Name:
Location: Wisconsin, United States

I am a convert to the Catholic Church after serving in ordained ministry for more than nine years in another denomination. I hold a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in historical theology, and another in systematic theology, and am currently working (very slowly) on my doctorate. I work in Christian Education and Formation and teach at the University level. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and eight great kids! When I'm not studying, reading, or blogging, I enjoy eating and drinking! Like Bilbo Baggins, I have been specializing in food for many years, and my table has a high reputation!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

SUBJECT: LITERATURE!!!!!!!

What do you make of Joseph Pearce?

Greetings and salutations to the stadium-sized crowd that follows this blog!

I have a question directed primarily at two groups:  my Catholic friends, and my English Literature friends -- realizing that there is a fair amount of overlap!

Joseph Pearce is an English author currently residing in the United States.  He is a convert to the Catholic Church, having formerly been active in a rather nasty white supremacist group in the UK prior to his conversion.  His specialty is, allegedly, English (and usually Catholic) literary biography.  He has been featured on EWTN; has published with Ignatius Press (a publishing house I greatly respect) and has an upcoming autobiography about to be published by TAN Publications -- a VERY conservative and quite traditional Catholic publishing house.

I first came across Pearce around 2000 when I posted a review on Amazon.com regarding his book "Tolkien:  Man and Myth" -- a book which I found to be unoriginal -- at best; relying extremely heavily on uncited material from Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography  Frankly, I don't think that sections of the book would pass muster with Turnitin.com -- the anti-plagiarizing software I use in my university classes.  Another Amazon.com reviewer who goes by the name "FYI" reviewed the same book -- and went into a great deal more detail in documenting word-for-word plagiarism in numerous circumstances.  (FYI, if you read this, please feel free to jump in!)

In 2003, he wrote a book on CS Lewis, trying to uncover why Lewis never converted to the Catholic Church -- and that book, too,  has had its critics, mostly regarding facts about Lewis that Pearce conveniently ignored, or emphasizing what Lewis minimized (and vise verse)

In 2008, he wrote a book arguing the evidence that William Shakespeare was, in fact, a recusant -- a "closet" Catholic in anti-Catholic Elizabethan England.  A number of scholars have strongly suggested this possibility, and there has been an academic debate on this matter for years.  Shortly after the book was published, a negative review was published by "First Things" magazine.  Pearce wrote an absolutely vitriolic piece against the reviewer which was, functionally, little less than an ad hominim attack.  This appears to have continued to be his modus operandi with scholars who disagree with him.

More recently, a "biography" of GK Chesterton has been published -- immediately on the heels of the publication of the foremost academic and critical biography of Chesterton ever written (by the noted scholar Fr. Ian Ker.)

Pearce seems to be quite popular in the world of Catholic apologetics; he has spoken in many venues, on topics like Tolkien's Catholicism and its influence on "The Lord of the Rings" (I suspect that Tolkien would be rolling over in his grave with the ridiculous allegorical implications Pearce insists on finding) and Shakespeare's likely Catholicism (an opinion with which I am reasonably sympathetic, but not fully convinced).  In his upcoming autobiography, TAN Publications lists Pearce as "the world's foremost Catholic biographer" which is, in my view patently absurd.

Here's the rub:

What are Pearce's scholarly credentials?  Of course, one does not need to be a scholar to have an informed opinion -- but if one is going to attack and ridicule other scholars in the field, one really should have the credentials to do so.  I have scoured the web, and have been unable to come up with any scholarly background which would make me want to take him seriously -- much less as an expert.  (Especially as an expert on Tolkien -- a subject I know just a bit about!)  He has been affiliated with a number of very small (and extremely conservative) Catholic colleges as a "writer-in-residence" -- but even on the website of the college with which he is currently affiliated (St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts) no academic or scholarly credentials are provided.

Call me crazy -- but somehow, this does not pass the "smell" test to me.

Anyone have any insights?

Vigorous discussion desired; flame-throwing will be moderated.

