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Morte D'Urban

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  731 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Winner of The 1963 National Book Award for Fiction.

The hero of J.F. Powers's comic masterpiece is Father Urban, a man of the cloth who is also a man of the world. Charming, with an expansive vision of the spiritual life and a high tolerance for moral ambiguity, Urban enjoys a national reputation as a speaker on the religious circuit and has big plans for the future. But th
Paperback, 360 pages
Published May 31st 2000 by NYRB Classics (first published 1962)
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  731 ratings  ·  91 reviews

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Sep 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nyrb
If you were brought up Catholic like me [1], you know that—even though you may turn your back on all of it when you finally come to your senses—a lot of it stays with you. And I'm not talking about the beliefs. Those are pure Medievalism, easily dismissible. What I'm talking about is the basic underlying structure of ritualized guilt and repression. You know, the fun stuff. But no matter how much I try to scrub my psyche clean, to expunge the last stubborn residue of Catholicism, I will always t ...more
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
This 1963 National Book Award winner is about a group of Catholic Priests. An Order of Clementines? Yes, thank you, Marcel. And if you read it at one level, it is about the politics of groups. Power and pettiness. Ability and purpose. I wondered if a similar book could be written about Tibetan monks.

At another level, this book is a character study, in particular of Father Urban. Urban is smooth. Smooooth. Great preacher, and much in demand for that. But he also is great at finding where the mon
Jul 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any who is vaguely, or actively, frustrated by their job
Recommended to Valarie by: The Washington Post
If you want to take this novel literally and say it is a book about the adventures of an ambitious priest (not unlike a Catholic Elmer Gantry of sorts) who was exiled to the middle of nowhere, be my guest, but it doesn't take long before you realize there is something else going on here and it begins to dawn on you that is all sounds ... remotely ... like your job!

Congratulations, my friend, you've reached the AHA moment.

It's a difficult book to find (I think it's out of print but your library m
Ben Loory
Oct 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
whoever it was who put the huge b&w early-60s italian-glamour photo of the beautiful woman on the cover of this book was a genius, and i want to thank him for doing it, because otherwise i would never have picked it up, much less read it. seeing how it's yet another very quiet (and quietly funny) realistic portrait of an isolated priest in the midwest. not the usual vein i mine.

i'm not really sure how powers does it. but Wheat That Springeth Green is now firmly in my top 15-20 favorite books
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Morte d’Urban is a Catholic novel by a Catholic author, but it’s also a singularly American novel. It’s about going to work. Think inept colleagues, vindictive superiors, fruitless and boring busywork. Our protagonist Father Urban – successful, charming, handsome – is a traveling salesman out of Chicago for the fictional Order of St. Clement. He enjoys a cigar and stiff drink, sports cars, “the right sort of people”, golf. Critics often compare him to Babbitt, but that’s not right: he’s a dynami ...more
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The book to show the world what a sentimental sap Garrison Keiller really is. Morte D'Urban, won the National Book Award in 1961, is set, as is Lake Woebegone, in Sterns County, Minnesota. Both use Holdingford, a small farm town where my grandfather owned the hardware store, and its inhabitants as fodder for their fictions.
Powers has one of the best ears in vernacular fiction, sufficiently so for Evelyn Waugh to cite him as his favorite American writer. He may be mine, given my familiarity with
I had not heard of this author before. I read the novel because it won the National Book Award in 1963. This award was created in 1950 and I have read all the winning books from then up through 1963. Many were great; some challenged my idea of what I consider a great novel. Morte D'Urban, the third novel concerning priests from my 1963 list, was a stand out.

Father Urban is quite a character. I am a bit hazy on how he became a priest. It was well explained in the novel but I just don't remember
Dec 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb
It's a little difficult to get into a book following a brother of the order of St. Clement through dioscesan politics and secular fundraising in the midwest of the late 50s/early 60s. For one thing, the tone of the book, especially the dialogue, really makes me picture every character both looking and sounding like Harry Truman. Give Harry Truman a Roman collar, put him in the passenger seat of a huge bucketous Cadillac, and we can call it a day.

For another, the church depicted here doesn't rea
Spike Gomes
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
J.F. Powers is less obscure than the previous long out of print author I reviewed, but nonetheless, unless someone was really into either Midwestern literature or American Catholic writers, you'd probably never know him, despite the fact this novel won the American Book Award back in 1963 and his fans included such great writers as Evelyn Waugh and Flannery O'Connor. He wasn't prolific, having a perfectionist streak and a contrarian personality. His two novels and much of his short fiction dwell ...more
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, nyrb
It would be tough to imagine a more boring book. "Comic masterpiece?" I never even chortled. An unusual stinker in an interesting collection, this one proves that some books should stay forgotten.

None of the stories tend in any direction and the self-satisfaction of the bloated narrator, full with Sunday dinner and a nice brandy and cigar was a bit too much to take.

I'd take Graham Greene's exaggerated but real prose any day of the week over this lifeless, bland thing.

