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"Morte D'Urban" by JF Powers. Hilarious and Frustrating
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Author:  p.falk [ Tue Jan 26, 2016 5:08 pm ]
Post subject:  "Morte D'Urban" by JF Powers. Hilarious and Frustrating

I'm glad someone referred JF Powers to me. His humor is hilarious and his prose is easy to digest.
Like an American Evelyn Waugh, with a humor more suited for an American audience.

The main character Fr. Urban is an interesting guy. A worldly guy, and it's his worldliness, when it comes in contrast with the "smallness" and "simpleness" of the other priests he interacts with, that leads to some truly hilarious moments in the book.

But he's also frustrating.... or maybe it's just JF Powers.
At times these more simple priests are shown as honest, sincere, but misguided (at least misguided by comparison to the big ideas of Fr. Urban).... they come across as endearing. And it seems like that's Powers' intention. But other times, the narrator makes them almost seem like malicious foils to the aspirations of Fr. Urban.

Powers, through the thoughts of Fr. Urban has some pretty rough things to say about Bishop Fulton Sheen.
The retreat house that Fr. Urban finds himself at (in an unknown and uninteresting outland town in MN) gets the gift of a color tv set (the book was written in the mid 50s). It's a big deal at the Order's house.
Fr. Urban is reflecting on the impact that TV has for its viewers.... but, Urban's desires are for being on the TV, in the capacity of a worldly priest.
He thinks about the problems that a member of the clergy would have being on TV and says:

"The problem it posed was an old one: how to make what was generally accepted more acceptable, i.e., how to make an honest woman of a whore. Probably no one man could do it. Obviously, Bishop Fulton Sheen hadn't."

Maybe I'm reading too much into that. But, if you're saying that a priest has to try to be more sincere and less "whorish" with what he's doing (assuming he has that platform where he can reach thousands.... millions) on that medium.... and then you say that Sheen hadn't been able to do it.... well, 1+1 = .....

At times the narration seems much more graceful in the frustration. Other times it comes across as much more acerbic.

It's still a great read.

Author:  Obi-Wan Kenobi [ Tue Jan 26, 2016 6:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Morte D'Urban" by JF Powers. Hilarious and Frustrating

Ralph McInerney, who also liked Powers, said that it was rumored that Powers had inside sources among the priests of the diocese because he was so accurate in his portrayal of priests and of diocesan politics. It would not surprise me one bit to learn that there were plenty of clergy (in MN and elsewhere) who didn't like +Sheen.

Author:  p.falk [ Tue Jan 26, 2016 8:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Morte D'Urban" by JF Powers. Hilarious and Frustrating

Thanks for the reply, Fr.

The Powers must have a inconsistent relationship with his lead (Fr. Urban). Because there are times when he paints Fr. Urban in a pretty unflattering, very narcissistic light.


Regarding Bishop Fulton Sheen... I thought it was interesting that Powers listed him along side of Billy Graham and Oral Roberts, when he was talking about 'that' kind of religious person.

In the book it seems like there are separate religious orders (like Dominicans, Jesuits...etc) but named things like the Clementines and the Dalmatians; but then you'll have your parish priests (which don't appear to be a member of an order like these). And members of these orders will come out to the parishes to help cover duty for the parish priest.
is that pretty accurate? I mean, I know there are orders and I just assumed that every priest was a member of some order. But, there seems to be a distinction in this book.

Author:  Obi-Wan Kenobi [ Tue Jan 26, 2016 8:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Morte D'Urban" by JF Powers. Hilarious and Frustrating

I'm not a member of an order. I'm what's known as a "diocesan" or "secular" priest. The word "secular" is older but has fallen out of usage because of the negative connotations. Diocesan priests don't make a vow of poverty, among other things.

An author can be critical of his hero.

Author:  p.falk [ Tue Jan 26, 2016 8:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "Morte D'Urban" by JF Powers. Hilarious and Frustrating

Thanks for explaining that, Fr.

I understand that an author can be critical of his hero. I've read quite a bit of fiction and have seen it many times. But this is alittle different (and I don't doubt that it's intentional) but the affections to the main character (subtly expressed) do seem to be inconsistent at times.

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