The Corner

Let Dons Delight

I was interested to see Father Rutler, my favorite Papist, recommend a Ronald Knox book on our Lenten Lit symposium. (How come I wasn’t asked to contribute? Er, never mind.)

I only ever read one book by Knox, but I enjoyed it very much. You need a decent background in English history, though. From a Knox website:

“LET DONS DELIGHT (1939) is probably Msgr.Knox’s greatest literary achievement. It is satire but also history. In the words of Robert Speaight in his literary biography, Ronald Knox, the Writer, ‘Where the weapon of satire is exaggeration, the virtue of history is exactitude. This is the way dons talk; this is the way they have always talked; these are the subjects they discuss; these are the kinds of men they are.’ It is also Knox’s farewell to the Oxford he had known and loved. The title references a pious rhyme, taught to all English boys, beginning ‘Let dogs delight to bark and bite for God hath made them so’. The literary device he employs is nothing short of brilliant: the scene is an Oxford Common Room at 50 year intervals, beginning in 1588. The topics of discussion vary according to historical context, the zealous young dons become elderly Provosts asleep by the fire, and by 1938 the extrusion of theology from academia is fully accomplished.”

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