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Passion Partners

Passion Partners

The Piety of George Mackay Brown & Gerard Manley Hopkins

By Alison Gray

326 pp

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About the Book

Passion Partners is based on a postgraduate study on Gerard Manley Hopkins by the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown at Edinburgh University in the 1960s that has only recently become accessible at the National Library of Scotland after purchase at auction in 2018. “Passion Partners” refers to the medieval liturgical fragment from the primers so popular with the laity: “Grant that I may carry within me the death of Christ, make me a partner in his Passion, let me relive his wounds.” And indeed, this book explores the godliness of Mackay Brown and Hopkins as just such “partners” in the Passion of Christ. Catholics they may both be, but they both were keenly aware that it is by their artistic sense that they would be judged as writers in the end. From the “Pied Beauty” of the “Greenfields Kirk” to the “Theological Blades,” the illuminated threnody of the Hopkins–Mackay Brown partnership takes us on a journey deep into the Fornaldarsǫgur of the North Atlantic.


“This ambitious study explores the poetic craft of George Mackay Brown and Gerard Manley Hopkins, showing how they allow something ‘other’ to disclose itself through their work. Alison Gray elicits their vision of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of existence ‘that was music to the heart, mind and soul’ of their readers. She shows how both writers, absorbed as they were in the patterns of the natural world, sought a reintegration of the created realities they experienced in time, raising and relating them to a higher reality beyond time. And it was John Henry Newman who gave them the confidence and courage to do this. This is a book intent on making connections.”—HUGH GILBERT, OSB, Bishop of Aberdeen, Scotland

“The distinguished poet and novelist George Mackay Brown was raised in the strongly Protestant world of Orkney, a cluster of islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. But as a child he was restless and unhappy sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings, and as an adult he quietly converted to Roman Catholicism. There have been earlier treatments of the religious aspects of his writings, but in this book Alison Gray offers a more detailed and subtle account of his spiritual development, particularly in relation to the similar pattern recorded in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry.”—WILLIAM S. PETERSON, University of Maryland

“This work explores the theological infrastructure of the poetic sensibilities of George Mackay Brown and Gerard Manley Hopkins, especially MacKay Brown’s adoption of Hopkins’s theory of the individuating principle: inscape and instress, individuation or haecceitas or ‘this-ness’ and the richness of formalitas. The author thereby offers a reading of the sacramental imagination of the pair that is more Scotistic than Thomistic, and she also situates MacKay Brown within the Ignatian tradition, noting the influence of pre-Conciliar era Jesuits on his Catholic spiritual formation. For all those who admire Manley Hopkins and Mackay Brown or who simply take an interest in the Catholic literary world, this work is jam-packed with revelations into the affinity of the pair.”—TRACEY ROWLAND, University of Notre Dame (Australia)

About the Author

ALISON GRAY knew George Mackay Brown personally; hence her deep interest in his work and in the theme of Christianization of the North Atlantic. She received her doctorate on John Henry Newman and taught for many years in Catholic education in London. She has previously published Circle of Light: The Catholic Church in Orkney Since 1560 and George Mackay Brown: No Separation. Originally from New Zealand, she lives in Orkney and is a Benedictine Oblate attached to Pluscarden Abbey in Morayshire.

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