Blessings,

Papa Z.

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19 Comments:

Blogger Shana W said...

Credentials mean very little to me. I don't believe that one needs to get a degree in English Literature, or History, or any number of subjects, to be able to become someone worth listening to on the subject.

However, a person should be able to easily cite their sources, how they came to their conclusions, and why they should be listened to. Honesty is key here.

Someone who commits blatant plagarism, regardless of their credentials, or lack thereof, is obviously untrustworthy. While maybe they have a good point or two, overall if they can't back it up, they're not worth listening to.

And if they're attacking people for calling them out, then that further solidifies that they are not to be trusted.

As far as this Pearce person goes, I know nothing of him. Perhaps a well-written letter to TAN Publications wouldn't be a bad idea, letting them know that you've found his works to be questionable?

10:33 AM  
Blogger Shana W said...

Credentials mean very little to me. I don't believe that one needs to get a degree in English Literature, or History, or any number of subjects, to be able to become someone worth listening to on the subject.

However, a person should be able to easily cite their sources, how they came to their conclusions, and why they should be listened to. Honesty is key here.

Someone who commits blatant plagarism, regardless of their credentials, or lack thereof, is obviously untrustworthy. While maybe they have a good point or two, overall if they can't back it up, they're not worth listening to.

And if they're attacking people for calling them out, then that further solidifies that they are not to be trusted.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

David, I am glad you asked! My very well-read brother has been giving me Pearce books to read for years (I, too, have taught literature classes at the university level). I haven't been able to make myself finish reading his Shakespeare book; I get angry every time I read and drive my husband crazy with my complaining. His research is questionable in many cases, and the leaps of logic he makes from that "evidence" make me dizzy.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

David, I am glad you asked! My very well-read brother has been giving me Pearce books to read for years (I, too, have taught literature classes at the university level). I haven't been able to make myself finish reading his Shakespeare book; I get angry every time I read and drive my husband crazy with my complaining. His research is questionable in many cases, and the leaps of logic he makes from that "evidence" make me dizzy.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

David, I am glad you asked! My very well-read brother has been giving me Pearce books to read for years (I, too, have taught literature classes at the university level). I haven't been able to make myself finish reading his Shakespeare book; I get angry every time I read and drive my husband crazy with my complaining. His research is questionable in many cases, and the leaps of logic he makes from that "evidence" make me dizzy.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

I'm looking through notes I made while reading "The Quest for Shakespeare" in order to give examples of what I mean.

". . . Shakespeare's depictions of, and allusions to, Catholicism are invariably accurate, proving his experience and knowledge of the Catholic faith. Such textual evidence would suffice to illustrate that Shakespeare had been a practicing Catholic at some stage in his life, if not necessarily that he had always remained one" (Pearce 24).

This claim suggests Pearce will explore some of that "textual evidence" at some point in his book. Alas. Really, if Pearce writes a sentence like the one quoted above, I would expect his book to include a rigorous exploration of Shakespeare's primary texts. I'm astonished and appalled that it does not.

Furthermore, the claim that an author must have lived what he writes about is specious. True, authors often write what they know, but Pearce's logic does not "suffice" to prove that Shakespeare must have at one point been a practicing Catholic because his plays (apparently) contain faithful representations of Catholic practices.

By the way, Pearce's rhetoric annoys me. Listen to the arrogance in these lines:

"Even as the solid work of historians brings the real Shakespeare to life, the vultures of literary criticism continue to pick over the bones of the corpse of their unreal Shakespeare chimera" (Pearce 16).

"Since John Shakespeare's spiritual will is quite clearly an English translation of St. Charles Borromeo's 'Testament', the only question remaining is, why is it handwritten and not printed? The answer is obvious" (Pearce 37).

