The question of moral values in modern literature is one which confronts many earnest Christians who wish to keep abreast of contemporary art. All too often such people are left with furtive, semiapologetic feelings about their reading interests. That there is some value in contemporary fiction, poetry, or drama they may not doubt; but often the values remain only half-formulated or completely hazy. The problem, then, of a Christian approach to modern literature is worthy of consideration.
For example, suppose a Christian, knowing that William Faulkner is considered one of America’s greatest literary artists, desires to read, say, The Sound and the Fury. Beginning the book, he notices first of all a rather difficult style (this alone, unfortunately, is enough to stop many would-be readers of the modern authors). Persevering, he discovers coarse words and themes of sex, incest and lust. Often the result is either that he throws the book aside in disgust, or that he goes on reading because he is fascinated in spite of himself. Either result is lamentable. The usual remark, heard sometimes in academic, highly cultured Christian circles, runs something like this: “Faulkner certainly is brilliant stylistically; it’s just too bad he chose these poor subjects.”
Such readers obviously forget that the distinction between style and content is largely an artificial one; form and content are in essence inseparable.
If form is content, the position of praising the style of Faulkner and other moderns, particularly the naturalists, while deprecating their content, seems to need rethinking.
What, then, are some principles that should guide a Christian reader in his approach to modern literature?
In the first place, every book, poem, or play ...1
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