Edward SHORT, Newman and His Contemporaries. New York: T&T Clark International, 2011. pp. 530. $32.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-5670-2689-7. Reviewed by Ryan MARR, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO 63103 (firstname.lastname@example.org). The past couple of decades have witnessed the publication of several notable biographies of Blessed John Henry Newman. Given this wealth of material, up and coming scholars might wonder if any new ground on Newman’s life remains to be tilled. Edward Short’s recently published work, Newman and His Contemporaries, effectively demonstrates that there is, as long as one is willing to present Newman’s life from a unique perspective. Short’s monograph offers a fresh voice to the field by approaching the subject matter indirectly, namely, by looking at the impact that Blessed Newman had upon a number of his contemporaries. Not surprisingly, the book treats some of the usual suspects (e.g., John Keble, Edward Pusey, and William Gladstone), but the real value in Short’s research is his investigation of figures who are likely to receive only brief mention in a standard biography of Newman (e.g., William Makepeace Thackeray, Richard Holt Hutton, and Arthur Hugh Clough).
Perhaps most impressively, Short demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the relevant literature, navigating with ease both Newman’s writings as well as the published works and personal correspondence of Newman’s interlocutors. At various points in the monograph, Short also takes brief detours to engage some of the most important voices in contemporary Newman scholarship. By way of example, Short makes obvious his indebtedness to Ian Ker, especially to Ker’s landmark biography of Newman, while reserving a few words of harsh rebuke (see, e.g., pp. 6-7 and 322) for the late Frank M. Turner, whose 2002 work, John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion, pressed a revisionist history of Newman’s journey into the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, Short peppers his narratives with illuminating quotations from historical personages who are somewhat outside the orbit of Newman scholarship (e.g., Alfred North Whitehead, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, and Charles Dickens), which helps add further texture to the material.
If I were to offer a basic critique of Newman and His Contemporaries, it would be that some of the chapters seem to meander a bit. For the most part, Short does an excellent job of setting up the chapters, providing useful biographical context before delving into the specifics of Newman’s relationship to the figure(s) under investigation. Nevertheless, I thought a few of the chapters (for example, the chapter on Matthew Arnold or “Newman and the Female Faithful”) could have benefited from a more narratival framework. While all of the chapters are chock-full of important quotations and revealing anecdotes, in more than a few places Short could have done more to guide the reader along. It’s not that Short suffers as a writer—his prose is exceedingly readable; it simply felt like in some chapters that he was attempting to include all of the nuggets he had uncovered, rather than paring down the material for the sake of a tighter, more coherent presentation. Maybe the fault lies more in my level of concentration as a reader, but on several occasions I had to backtrack a few pages to regain a sense of the overall trajectory of the chapter I was reading.
This critique is a slight one, as, overall, I found Short’s monograph to be both impressive and also accessible. Initially, I considered adding a caution to this review that some readers might find themselves lost amidst the vast array of personages that populate the work; however, Short must have foreseen this potential problem, because he provides a select biographical index at the end of the work, which provides brief, but informative summaries of various individuals’ lives. Before concluding, it’s worth mentioning that while Short’s treatment of Newman could hardly be described as hagiographical, Short clearly possesses a great deal of admiration for the recently beatified Cardinal. In other words, those who are searching for a more critical treatment of Newman’s life—say, in the vein of Turner’s JHN: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion—will probably want to look elsewhere. On the spectrum of Newman scholarship, Short’s approach lands quite close to that of Ian Ker or Charles Stephen Dessain. I include this final remark not as a criticism, but merely to give potential readers an indication of the slant they will encounter if they choose to purchase Short’s monograph.