As much as I would personally love to discover truths about Shakespeare's faith, I do not care to read Pearce, whose scholarship is sketchy and whose attitude makes enemies of all scholars who disagree with him.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

Full disclosure:

I am generally uncomfortable with his point of departure in this book. Pearce claims that we cannot know ourselves or the plays if we do not uncover exactly who the historical author is and what his explicit intentions were in writing. Like T.S. Eliot, I strongly prefer looking at the text itself to discover meaning. Biographical sketches can be helpful, for sure, but scholars who are afraid of digging into the primary text make me sad. Poetic language always lives in the land of ambiguity. Pearce seems unwilling to confront that ambiguity, preferring instead historical "facts" which require little interpretation. If only his "facts" were compelling!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

Full disclosure:

I am generally uncomfortable with his point of departure in this book. Pearce claims that we cannot know ourselves or the plays if we do not uncover exactly who the historical author is and what his explicit intentions were in writing. Like T.S. Eliot, I strongly prefer looking at the text itself to discover meaning. Biographical sketches can be helpful, for sure, but scholars who are afraid of digging into the primary text make me sad. Poetic language always lives in the land of ambiguity. Pearce seems unwilling to confront that ambiguity, preferring instead historical "facts" which require little interpretation. If only his "facts" were compelling!

11:22 AM  
Blogger David Zampino said...

@ Shana -- credentials can certainly be a two-way street, and it is quite true that one does not need a degree to be worth listening to. And credentials can, and certainly have, been misused. By the same token, when correctly used, they are a useful baseline or starting point. (I want to make darn sure that my dentist is properly trained before he pulls a tooth! :-) ) But you're right. Honesty is key.

@ Grace -- thanks for your comments and your notes. Did you see the negative review of his Shakespeare "research" in First Things a few years ago?

11:25 AM  
Blogger David Zampino said...

@ Grace -- It is interesting that Pearce's focus with regard to Shakespeare emphasizes authorial intent so strongly -- while his work on Tolkien is precisely the opposite. He finds what he wants to find in the text and yet ignores Tolkien's own comments against trying to allegorize the book.

11:30 AM  
Blogger David Zampino said...

Some examples of what I would consider plagiarism. These were uncovered by a correspondent through Amazon.com.

The books in question are: "Tolkien: The Authorized Biography" by Humphrey Carpenter and "Tolkien: Man and Myth" by Joseph Pearce. You decide:

"On the occasions when Lewis came to the Northmoor Road, the children liked him because he did not talk condescendingly to them; and he gave them books by E. Nesbit, which they enjoyed. But with Edith he was shy and ungainly" (Carpenter 1977:159).

"Lewis was popular with the Tolkien children, never talking condescendingly to them and giving them books by E. Nesbit which they enjoyed, but he was shy and ill at ease with Edith" (Pearce 1998:52-53).


Carpenter: "She was remarkably pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes, firm clear features and short dark hair" (1977:46)

Compare the Pearce version: "She was very pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes and short dark hair parted in the middle" (1998:26).



Carpenter: "In fact she was illegitimate" (1977:46).

Pearce: "In fact, she was illegitimate" (1998:27)



Carpenter: "But traffic was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon, and it was easy to forget the city was so near" (1997:28).

Here is Pearce: "Traffic in the village was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon so it was easy to forget the proximity of the industrial city" (Pearce 1998:14)

11:55 AM  
Blogger Shana W said...

I'm not saying credentials are bad per se, I just think that just because some college gave you a slip of paper that says you've got a degree, doesn't mean that you know anything useful ;) Especially when it comes to certain subjects. Then again, the person who comes in last in medical school is still called a doctor...

12:03 PM  
Blogger Grace Urbanski said...

Oh my gosh! Those evidences of plagiarism and patch writing are breathtaking! I don't have Pearce's text handy; did he at any point ever cite the Carpenter book?

2:09 PM  
Blogger David Zampino said...

So Grace, I'm not crazy here?

My copy of Pearce's book is still in a box following our move. (Did you know that we now are in the Milwaukee area?) When I find it, I'll double-check.

I do know that Pearce cast aspersions on Carpenter's (family authorized) biography.

3:27 PM  
Blogger David Zampino said...

