Literature and Poetry of the Twentieth Century

‘Poetry and literature’ is a rather flexible label which may stand for a range of topics in which we can draw upon published authors for source material. The approach to material will not be primarily one of literary or poetry criticism, but will be to discover and consider diverse subjects as treated by the authors, to learn from them, and to be stimulated by insights which go beyond our usual comprehension.

Universities obviously give attention to much of this; but even the humanities—the arts—now hold a less prominent place in the academic world. This forum will only be able to touch on a few selected topics, but the intention is to make opportunities for the literary arts to be a little more accessible and appreciated. Their being part of a continuum with theology and ethics should be evident, and connections to visual arts and aesthetics can be explored.

The GAPS forum is a place to share this, keep it alive, and enjoy it, albeit rather occasionally.

Media of reality and truth


Le Roman
Illustration from Le Roman de la Poire, Paris, c.1260–70.

As well as Charles Williams (see CHARLES WILLIAMS), the works of some twentieth-century authors are of particular interest. G.K. Chesterton is a masterful, trenchant writer. The literary criticism of C. S. Lewis is illuminating, and his poetry worth attention. Josef Pieper is a theologian-philosopher who orders and clarifies subjects germane to these forum topics. The plays, literary criticism, and theology of Dorothy L. Sayers are great. The poetry of Edith Sitwell seems to be unjustly neglected. These authors deal perceptively and authoritatively with profound matters of existence and purpose, of human and divine relations, of work, art, love and joy. Many of them also connect with medieval thought.

Some topics which might be the focus of future forums are ‘Romantic Theology’ (a phrase used by Charles Williams, and which is a compelling element in Dante’s works); ‘The Spiritual City’ (in the novels of Chesterton, Williams, and others); and ‘Human creativity’ (treated, for instance, by Dorothy L. Sayers).

The three novels mentioned below by ‘other authors’ are interesting in dealing with deep issues of love and marriage and questions raised by Christian beliefs.

G. K. Chesterton C. S. Lewis Josef Pieper Dorothy L. Sayers Edith Sitwell Charles Williams


G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936)

  • The Everlasting Man (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1925)
  • Orthodoxy (London: The Bodley Head, 1908)
  • St Thomas Aquinas (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1933)
  • Chaucer (London: Faber & Faber, 1932)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (novel) (1908)
  • The Napoleon of Notting Hill (novel) (London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1904)
  • The Collected Poems of Gilbert Keith Chesterton (London: Cecil Palmer, 1927)

C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)

  • The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936)
  • The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964)
  • Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966)
  • Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold—a novel (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956)
  • An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961)
  • A Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942)
  • Poems (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964)
  • Narrative Poems (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1969)

Josef Pieper (1904–97) (translated from German)

  • Love and Inspiration: A Study of Plato’s Phaedrus (London: Faber and Faber, 1965)
  • Happiness and Contemplation (London: Faber and Faber, 1959)
  • The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966 (1954))
  • Leisure the Basis of Culture, and The Philosophical Act (London: Faber and Faber, 1952)
  • In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity (Chicago: Franciscan Herald, (1963) 1973)
  • Introduction to Thomas Aquinas (London: Faber and Faber, 1963)

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957)

  • The Mind of the Maker (London: Methuen, 1941)
  • ‘The Zeal of Thy House,’ ‘The Devil to Pay,’ ‘He That should Come,’ ‘The Just Vengeance,’ in Four Sacred Plays (London: Gollancz, 1948)
  • The Emperor Constantine: A Chronicle (Play) (London: Gollancz, 1951)
  • Introductory Papers on Dante (London: Methuen, 1954)
  • The Poetry of Search and The Poetry of Statement, and Other Posthumous Essays on Literature, Religion and Language (London: Gollancz, 1963)

Edith Sitwell (1887–1964)

  • Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 1957)
  • I Live Under a Black Sun (novel) (London: Gollancz, 1937)
  • A Poet’s Notebook (London: Macmillan, 1943)
  • A Notebook on William Shakespeare (London: Macmillan, 1948)

Charles Williams (1886–1945)


Owen Barfield

  • Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry (London: Faber and Faber, 1957)
  • The Rediscovery of Meaning, and Other Essays (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1977)

Sylvia Ashton-Warner

  • Incense to Idols (novel) (London: Secker Warburg, 1960)

Jack Clemo

  • The Shadowed Bed (novel) (Tring: Lion, 1986)

G. A. Studdert-Kennedy

  • I Pronounce Them: A Story of Man and Wife (novel) (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1927)

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

  • Anecdotes of Destiny [incl. 'Babette's Feast'] (New York: Random House, 1958) 
GAPS ARTS Lectures


Dr Estelle Maré  •  7.00 pm, Sunday, 26 August, 2012

Twenty-two years ago Dr Estelle Maré published in South Africa an essay which is a most sensitive and beautiful study of the person and place of an artist. In this lecture we will be privileged to hear the subject presented by the author herself.

‘The main theme of Babette’s Feast, a short novel by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), is the interrelationship between religion and art in the lives of the main protagonists—but primarily in the life of Babette. From the way in which the author represents the circumstances and conduct of the main character, Babette, a talented cook, and to a lesser extent the fortunes and opportunities of others, concepts about the role and destiny of the artist are deduced.

The most important are that the artist knows himself but does not display himself; treasures his worth but does not exalt himself; is a servant, albeit never poor; that art implies the abundance of a feast which transforms man spiritually in a way that may be compared with the infusion of grace which a person may experience when partaking of the eucharist.’  —Estelle Alma Maré

  • Dr Estelle Maré, is Emeritus Professor of Art History of the University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria, and Research Fellow at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria. She earlier qualified and practised as an architect, and from 1980 has held university positions, travelled and lectured widely. She is editor of the South African Journal of Art History.


7.30 pm, Friday, 24 August, 2012

Babette's Feast

The novella is best known through the 1987 Danish film version set in Denmark, directed by Gabriel Axel.

It will be introduced by Dr Ivo Holmquist, Emeritus Professor of Scandinavian Literature, University of Ghent.

Come and enjoy a screening of this at GAPS on the Friday ahead of the lecture.


Dr John Lewis  •  7.00 pm. Sunday, 30 November, 2014

Edith Sitwell
Photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1962

It is 50 years since the death of Dame Edith Sitwell (11th December 1964)

Her earlier colourful and quirky poetry, and her unconventional performances and persona brought opposing responses, and the caricature of her as an eccentric (which she rather cultivated) became, and persists, in most people’s minds. She herself wrote a book titled The English Eccentrics.

The earlier poetry should not be disregarded, and in the transition to more obviously serious treatments of profound themes we can sense the importance of the whole oeuvre. In attending to the poetry from 1940 onwards, we will do well to put aside the image of her as an eccentric and somewhat fantastic figure—that distracts from what she has to say.

And she has much to say that speaks to individuals, society, and civilization, even today. Later poetry includes a set on ‘Poems for the Atomic Age’.

The title of this talk is taken from her one novel, I live Under a Black Sun. The image of the sun is one of many recurring figures, which have that sort of disturbing intensity.

I think we live now in the age of the terrible Furies …
        of the fallen suns, fallen Caesars and cities—
The brightness of air—the Nothing-country that has no chart
Like our world that is drifting to Nowhere.