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NEW: Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile
Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays
The Quest for Shakespeare
Biography of Joseph Pearce
Books by Joseph Pearce published by Ignatius Press
Ignatius Critical Editions, edited by Joseph Pearce
Book Excerpts and Interviews

NEW! Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile
by Joseph Pearce

Also available as an Electronic Book Download

Revised, Expanded Edition

Based on exclusive, personal interviews with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Joseph Pearce's biography of the renowned Russian dissident provides profound insight into a towering literary and political figure.

From his pro-Communist youth to his imprisonment in forced labor camps, from his exile in America to his return to Russia, Solzhenitsyn struggled with the weightiest questions of human existence: When a person has suffered the most terrible physical and emotional torture, what becomes of his spirit? Can science, politics and economics truly provide all of man's needs?

In his acclaimed literary and historical works, Solzhenitsyn exposed the brutality of the Soviet regime. Most famous for his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and his three-volume expose of the Russian police state, The Gulag Archipelago, he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970.

Solzhenitsyn's Christian faith deeply informed his response to the inhumanity of modern materialism as it took shape in twentieth- century Russia. His critique applies not only to Communism, however, but also to the post-Christian capitalism now dominant in the West. On the spiritual, cultural, and socio-political level, his writings still have much to teach the world.

This book also contains a gallery of rare photographs.

"The publication of this updated version of Joseph Pearce's biography of the great Russian writer is most welcome, indeed. With impressive clarity, Pearce conveys the fullness of a life lived at the service of freedom of the will and service to the truth. Where other critics and biographers have lamented Solzhenitsyn's departure from the modern progressive consensus, Pearce allows Solzhenitsyn to speak for himself. He presents an evocative portrait of a "pessimistic optimist" whose final words are catharsis and hope. The four new chapters in this edition give a good sense of the range of Solzhenitsyn's concerns during the last decade of his life and will correct many misunderstandings."
-Daniel J. Mahoney, Author of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent From Ideology  

"Pearce has grasped with great insight the spiritual core of Solzhenitsyn's achievement as a writer, and indeed as a prophet to Russia and the world. He writes with warm sympathy for Russia's greatest literary voice in modern times."
-David Aikman, Author, Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century

"Joseph Pearce is best on what matters most about Solzhenitsyn: the centrality of the author's Christian faith. It is no wonder that Solzhenitsyn chose to . . . provide Pearce with fresh information. Newcomers to Solzhenitsyn should start with this biography. They will find here a highly readable rendition of one of the most sensational lives of the twentieth century."
-Edward E. Ericson Jr., Author, Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World

Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays

Through Shakespeare's Eyes (E-Book) -- Downloadable eBook

Fulfilling the promise he made in his previous book, The Quest for Shakespeare, bestselling literary writer Joseph Pearce analyzes in this volume three of Shakespeare's immortal plays--The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and King Lear--in order to uncover the Bard's Catholic beliefs.

In The Quest for Shakespeare, which has been made into an EWTN television series, Pearce delved into the known biographical evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism. Here the popular and provocative author digs into the plays, which were written and first performed during the English crown's persecution of Catholics. English history and literature were taught for generations through the prism of English Protestantism. Of late both of these fields have been dominated in universities and academic presses by modern scholars with filters and interpretations of their own.

Though the evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism has been studied before now, thanks, in part, to the unique contribution of Joseph Pearce, the Bard's genius is being analyzed in the open air of the public arena, the very place where Shakespeare intended his dramas to entertain and edify.

"What more is there to be said about William Shakespeare? Yet the supply of books on the great dramatist is never ending. Now, however, there is a new reason for this supply. The religion of Shakespeare, and specifically his Catholicism, is now recognized as a 'hot topic'." -- Peter Milward, S.J., Shakespeare scholar and author, Shakespeare the Papist

The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome

Highly regarded and best-selling literary writer and teacher, Joseph Pearce presents a stimulating and vivid biography of the world's most revered writer that is sure to be controversial. Unabashedly provocative, with scholarship, insight and keen observation, Pearce strives to separate historical fact from fiction about the beloved Bard.