From a friend who does not have a "Google" account:


No problem with lack of credentials. Lewis & Tolkien were both M.A. but Charles Williams had the English equivalent of a high school diploma and did solid work that has stood the test of time.

I DO have a problem with not citing sources and plagiarism. However, that is the legal responsibility of the authors so robbed and their publishing houses "speaking" to Ignatius and TAN (& it surprises me that those two publishers have taken on someone who seems as "dicey" as Pearce).

I have never heard of him nor read his "work," but you and I are both MORE than familiar with the "type": the charismatic individual who jumps from church to church in order to dazzle and make a quick, dishonest buck. When the scrutiny (inevitably) comes, the person "leaps" again.

For our part, we can only pray that Mr. Pearce be "brought to himself" and find repentance and make such reparation as is possible to him. I have generally found that people who are this self-deceived have very little hope of finding honesty and integrity enough within themselves to face their reality, but that the Spirit may work through all sorts of means (even lawsuits) to accomplish this. And so we must pray for Mr. Pearce that he experience the "mercy of judgement" here and now, rather than later when repentance may not be possible to him.

4:11 PM  
Blogger FYI said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:30 AM  
Blogger FYI said...

It's an honor to be part of your erudite discussion! I reamin puzzled by EWTN's Pearce-platform. Here's an except of my review of Pearce's "Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life," documents his rampant borrowing:

"On the occasions when Lewis came to the Northmoor Road, the children liked him because he did not talk condescendingly to them; and he gave them books by E. Nesbit, which they enjoyed. But with Edith he was shy and ungainly" (Carpenter 1977:159).

"Lewis was popular with the Tolkien children, never talking condescendingly to them and giving them books by E. Nesbit which they enjoyed, but he was shy and ill at ease with Edith" (Pearce 1998:52-53).

Humphrey Carpenter's "J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography" is the unwitting blueprint for Pearce's book. In areas describing Tolkien's life, Pearce repeatedly lifted whole sentences out of Carpenter's biography without consistent citation. There is very little rewriting of the material utilized or borrowed ... Pearce criticizes Carpenter and the supposed "shallowness of Carpenter's approach" (Pearce 1998:22), which draws attention to connections between the books. Carpenter: "She was remarkably pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes, firm clear features and short dark hair" (1977:46). Compare the Pearce version: "She was very pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes and short dark hair parted in the middle" (1998:26). Carpenter: "In fact she was illegitimate" (1977:46). Pearce: "In fact, she was illegitimate" (1998:27). Carpenter: "But traffic was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon, and it was easy to forget the city was so near" (1997:28). Pearce: "Traffic in the village was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon so it was easy to forget the proximity of the industrial city" (Pearce 1998:14). As you follow paragraphs, this goes on throughout the book. The examples are too numerous to mention here, as whole biographical chapters clumsily outline Carpenter's, topic by topic, with several sentences at a time used in the same order, unchanged or barely altered in Pearce's work. The author should have known that Tolkien researchers might have more than only his book on hand whilst reading about Tolkien and his fascinating imagination. I am amazed that the publisher is unaware of this incursion...

Pearce skips over Tolkien's WWI experience, missing an important narrative in the formation and expression of Tolkien's faith and later works ... Pearce's description of how Tolkien aided Lewis's conversion is far more limited that the lucid and beautiful argument more fully ... contained in Tolkien's letters (Carpenter's "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien".

10:32 AM  
Blogger FYI said...

This is the first time I've participated in a blog, or commented (had to edit to my post). I am journeying into Catholicism, inspired along The Way by Newman, Tolkien, and Chesterton, aided by praying the rosary. Thank you for including me in your discussion! I'm grateful for your integrity, investigating Pearce.

Like you, I'm perplexed by EWTN providing Pearce a wide platform. Here's an excerpt of my review his "Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life." Pearce rampantly "borrows":

"On the occasions when Lewis came to the Northmoor Road, the children liked him because he did not talk condescendingly to them; and he gave them books by E. Nesbit, which they enjoyed. But with Edith he was shy and ungainly" (Carpenter 1977:159).

