Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Shop Indie Bookstores

Morte D'Urban, J F Powers, Doubleday, 1962, 336 pp

I had not heard of this author before. I read the novel because it won the National Book Award in 1963. This award was created in 1950 and I have read all the winning books from then up through 1963. Many were great; some challenged my idea of what I consider a great novel. Morte D'Urban, the third novel concerning priests from my 1963 list, was a stand out.

Father Urban is quite a character. I am a bit hazy on how he became a priest. It was well explained in the novel but I just don't remember it that clearly. In any case, it was a rash decision that left him conflicted for the rest of his life, but he did his best to perform the role despite the lowly status of the religious order to which he belonged.

His intelligence, his grasp of worldly matters and his genuine love of people are what got him through. One of his duties is fund raising which entails plenty of humorous moments. The author, who wrote only Catholic fiction, seems to have been unusually clear eyed regarding the challenges of living a dedicated religious life in our materialist culture.

Now that I think about it, this conflict between the world and the priest is almost always a theme in any religious fiction I have read so apparently it is a known issue.

Morte D'Urban has a sorrowful ending and I could see it coming as I read. A sign of good fiction for me is that I become deeply invested in the protagonist's plight. That happened for me in this smartly perceptive novel about the life of a priest in mid 20th century America. 

It was the best of the three novels about priests in 1963, The Shoes of the Fisherman and Grandmother and the Priests being the other two.

I have now finished the Award Winners section of my 1963 list and am moving into the part of that list curated by me.

Here are the prize winners I read:
1.    PULITZER: The Reivers, Faulkner
2.    NEWBERY: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
3.     CALDECOTT: The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
4.    NBA: Morte D’Urban, J F Powers
5.    HUGO: The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick-
6.    EDGAR: Death and the Joyful Woman, Ellis Peters

(Morte D'Urban is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)



  1. Sounds like an interesting book to read, I have not heard of this author before either.

    I have not read many novels about the lives of priests... But would find it interesting to read more about the difficulties of being a priest in the modern world.

    On a similar note, back in 2009, I read a memoir written by a former nun titled 'The Scent of God' by Beryl Singleton Bissell, which I really enjoyed reading very much. Beryl Singleton Bissell chronicles her life as a nun and eventually falling in love and marrying a priest!! The following is a synopsis of her memoir from Publishers Weekly:

    "In 1957, 18-year-old Bissell entered the monastery of the cloistered order of the Poor Clares in New Jersey. At 33, after falling in love with a priest, she left. The memoir details Bissell's lifelong love affair with God and decade-long love affair with an Italian priest, Vittoria Bosca. The two wed once Bosca received a dispensation from Rome to leave the priesthood and had two children before he, 25 years her senior, died of cancer three years after their marriage. Bissell's intense desire to become a saint drew her to cloistered life, where the constraints of pre–Vatican II monasticism created a spiritual existence comprising prayer, work and self-mortification. Her forbidden attraction to Bosca resulted in several years of smoldering but unconsummated passion (despite lots of lusty kissing). He believed they could maintain a loving but chaste relationship as priest and nun; Bissell wanted more. She was shocked to find the Church willing to excuse their sexual relationship, yet disapproving of their marrying. Her memoir details monastic life, the lure of the protective cloister, the spiritual havoc wrought by Vatican II and the conflicts many Catholics have with tenets of their faith. This is a deeply moving tale of a woman torn between her love for God and her love for one of his emissaries."

    1. Thanks CR (I don't know your name, so I am calling you CR). I actually like nun stories better than priest stories, so.

  2. As you know, I'm very much into this topic. Maybe I'll read this one someday.

    1. It is a worthy addition to the topic!

  3. J.F. Powers? Never heard of him. Did he write other things? Guess I'll have to ask my friend Google. His book certainly seems to have given you pleasure so he must be (have been?) talented.

    1. As you will find on Google, he didn't write a lot. Mostly short stories, I think only a couple novels. But he had a big literary reputation back in the day. I went into it thinking, oh no, another priest story yet it did give me pleasure. It is a bit hard to find. I got a NYRB Classics reprint in paperback.