Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Light Invisible

Robert Hugh Benson said that THE LIGHT INVISIBLE (1903) was the least favorite of his books. In CONFESSIONS OF A CONVERT Benson says that when he wrote THE LIGHT INVISIBLE, he was trying too hard to show the truths of religion and that the book was too sentimental and relied too much on mystical intuition rather than divine authority. Benson said that he thought his book RICHARD ROLLE SOLITARY was a much better book. Benson further comments that THE LIGHT INVISIBLE is more popular among Anglicans than among Catholics. However, I must agree with Hugh's brother Arthur who wrote that "The Light Invisible always seemed to me a beautiful book."

Published just before Benson's conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, THE LIGHT INVISIBLE consists of a series of related short stories. The story arch which links stories together concerns the visit of an un-named narrator to the country home of an elderly retired Anglo-Catholic priest. The priest has what is called in Eastern mysticism a "third eye." Throughout his life he has been able to see past the material world to the spiritual reality behind it. The old priest relates to his young visitor his experiences beginning in childhood. The stories continue throughout the priest's life. The last story narrates the priest's death.

Most of the stories illustrate some point of Christian theology. However, there is one story, The Traveler, which is a straight up ghost story. In the beginning, Benson's florid Edwardian style of writing can be somewhat off-putting, however, once you get used to it and become engrossed in the stories this no longer makes a difference. There is a reason why Benson was a very popular author in the early twentieth century. THE LIGHT INVISIBLE is very good fiction which is well worthy of our time.

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