Knox, Knox (Knox, Knox), who’s there?

Image: Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (17 February 1888 – 24 August 1957)

James Fenton is an English poet, journalist and literary critic, and a former Oxford Professor of Poetry. (His father was Canon John Fenton, a biblical scholar.) On 27.05.06. he contributed Schools of Knox to the Books column of The Guardian, opening his article:

“Penelope Fitzgerald (see post of 19.3.20.) is well regarded as a patron saint of late developers: she published her first literary work, a ghost story for a competition, at 58, and her joint biography, The Knox Brothers, in 1977, at 60. Ten novels followed, but The Knox Brothers itself is very like a novel, in the sense that it gives a broad view of a family history told by what seems rather like an omniscient narrator.

The authority, certainly, of the voice telling the story is never in any doubt. One has to remind oneself from time to time of the reason for this – Fitzgerald is the daughter of the oldest of the brothers in question, and knew many of the characters she evokes very well indeed. She must have thought at the outset: nobody will want to read the story of four brilliant sons of a bishop, written by one of their daughters, unless it is done exceptionally well. Total self-effacement was one key tactic. Another was novelistic concision: this book has some complex issues to get across, but never for a sentence wastes your time.

Who were the Knox brothers? Monsignor Ronald Knox, the youngest, was the best known in his day, and his example and memory was still controversial in my Anglican childhood. He had “poped” – gone over to Rome – and become in his Catholic way rather the counterpart of CS Lewis as a popular Christian apologist. This was treachery, and it was a kind of treachery that any serious young Anglican might be expected at any time to commit, so the example of Ronald Knox was one that held a peculiar horror and attraction: he was, people said, the Cardinal Newman of his day…”

In The Book of Forgotten Authors (2017), Christopher Fowler closes his section on Ronald Knox:

“There’s an American literary society dedicated to Monsignor Knox, which places as much weight on his Catholic writing as his crime novels. Knox apparently rejected the notion of performing a baptism in the vernacular, arguing that “the baby doesn’t understand English and the Devil knows Latin”. That kind of attitude wouldn’t have washed in our house, where my mother, in between hiding her Georgette Heyers in the piano stool, would have voiced her low opinions of High Church.”.

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