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Issue Date:  May 20, 2005

By Myles Connolly
Loyola Press, 126 pages, $11.95
Meeting Mr. Blue

A novel takes as its focus a brave and happy man


Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue was originally published in 1928. With its reissue as part of the Loyola Classics series, new readers have the opportunity to meet J. Blue, “the happiest man in the world.”

This short novel tells Blue’s story through an unnamed narrator, a skeptical, reluctantly admiring acquaintance. Blue is a young man of obvious idealism and religious enthusiasm who speaks with wonder about saints, the Bible and the Incarnation. “God himself, the God to whom this whole universe-specked display is as nothing, God himself had hands like mine and feet like mine, and eyes, and brain, and ears!”

The novel is spared from becoming a series of breathless religious speeches by its cinematic flavor and vivid descriptions of color and urban scenery. In one lengthy passage, Blue narrates in absorbing detail his idea for a movie about the Second Coming of Christ, cast as a struggle between the International Government of the World, a brutal technological dystopia, and the last Christian, a priest “keeping his promise to bring God back to earth” by saying Mass “in the citadel of the Antichrist.”

Mr. Connolly is not subtle in suggesting Blue’s similarity to St. Francis. Upon inheriting $2 million from a cousin, he “bought three or four palatial houses and filled them full of run-down servants.” It doesn’t take Blue long to give the money away, having recognized it as a “trial set me by my Lady Poverty.” He ends up living in the attic of a Boston rooming house, furnished with “one bed with straw sticking out of the mattress, one chair, and an oil stove” and, behind a screen, a “brutal, bare cross” where “the erstwhile gay and gallant Blue” prays to know his vocation.

Blue is an attractive but difficult character whose self-reliance precludes deep personal relationships and whose inability to compromise or indulge in mediocrity makes him an elusive challenge to his friends. Mr. Connolly’s device of using an unnamed narrator is an effective one, especially because he is a foil for Blue’s idealism. “Business, I believe, is the backbone of our civilization, business regulated and run with the cooperation of science. That, I think, is my vocation. I want to make a great deal of money.” Blue, in contrast, wants nothing more than to embrace the cross, “the gift God gives his friends.”

The tone of the novel becomes more sober as Blue understands his vocation is to be an evangelist to the “derelicts of modern civilization” in order “to bring them the story [of Christ] that they would never heed elsewhere.” This means that he must become poor himself and “live with the downtrodden and the shiftless in charitable institutions. He would sleep out in the parks and in the fields when the weather allowed it. He would live in the worst of hovels and in the most repulsive of slums.”

“I can understand the poverty that dwells in cloisters and refectories,” the narrator says, “but the poverty that strangles one at night when a relentless blizzard is piling up death in the dark slums of a great city is a poverty beyond my affection. But to such poverty Blue went like a man to his love.”

Their last visit takes place in the ward of a city hospital where Blue is being treated for injuries sustained while saving a friend about to be hit by a car. The narrator explicitly revises his earlier, worldly judgment (“Blue, I’m afraid, was not marked out for success”) with a recognition of Blue’s genuine, heroic faith. “Here he was, happier and braver than ever because heaven had slipped him a large allotment of suffering. If that man was not a living demonstration of faith, no man was.”

In his introduction, Jesuit Fr. John Breslin suggests that Mr. Connolly was influenced by G.K. Chesterton’s understanding of Christian orthodoxy as a “glorious balancing act,” not a “straitjacket that stifled Christian theology.” On the scaffold of Catholic doctrine -- Incarnation, reliance on the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and, inevitably, an encounter with crucifixion -- Mr. Connolly composes a parable about a man whose “faith did not transform things: it made him see things.”

Mr. Blue is not a great work of art, but it is quite wonderful that in this short book, Myles Connolly has written what is essentially the early 20th-century American equivalent of St. Augustine’s hymn to that Beauty, “ever ancient, ever new.” What happens to Blue in this book is the same thing that happened to St. Augustine: God broke through his deafness and put his blindness to flight and now he is inflamed with love of God’s peace. It is a peace that the world cannot give, and in embracing his cross, Blue leaves the logic of the world while remaining a witness to it. Seeing Blue in the hospital, the narrator feels cleansed “of the cynicism and skepticism that settled like dirt on my mind.” Meeting him in the pages of this novel can do the same for the reader.

Rachelle Linner, a librarian and writer, lives in Boston.

Loyola Press reissues Catholic classics

Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue, with an introduction by Jesuit Fr. John Breslin, and Rumer Godden’s In this House of Brede, with an introduction by Phyllis Tickle, are the first two releases in Loyola Press’ new series, Loyola Classics. The series will reprint previously out-of-print 20th-century Catholic novels in attractive, modestly priced ($10 to $15) editions. Eight books a year will be released as part of the series.

The general editor of the series, writer Amy Welborn, defines a Catholic classic as “a work, either popular or literary in tone that is well-written within the context of its genre and had an impact on the reading public and the conversation among Catholics when it was released.”

“We hope to reach folks who read these books when they were originally released as well as younger readers who are looking for spiritually resonant fiction,” Welborn said. To this end, each book has an introductory essay and discussion questions to facilitate book groups.

Other 2005 releases include Helena by Evelyn Waugh, with an introduction by George Weigel; Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis, with an introduction by John Michael Talbot; and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? by John R. Powers, with an introduction by Tom McGrath.

-- Rachelle Linner

National Catholic Reporter, May 20, 2005

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