Shakespeare is not only one of the greatest figures in human history, he is also one of the most controversial and one of the most elusive. He is famous and yet almost unknown. Who was he? What were his beliefs? Can we really understand his plays and his poetry if we don't know the man who wrote them?

These are some of the questions that are asked and answered in this gripping and engaging study of the world's greatest ever poet. The Quest for Shakespeare claims that books about the Bard have got him totally wrong. They misread the man and misread the work. The true Shakespeare has eluded the grasp of the critics. Dealing with the facts of Shakespeare's life and times, Pearce's quest leads to the inescapable conclusion that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic living in very anti-Catholic times.

Many of his friends and family were persecuted, and even executed, for their Catholic faith. And yet he seems to have avoided any notable persecution himself. How did he do this? How did he respond to the persecution of his friends and family? What did he say about the dreadful and intolerant times in which he found himself? The Quest for Shakespeare answers these questions in ways that will enlighten and astonish those who love Shakespeare's work, and that will shock and outrage many of his critics. This book is full of surprises for beginner and expert alike.

"Joseph Pearce writes piercingly brilliant books. This is one of them. He usually writes dramatic biographies. This is not one of them. It is not a biography and it is the least dramatic book he has written. But it is also the most important one. To see its importance, try the following thought-experiment. Imagine a book that convincingly proved that Homer was a Jew, or that Milton was a lapsed Catholic, or that Dante was a proto-Protestant. The idea would have far-ranging consequences. It would cast a new light on everything we knew about Homer, or Milton, or Dante. In his next book Pearce will trace the consequences of Shakespeare's Catholicism in his plays. In this book, he proves it historically. I mean proves it. (Pearce would make a formidable lawyer.) The evidence is simply overwhelming." - Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., Boston College, Author, Summa of the Summa

"I've long suspected that there was a deep Catholic sensibility in the plays of Shakespeare--an emphasis on man's powerlessness without grace, yet also an openness to the sacramentality of nature, and to the energetic work of dutiful yet often mistrusted or despised servants. Pearce shows that Shakespeare himself was such a dutiful servant, ever dutiful to the Queen, but to God first. He does not leap to conclusions, but builds a case that is meticulous, reasonable, and convincing." - Anthony Esolen, Ph.D., Providence College Professor of Renaissance English

Read more praise for The Quest for Shakespeare
Visit the book's website
Will the Real Shakespeare Please Stand Up? | The opening chapter of The Quest for Shakespeare
Read an interview with Joseph Pearce about Shakespeare and the Ignatius Critical Editions series

Joseph Pearce | From East London skinhead to internationally-known Catholic author

Twenty-five years ago he was a radical activist, a skinhead, and the editor of two hate-filled, extremist magazines. Today, Joseph Pearce is the author of several critically acclaimed, best-selling biographies of great nineteenth- and twentieth-century Christian authors. He is also the co-founder and co-editor of an international magazine dedicated to reclaiming Catholic culture, and writer in residence and director of the
Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Journey From Anger to Joy

The journey from angry agnosticism to joyful Catholicism was long and often harrowing. Pearce was raised in a staunchly anti-Catholic, nominally Protestant home in East London. By the time he was a young teen in the 1970s, he was an agnostic neo-fascist. "I was fanatical," he states matter-of-factly, "and imbibed racism" due to his hatred of the Asians moving into his neighborhood. Bitter about the economic inequality around him, Pearce rebelled against globalism and neo-Marxism — the two popular alternatives of the time — and devoted himself to the ideology of neo-fascism.

By the time he reached his early twenties, Pearce had been imprisoned twice for editing magazines of the radical right wing group National Front. His love of reading was a light during this dark and turbulent time, a light that eventually led him out of the "Faustian pact" he had made with extremist politics. Convinced there existed an alternative to both capitalism and Marxism, Pearce stumbled across a book titled The Well and the Shallows, written by the renowned English journalist and Catholic apologist G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).

