How do you combine the wit and charm of Chesterton, the absurd joy of St. Francis of Assisi, and the can-do American charisma of Jay Gatsby? Meet Mr. Blue.
I read Mr. Blue for the first time a few years ago after reading an article that admonished something to the effect of, “you can’t claim to be a Chesterton fan if you’ve never read Mr. Blue.” Something like that. Fancying myself a Chester-phile, I figured Mr. Blue and I should be introduced. My reaction upon finishing the book was the same reaction I had after having read Chesterton for the first time, “who is this and why have I never heard of him?”
If you’re not familiar with Myles Connolly’s 1928 classic, it has just been republished by Cluny Media in a new scholarly edition that includes extensive notes, bibliography, and an introduction all by Stephen Mirarchi, PhD. Mirarchi is assistant professor of English at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and his writing has appeared in the National Catholic Register and other scholarly publications. He specializes in theology in literature (he’s a former high school theology teacher), making Mr. Blue a perfect fit for his notes and commentary.
Although Mr. Blue was little regarded when it was published in 1928, by the 1950’s it would become widely read in schools and eventually attain a kind of cult status after going out of print around the 1960’s (the “post-Vatican II shuffle”, as Mirarchi notes in his introduction to the Cluny edition). It is a deeply Catholic novel. Connolly and his wife were devout Catholics and each had a sister who was a nun. Together they had a daughter who would also enter religious life. Connolly would go on to become an accomplished Hollywood screenwriter, with an uncredited contribution to Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life. He died in California in 1964.
In the new Cluny Media edition of Mr. Blue, Mirarchi provides his own introduction—with some spoilers (first time readers may want to return to the introduction after a first read of the book) and some biography and historical context on Connolly. Mirarchi also dons his professor of literature tam in the introduction, commenting on “Literary Technique in Mr. Blue”, which is itself a wonderful description of how Catholic authors can, through their work, make readers “more aware of the strange and tender God Who by His birth and life and death has given individual birthing life and death, no matter how obscure and drab and common, a radiant and prevailing glory and an everlasting importance.” (quoted in Mirarchi, XXVI)
The notes are extensive, totaling 70-plus pages, but never overly scholarly or unnecessary. They offer historical, theological, and literary insights that would be easy to miss otherwise and that reveal the deep beauty and Catholic vision in Mr. Blue. Mirarchi also lets us in on his own research, including a bibliography for further reading and study. Mirarchi’s annotated Cluny Media edition is an excellent version of this thoroughly Catholic classic for both personal and classroom reading.
“The world will never be starved for a want of wonders, only a want of wonder” said Chesterton, who Connolly admits had a significant influence on his own writing. If there’s anything post-modern education needs, it’s a spirit of wonder. Mr. Blue should once again be required reading in high school and college classrooms to recapture the wonder and the joy that comes from living a life of service and surrender, the kind of sleeping on the roof, everyone is my brother, God is right here right now joy that makes Blue so strange and so winsome.