Top critical review
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on 13 June 2010
Mr. Cornwell acknowledges his debts to the works of Meriol Trevor and Fr. Kerr, which is quite right, since the narrative depends heavily upon those works. One wonders, however, quite what the fuss is about?
As with everything Mr. Cornwell writes is it well-written. Where he does add to his exemplars it is usually to the good: his comments about Newman's writings, especially his analysis of the Dream of Gerontius is well done. His more polemically inclined comments are, as one expects from Mr. Cornwell, designed to tweak the ears of the traditionalists, and no doubt some of the latter will come up to his expectations. It would be better for them to desist, as that would tend to obscure the book's nature. Very little of the space is taken up with polemic, and the reader wanting that will be disappointed.
Mr. Cornwell's comments about Newman and Ambrose St. John are actually more nuanced than some of the reviews in the press imply. He does not state, indeed he draws back from stating, that there was anything homosexual in it; if the impression is left that he thinks there may have been such undertones in it, that will no doubt spark protests from the careless reader, which can then be refuted by reference to the text; it is a good trick, and not the first time Mr. Cornwell has played it. He is more subtle and nuanced than his critics give him credit for.
The chapter on Dcn. Sullivan's miracle isn't, truth to tell, up to the standard of the rest of this, and he really adds nothing more than his own speculations which one can take for what they are worth - about the same as those of any one else.
In short, a decent and well-written run through a familiar story with a few asides to add a little frisson and a few sales. Those unfamiliar with Newman's story will find it a good enough place to start; those familiar with it won't find themselves going back to it often.