At the time, Pearce (still a non-believer) was a member of a Protestant secret society opposed to "papism." Despite his hatred of the Catholic Church, Pearce was fascinated by the economic system of distributism outlined by Chesterton in his essay "Reflections on a Rotten Apple." Distributism advocates private ownership, small communities, agrarianism, smaller government, and the equitable distribution of goods and services within a society. Two of its most famous proponents were Chesterton and his close friend Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953). Pearce was soon fascinated by Chesterton’s arguments and couldn’t find fault in his logic.

Initially interested only in Chesterton’s views on politics and economics, Pearce eventually found himself reading Chesterton’s arguments on behalf of the Catholic Church and his defense of orthodox Christianity. "I fell in love with the personality and spirit of G. K. Chesterton," he explains, "I began to embrace his philosophy of gratitude. Reading his books, especially his novels, was part of a ten year healing process." One day, the nineteen-year old Pearce was visited by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. On a lark, he pretended to be a devout Catholic. Using Chesterton’s arguments, he befuddled the visitors and further awakened himself to the possibility of the truth of the Catholic faith.

Arm Wrestling With the Truth

The 1980s were "an arm wrestle" between Pearce’s political beliefs and his growing attraction to the Catholic Church. Catholicism would finally get the "upper hand" in the mid-80s. The turning point came in 1985 during his second incarceration. "I was teetering on the brink," Pearce explains. "When I was asked by the authorities what my religion was, I told them I was Roman Catholic—even though I wasn’t. It was there in prison that I began to attend Mass for the first time in my life. Someone sent me a rosary and I found myself fumbling with it, unsure of how to pray the rosary, but doing so despite my ignorance."

Pearce’s only prior experience with Mass was attending a Catholic wedding as a nine-year-old. He had attended other weddings at Anglican churches, but those buildings had always struck him as "empty shells," despite being very beautiful and often superior architecturally to the Catholic churches. But the Catholic church he visited as a young boy was "different—there was something there. It was the Real Presence of the Eucharist working on me, even without my knowledge of it." The road to the Savior and His Church was filled with numerous obstacles, but Pearce came home safely. In 1989 he entered the Catholic Church of Our Lady, Mother of God, in Norfolk, north of London.

Pearce’s affection for Chesterton and his frustration with the many attacks made on him by current day scholars led him to write Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (Hodder and Stoughton, 1996 /Ignatius Press, 1997). Many reviews of the book by secular journalists were harsh and condescending, mostly due to a clear bias against the forthright Catholicism of both Pearce and his subject. Some reviewers scoffed at Pearce’s lack of scholarly credentials and his background in radical politics. But Chesterton scholars welcomed the book, and many, including Aidan Mackey of the Chesterton Study Centre, praised it as the finest biography of Chesterton since Maisie Ward’s Gilbert Keith Chesterton (Sheed and Ward, 1944).

In an interview with Gilbert! magazine shortly after the book’s publication, Pearce stated, "Chesterton is by far the most important individual figure in my leaving behind bad and wrong ideas and in my approach to Christianity. He is by far the most important single figure in my conversion. . . . Through Chesterton I obviously developed an interest in religion and have subsequently read lots of other books by various people, but he was the initial person that sparked an interest, and throughout the whole period of about the decade it took from the reading of The Well and the Shallows in 1980 until I became a Catholic in 1989, it is Chesterton, his work, his writing, and his thoughts that accompanied me closest."

The Birth of Best-Selling Catholic Literary Biographies

Although Wisdom and Innocence did not sell well in England, the response in America was very positive. Other biographies soon followed: Tolkien: Man and Myth, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Old Thunder: A Life of Hillaire Belloc, and, most recently, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. In 2000, Pearce’s ambitious Literary Converts was published; it is a masterful work combining biography, literary history, and the stories of numerous conversions. It weaves together the lives of great Catholic and Anglo-Catholic writers such as Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Ronald Knox, Malcolm Muggeridge, Graham Greene, Hilaire Belloc, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot, and Tolkien, and traces the influences and relationships among them.

