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Meet Mr. Blue

mr blue bookA 21st century Benedictine professor wants to introduce you to a Hollywood producer’s Franciscan dream of the 1920s.

Benedictine College Assistant Professor of English Stephen Mirarchi and Cluny Classics, an imprint of Cluny Media, have announced the first scholarly edition of Mr. Blue, the classic work of Catholic fiction by Myles Connolly (1897-1964).

The novel about free-spirited J. Blue and his unorthodox but faith-filled approach to life was once a staple in high school and college curricula. Mr. Blue has gone in and out of print over the years, but has never been issued in a scholarly, annotated edition. The new publication is now on sale.

When Mr. Blue first appeared in 1928, the little novel went largely unnoticed. Twenty-five years later it was a runaway bestseller, and Connolly had become a famous Hollywood producer and scriptwriter producer. With more than forty film credits to his name and several others uncredited, Connolly worked with the likes of Frank Capra (Mirarchi cites evidence that Connolly even helped with the writing of It’s a Wonderful Life).

The book is a modern St. Francis story with the tagline: “Meet a St. Francis of the 1920s.”

Dr. Mirarchi (Ph.D., Brandeis University) is Assistant Professor of English at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He told Aleteia that the story is a fictional narrator’s recollection of the first time he met one J. Blue “whom everybody thinks is either eccentric or crazy. He’s just too happy. He lives on the roof of a building in this packing crate, releasing balloons and having brass players over for concerts, so they’d say, ‘Is this guy homeless? What is he?’ So we learn this story and ask, ‘Does he have the right to be so happy?’”

Connolly daughter Mary Connolly Breiner, in her preface to Mirarchi’s edition, “I have a feeling that Pope Francis would like Mr. Blue, that they would be true brothers in spirit.”

Mirarchi also notes the connection between Connolly and F. Scott Fitzgerald, a friendly rival. “There are a couple of people who know the book well — and I share their opinion — who believe that Connolly wrote Mr. Blue, at least in part, as a counterpoint to The Great Gatsby,” he wrote. “The Great Gatsby came out in 1925, Mr. Blue in ’28. … There were all kinds of interesting references to Gatsby, which is part of what I put in annotations in the book.”

The new publishing milestone started in a class on Benedictine College campus.

In his interview about the project with America magazine, Mirarchi said, “I taught Mr. Blue for the first time in my ‘Christianity and Literature’ class in the fall of 2014 and greatly enjoyed it. I taught it alongside G. K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis and noticed quite a bit of overlap, as if Connolly had consciously been drawing on Chesterton.” He began researching the book more, and had quite a bit of material accumulated when he learned that the Loyal Classics edition went out of print in 2015.

”Cluny Media, through a mutual friend, approached me with the idea of reprinting classic Catholic books,” said Mirarchi, “Given the research I’d accumulated at that point, I proposed an annotated edition of Mr. Blue, and we started looking into it.”

For this edition, Mirarchi prepared more than 200 annotations which reveal the historical, theological, literary and regional threads Connolly deftly wove into his narrative. Professor Mirarchi also wrote an exclusive 9,000-word introduction which explains the publishing history of Mr. Blue, assesses its critical reception over the last ninety years and interprets its literary structure.

Mirarchi’s annotated edition of Mr. Blue is published with the full approval of the Connolly estate; so much so that Connolly’s heirs have given Cluny Media the go-ahead for a planned release of the rest of Myles Connolly’s works — one at a time over the next several years.

If you’ve met Mr. Blue before, be prepared with this scholarly version for an enlightening rediscovery. If you haven’t met him yet, there is no better guide than this edition.

 

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes is vice president of college relations at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer and then spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. He writes weekly for Catholic Vote, the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Catholic Digest. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and nine children.