''When I was a small child,"
writes Caryll Houselander in her book The Reed of God, "someone
for whom I had a great respect told me never to do anything that
Our Lady would not do; for, she said, if I did, the angels in
heaven would blush. For a short time this advice 'took' in me
like an inoculation causing a positive paralysis of piety. It
was clear to me that all those things which spelt joy to me were
from henceforward taboo blacking my face with burnt cork,
turning somersaults between props against the garden wall, putting
two bull's-eyes into my mouth at the same time-all that was over!
But even if I faced a blank future shackled with respectability,
it was still impossible to imagine Our lady doing anything that
I would do, for the very simple reason that I simply could not
imagine her doing anything at all.
''The inoculation of piety
wore off quickly, and so completely that when the sunset warmed
the sky over our tangled garden with a pink glow, I thought that
it must be the faint reflection of the rosy blush that suffused
"This would not be worth
recording but for one thing, namely, that the wrong conception
of Our Lady which I had is one that a great many other people
have, too; a very great many people still think of Our Lady as
someone who would never do anything that we do." Hence The
Reed of God, 1944 was written to contemplate the Blessed Virgin
Mary that we may imitate her.
In her book The Flowering Tree
(1945), the theme is the flowering of Christ in man. "The
idea that I have in mind," Miss Houselander says "is
that we are really part, as it were, of a vast rhythm and that
when we become more recollected we become more and more conscious
of it. It (tits two ways. We can, I think, cultivate recollection
by deliberately saying rhythms or poetry; and when we do this,
those thoughts expressed within us rhythmically are heard by
our minds in everything round us, even in the traffic in the
Strange to say it was the agnostic
George Spencer Bower, a barrister, who led her into the Catholic
faith. Anent this she wrote to Sister M. Angeline, S.S.N.D.,
"As a small child I used to stay with him for weeks on end
at his house in London, and during the law vacations he always
came to stay with his family in our house in Brighton. He was
a magnificent classical scholar, and lie made its children (I
have one sister) familiar with the ideas of Plato long before
we ever heard the word philosophy. He used to read Shakespeare
to me and then I had to act it to him! His ways were unconventional.
He took us to the theatres, and when he was pleading in a big
case he took me, if I was in town, to the courts with him. I
sat at the back making dreadful drawings of the judge, and in
court I wrote the first poem that I ever wrote with my hand-a
eulogy to him. Incidentally, or perhaps I should say above all
I owe the fact that I am a Catholic to him. He was an agnostic
and though he so admired the Catholic Church that he longed to
be a Catholic, he never did in fact receive the gift of faith,
But he influenced my mother to have us brought up as Catholics
We were received into the Church as small children, and for some
time remained the only Catholics in the family. Though later
my mother became one, no other members of the family ever did.
I think the fact that I owe my own faith to an agnostic and learned
to love it very largely from him in early childhood, has given
mime a respect, even reverence for the spiritual experience of
people outside of the Church, and I am always ready to he grateful
for the grace of their good example.
Miss Houselander was educated
at the French Convent of Out Lady of Compassion in Olton, Warwickshire,
England. Her two last years at school were spent at the English
Convent of the Holy Child, St. Leonard's Sussex. During 1945
she worked in an advertising office, and did layout for advertisements,
being skillful with her hands. She likes to draw with pencil
and chalk. Her illustrations appear in many books, her latest
being Joan Vindlsani's New Six O'Clock Saints. In 1936 she drew
the pictures for the book A Retreat with St. Ignatius in Pictures
for Children by Reverend Goeffrey Bliss, S.J.
She prefers carving to painting
and is planning to carve crucifixes for a Belgian firm.
Much of her spare time was
devoted to occupational therapy for the benefit both of child
refugees from the Continent, whose nerves had been jarred, and
shell-shocked soldiers, in the war.
She is the author of This War
is the Passion (1943), and is co-author
with Maisie Ward of This Burning Heat (1941).
published by St. Mary's Abbey in Catholic Authors 1947.
Written by Matthew Hohen.