Henry Morton Robinson THE CARDINAL
Henry Morton Robinson – THE CARDINAL
Well, I know nothing about this guy at all. I can tell you that THE CARDINAL was one of the first Reader's Digests Condensed Books, it appeared in the Autumn 1950 volume along with ROOSEVELT IN RETROSPECT by John Gunther, LONG THE IMPERIAL WAY by Hanama Tasaki, and the only volume I've vaguely heard of, YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN by Dorothy Baker (I think this was later a Frank Sinatra movie).
I can tell you it was the number one bestseller of 1950 and the number four bestseller of 1951, which is one hell of an impressive achievement as well as one hell of a cautionary tale – the height of literary fame and how many of you have heard of Henry Morton Robinson?
I can tell you it was later made into a minor Otto Preminger movie starring Tom Tryon (who we've talked about!) as the titular character. Haven't seen it.
I also have this odd fact for you – oddly it's one of the big facts in the short Wikipedia piece on him – Mr. Robinson died when he fell asleep in a hot bath. Not of drowning, mind, but complications afterwards of the resulting second and third degree burns.
Wow. I hate to laugh. But how hot was that damn thing?
As for the book itself – it's harmless. A slice of life novel depicting the inexorable rise of a poor Boston priest to the heights of the Vatican. The kind of novel where a lot of incidents occur but nothing much really happens: our hero's character, outside of a certain naivete that's fully sympathetically portrayed by the narrator until he learns The Real Deal, which is also fully sympathetically portrayed by the narrator, never really advances from where he begins. He starts out as a well-meaning good guy who's serious about his religion and, as far as I can tell (I didn't read the whole thing all the way to the finish) he ends it as a well-meaning good guy who's serious about his religion. It's written in an amiable sort of mushy style that's too bright and chipper to really be called “bad” or even get very angry about, just more evidence that the mediocre of the past was just better than the mediocre of today. (I'm not sure that THE CARDINAL has worn well, exactly, but you can read it without wincing. I'm not sure the same can be said of today's mass novel.)
I do not understand why it was so massively popular. Are there that many Catholics out there? Was it an instance of non-Catholics trying to understand Catholicism and this one came out at the right time? Was it the fact that it “tackled” -- Jesus, what does that word even mean? How about “tried to bring up” a lot of social phenomenon of the time like interfaith marriage and abortion? Would our hero have talked about women in the priesthood if the book had been set in present day America?
I don't think THE CARDINAL is going to tell you anything about Catholicism that you should really trust, and I'm leery anyway of books “that teach you things”, because who really wants that, honestly. If you want to learn about Catholicism go right to the source and talk to a couple of Nuns, they'll clue you in.
All that said there's nothing really wrong with it. It moves along at a chipper pace and while you won't really have any fun reading it, you won't exactly hate yourself in the morning, either. It's just kind of a generic experience. Call it “Book”.