Newman’s Unquiet Grave, by John Cornwell, Continuum, RRP£18.99, 272 pages
The beatification of Victorian churchman John Henry Newman is expected during the Pope’s visit to the UK later this year – and this for a man who had his grave filled with compost to speed the decomposition of his body and so leave no relics.
Newman may have been one of the foremost British theologians of recent times, but John Cornwell’s biography makes a case for his continued relevance outside the religious sphere. He cites Newman’s influence on James Joyce, who revered him as a stylist, even if his own trajectory was contrary to Newman’s – abandoning Catholicism where Newman famously “went over to Rome” in 1845.
The life is not short on religious intrigue or personal foibles, but Cornwell is best on Newman the writer, linking him to the Romantic poets before him, and even Nietzsche after. His treatise “Idea of a University” is surely required reading in today’s cost-cutting, vocationally minded climate.
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