Other works include a novel, The Three Ys Men (1998), Small is Still Beautiful (2001), a reflection on the work of economist E. F. Schumacher, and Tolkien: A Celebration (2001), a collection of essays edited by Pearce. Another recent work is C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (2003), which examines the relationship between the famous Anglo-Catholic author and apologist and the Catholic Church.

One of the goals of his work, Pearce emphasizes, is to show how the Christian beliefs of men such as Chesterton and Tolkien informed their views about everything: politics, social ills, literature, and family life. "Deconstructionism attempts to separate the lives and beliefs of these authors from their work. This is simply literary relativism." Pearce insists, "Tolkien couldn’t have written The Lord of the Flies, nor could William Golding have written Lord of the Rings. The Catholic dimension is a key part of my biographies." Whether readers realize it or not, books such as Lord of the Rings influence their view of Catholicism, God, and reality.

Pearce is convinced that good literature must play a key role in the conversion of individuals and the renewal of culture. "Any story told with a good heart contains fragments of the truth, without consciously intending to do so. Good literature gives us truth in beautiful language." While most people won’t read books of theology and philosophy, almost everyone loves a good story, especially when told with truth, beauty, and honesty. "People will fall in love with the mood conveyed by a great writer," says Pearce. "We live in a world of mystery and we need to see the world with fresh eyes. That is what great literature will do."

This focus on literature as a force for cultural and religious renewal is evident in the international magazine Saint Austin Review (StAR), which Pearce co-edits. Published by Saint Austin Press, StAR features authors such as Fr. Aidan Nichols, Fr. James Schall, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and Dr. Janet Smith. Dedicated to "reclaiming culture," each issue focuses on a specific theme; past topics include "Hollywood and the Culture War," "The Lord of the Rings," "Return to Aquinas," and "Decadence and Conversion." Pearce hopes that StAR can be a part of a Catholic literary and cultural revival similar to the "golden age" of Catholic literature that began with John Henry Newman in the 1840s and lasted until the 1960s. Considering where he was twenty years ago and what he has accomplished over the last decade, there’s little doubt that Joseph Pearce and his work will be reviving and reclaiming Catholic culture for many years to come.

(This article has been modified from a piece that appeared in volume 6.5 of Envoy Magazine. Used with permission from Envoy Magazine.)

Ignatius Press books by Joseph Pearce:

Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays
The Quest for Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon and the Church of Rome
Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse (editor)
Literary Giants, Literary Catholics
Tolkien: Man and Myth
Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc
Literary Converts
Tolkien: A Celebration
C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church
Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton
The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde

Ignatius Critical Editions, edited by Joseph Pearce:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Excerpts, and Interviews:

• The Soul of Solzhenitsyn | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
• Digging Into the Bard's Beliefs | Audio Interview with Joseph Pearce
The Misunderstood Monster | From the Introduction to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Ignatius Critical Editions, 2008)
Will the Real Shakespeare Please Stand Up? | The opening chapter of The Quest for Shakespeare
Fr. Joseph Fessio and Joseph Pearce Talk About Shakespeare | A video interview (Sept. 8, 2008)
Modern Art: Friend or Foe? | An excerpt from Literary Giants, Literary Catholics
The Power of Poetry | Interview with Joseph Pearce about Flowers of Heaven: One Thousand Years of Christian Verse | January 2006
Escape From Puritania | An Excerpt from C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church | December 2005
The Measure of Literary Giants | An Interview with Joseph Pearce | June 2005
Chesterton and Saint Francis | By Joseph Pearce | May 2005
Evangelizing With Love, Beauty and Reason
| An Interview with Joseph Pearce | May 2005
The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde | An Interview with Joseph Pearce | July 2004
Interview with ZENIT news agency (June 17, 2004)


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