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Katie Fitzgerald reviews Joseph Pearce’s new essay collection, Twelve Great Books.

Twenty years ago, as an undergraduate English major at a college that at that time was known as one of the American campuses most likely to ignore God, I was introduced to many interpretations of great works of literature that were mired in subversion and depravity and few if any that were illuminated by the light of Christ. Therefore, for me, Joseph Pearce’s new book from Ignatius Press, Twelve Great Books: Going Deeper into Classic Literature, is a gift and a balm.


Twelve Great Books


In this volume, Pearce collects his essays on four Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, and Macbeth), and eight other books including St. Augustine’s Confessions, Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, and Brideshead Revisited. A philosophical introduction explains the criteria by which these books were judged to be “great” and provides a definition of “civilization” that ties the essays together with their common goal of recognizing books that are not just literary triumphs, but also worthy companions on a Christian journey. 

The essays vary in length, but all can be read in a single sitting, and they can be read in any order. The essays seem to assume a reader that is familiar with the classic works of literature being discussed, so there are plot summaries and spoilers in some cases. For me, while the essays on the books I had read were the ones I appreciated more deeply, there was much to be gleaned from the essays on the ones I haven’t read, and any spoilers given did not deter my interest in picking them up at some future date. 

The truly remarkable thing about these essays is the way they swiftly disabused me of blatant falsehoods I had been taught about these books and their authors. Pearce is not afraid to take on the insidious fascination secular academia has with looking for skeletons in authors’ closets, and with reimagining classic books to suit contemporary agendas. I felt an unexpected sense of relief at being exorcized of my corrupt and incomplete understanding of these books, and immense gratitude to Joseph Pearce for reinforcing the Christian understanding the authors of these titles would have had of their own works. 

Twelve Great Books is a wonderful read for moms who love reading the classics and enjoy literary analysis. It’s also a great resource for homeschooling families, both as a collection of books to teach and as an example of how to write excellent scholarly essays from a Catholic perspective. It would also be a wonderful title to read and discuss in a book club that reads a lot of classic literature and wants to dive a bit deeper.

Ask for Twelve Great Books at your local Catholic bookseller, or order online from Amazon or Ignatius Press.



Copyright 2023 Katie Fitzgerald
Images: Canva