"Lewis was popular with the Tolkien children, never talking condescendingly to them and giving them books by E. Nesbit which they enjoyed, but he was shy and ill at ease with Edith" (Pearce 1998:52-53).

Humphrey Carpenter's "J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography" is the unwitting blueprint for Pearce's book. In areas describing Tolkien's life, Pearce repeatedly lifted whole sentences out of Carpenter's biography without consistent citation. There is very little rewriting of the material utilized or borrowed ... Pearce criticizes Carpenter and the supposed "shallowness of Carpenter's approach" (Pearce 1998:22), which draws attention to connections between the books. Carpenter: "She was remarkably pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes, firm clear features and short dark hair" (1977:46). Compare the Pearce version: "She was very pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes and short dark hair parted in the middle" (1998:26). Carpenter: "In fact she was illegitimate" (1977:46). Pearce: "In fact, she was illegitimate" (1998:27). Carpenter: "But traffic was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon, and it was easy to forget the city was so near" (1997:28). Pearce: "Traffic in the village was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon so it was easy to forget the proximity of the industrial city" (Pearce 1998:14). As you follow paragraphs, this goes on throughout the book. The examples are too numerous to mention here, as whole biographical chapters clumsily outline Carpenter's, topic by topic, with several sentences at a time used in the same order, unchanged or barely altered in Pearce's work. The author should have known that Tolkien researchers might have more than only his book on hand whilst reading about Tolkien and his fascinating imagination. I am amazed that the publisher is unaware of this incursion...

Pearce skips over Tolkien's WWI experience, missing an important narrative in the formation and expression of Tolkien's faith and later works ... His description of how Tolkien aided Lewis's conversion is far more limited that the lucid and beautiful argument ... in Carpenter's "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien".

12:44 PM  
Blogger FYI said...

Apologies! I had to edit my comment, and am honored to be part of your blog essay. Here's an excerpt of my review of Pearce's negligible "Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life." The beautifully written book by Humphrey Carpenter, "J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography," is the unwitting blueprint for Pearce's book. In areas describing Tolkien's life, Pearce repeatedly lifted whole sentences out of Carpenter's biography without consistent citation:

"On the occasions when Lewis came to the Northmoor Road, the children liked him because he did not talk condescendingly to them; and he gave them books by E. Nesbit, which they enjoyed. But with Edith he was shy and ungainly" (Carpenter 1977:159).

"Lewis was popular with the Tolkien children, never talking condescendingly to them and giving them books by E. Nesbit which they enjoyed, but he was shy and ill at ease with Edith" (Pearce 1998:52-53).

There is very little rewriting of the material utilized or borrowed.

Pearce criticizes Carpenter and the supposed "shallowness of Carpenter's approach" (Pearce 1998:22), which draws attention to connections between the books. Carpenter: "She was remarkably pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes, firm clear features and short dark hair" (1977:46). Compare the Pearce version: "She was very pretty, small and slim, with grey eyes and short dark hair parted in the middle" (1998:26). Carpenter: "In fact she was illegitimate" (1977:46). Pearce: "In fact, she was illegitimate" (1998:27). Carpenter: "But traffic was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon, and it was easy to forget the city was so near" (1997:28). Here is Pearce: "Traffic in the village was limited to an occasional farm cart or tradesman's wagon so it was easy to forget the proximity of the industrial city" (Pearce 1998:14).

As you follow paragraphs, this goes on throughout the book. The examples are too numerous to mention here, as whole biographical chapters clumsily outline Carpenter's, topic by topic, with several sentences at a time used in the same order, unchanged or barely altered in Pearce's work. The author should have known that Tolkien researchers might have more than only his book on hand whilst reading about Tolkien and his fascinating imagination! I am amazed that the publisher is unaware of this incursion, however possibly unintended, into Carpenter's work.

The real examination of faith is contained in Tolkien's letters ... in Carpenter's "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien."

5:46 PM  

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