when the Framers decided on “electors” it was assumed that presidential elections would end up in the House of Representatives where the president would be chosen, where an educated elite would make the final decision. This assumption preserved the kind of “filtration” process favored by James Madison and others would did not trust the unwashed and uneducated to elect a presently directly. “In essence, they [the Framers] thought they had agreed upon a Congressional elected president.”

Buckley lithely points out that the delegates could not have anticipated the broadening of voting rights to all adults, the direct election of Senators (17th Amendment), and the resulting choice of electors directly by the voters. The process of filtration was doomed without the delegates in Philadelphia knowing it, and as a result: “The Framers meant to produce a corruption-free government, but like a boomerang their Constitution flew back and hit us on the head.”

The growing power of the presidency, spurred by the introduction of the spoils system by Andrew Jackson in 1828, was not the only way the Constitution failed to meet its goal. The separation of powers itself, as Buckley argues, created a government susceptible to corruption “in ways the Framers would not have imagined,” for example, members of congress who are able to channel tax dollars to their local districts through “earmarks” Did you know, for example — I didn’t — that there over fifty Robert Byrd Centers “for This or That” in West Virginia? Earmarks are a way spending federal money without interference from the executive branch while buying the good will of voters for next election.

Interestingly, another result Buckley descries is “technological change and the rise of democracy broke down the electoral process that were expected to filter out ignoble politicians.” The author, as far as I can tell, does not tie this insight specifically to any of the further narratives; however, I see them closely connected to his discussion of bribes, “crony capitalism,” lobbying, and campaign finance through which money passes hands in exchange for political influence and, most of all, legislation.

What all these have in common are certain degrees of hiddenness, actions either deliberately secretive, hidden from view by legal means, or by the difficulty of tracing the paperwork. It’s commonsense, in my opinion, to think a person’s character, nobility or ignobility, is measured by what he or she will do when no one is watching or no one will find out (supposedly).

Buckley provides plenty of examples of financial corruption where large sums of money are taken by elected politicians in exchange for influence and legislation that will gain the buyer many times what was paid. But rather than spending much time of condemning these practices, he offers some very sensible suggestions for reform which could actually be done without causing further harm: 1) Require all political contributions be anonymous; 2) Restrict gifts from pay-for-play donors; and, bar certain donors from accepting positions in government and prohibit congressman and their staffers from becoming lobbyists after they leave government.

This gist of his argument, which I find compelling, is as follows: Actual anonymity would end the quid-pro-quo expectation between the donor and the politician. Donors groups such as government contractors should not be allowed to donate to the politicians who pass the appropriate bill, an obvious conflict of interest. Donors compete for various appointment goodies, such as ambassadorial posts which leads to wealthy but unqualified individuals representing the U.S. around the world, and former Congressmen and staffers are often influenced while in office by offers of employment in a lobby firm if they lose the next election or chose to “cash in” by stepping down.

“The Republic of Virtue” is a rich book, well-written, often humorous, and impossible to summarize in short review such as this. But as I said at the outset, Frank Buckley has put his fingers on what is alienating the American voters from politics, and he has offered both an explanation of what has happened and prescription for what needs to be done.

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