It was interesting seeing
Feb 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Rather humorous and charming, but also a tad bit tedious.
Jun 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 52-books-in-2011
I got this book from Paperback Swap after reading about JF Powers in a book called The Catholic Writer. This was one of only two novels he wrote -- he was mostly known as a writer of short stories. For more about him, you can read here and here

Morte D'Urban tells the story of Harvey Roche, who becomes Father Urban of the fictional Clementine order, a sort of discount version of the Jesuits without even a striking
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
So this whole book is about the secular and political concerns of the Order of Clementine. I was not actually aware of the hierarchy (yeah, I knew there were bishops and archbishops, etc) and the political relationships between the orders.

Urban is a great anti-hero. In the beginning we are led to believe that he is so charismatic and charming that he is capable of converting all he encounters and (more importantly) convincing them to make lots of donations. Certainly, through the course of the n
Justin Evans
Apr 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
It took me a while to get into Powers' short stories, but after I finished the first volume of them I couldn't put them down. So I was primed for this, and it didn't disappoint. In fact, the larger canvas seems to suit him more in some ways. Granted, it suffers a little bit from the same kind of disjointed narrative track that Cheever Wapshot Chronicle suffers from, but to nowhere near the same degree. But that's this novel's only flaw (unless you count 'being about a priest' as a flaw, which I ...more
Oct 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Morte D'Urban, like Catcher in the Rye, explores phonyness in post-war U.S. Compared to Salinger's classic, though, Morte D'Urban adopts a more adult if slightly more compromised view. Taking as its subject the business of operating the Catholic church, Morte D'Urban does a fantastically funny job describing the uncomfortable grooming of unsavory donors by the more worldly priests who understand the Church's need of them. Brilliantly, this book spells out the toll this mercenary relationship tak ...more
Nov 11, 2016 rated it did not like it
I went to the trouble of doing an interlibrary loan on this and really did try to finish reading it. After all it had won the 1963 National Book Award for fiction. I felt like I needed to read this, to justify the effort to procure it. But unfortunately that wasn't enough, I just didn't get it. Touted as humorous, I kept waiting. Not everyones cup of tea I guess.
Dec 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
This was supposed to be a very big deal - good reviews from New Yorker, etc., and it did have it moments. However, the main interest was some insight into the social and political life of catholic priests in the middle of the last century. Perhaps it was more shocking then. I did finish it, but that's about all I can say about it.
Jim Booth
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Catholicism is darkly comic in J.F. Powers's Morte D'Urban - would that it were more comic, less dark, in the real world...

See the full review at - link available on my Goodreads page. Thanks for stopping by!

Jul 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
slowly and quietly builds to a devastating ending. diary of a minnesotan priest.
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For a writer whose many stories and two novels focus to the exclusion of most all else on the lives of priests, J. F. Powers writes steady prose of sufficient sober heft as to keep his rendered worlds (not the least bit unfamiliar worlds) squarely grounded on terra firma. These are hardly works that delve into the inner life of the spiritual supplicant. Interiority is their field only in a limited sense, and the interior here faithfully reflects the exterior (the world of people, things, and the ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it
J. F. Powers satirizes a Catholic priest who, tempted by the worldly rewards of popular preaching, nevertheless remains “true to his vow of poverty — to the spirit, though, rather than the letter.” His priests dramatize the man of God whose spiritual vocation has disappeared into fundraising and “pastoral” work--social visits with aging congregants. Nowhere does Power display the contrast more powerfully than in Morte D’Urban. The main character, “fifty-four, tall and handsome but a trifle loose ...more
Thomas Jacob Jr.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I suppose one could glean a certain amount of satisfaction from recognizing that in any business or corporation -- in this instance, The Order of St. Clementine, a Catholic diocese in 1950's Chicago -- administrative incompetence and the perils and confusion of bureaucracy are alive and well. Poor Father Urban, a man too good for his job, is forced to work under men and systems either broken or willfully ignorant. Despite a steady stream of successes and a growing following of admirers, Father U ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully wry and knowing portrait of a Catholic priest laboring in the hinterlands. Powers is respectful and refreshingly non-ironic in sketching the life of Father Urban, a priest in a fictitious order. Father Urban never ceases to do his best to honor his heavenly father and carry out his calling despite an overwhelming and indifferent church bureaucracy and an equally indifferent and selfish flock. I wish there were more literary efforts that investigate the lives of sincere believers. Thi ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a gentle, slow-moving story of a bon vivant Catholic priest in mid-50s (?) midwest America, and the foibles and flaws of his colleagues in the backwaters of the Order of St Clementine as they try to manage their affairs. The humour is rather dry and indirect, to the point of obscurity at times, and the story drags in places. Some characters seem important for awhile, then disappear without another word. It's uneven and the ending is somehow out of character with the rest and weakly anti- ...more
Mary Jo
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really don't know why I stayed with this book. I felt like I was slogging through it, fighting for every chapter I read. I think the Minnesota location was one of the reasons I was drawn to this book. I do have to concede that I did care about the fate of Father Urban. Unfortunately the ending left me feeling flat....all that effort and very little to show for it. I will have to admit that there were times when it was amusing, but not enough times to make reading 3oo pages of small print worth ...more
Jerry Pogan
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
A satire of the Catholic Church featuring Father Urban a priest from the fictitious religious order of the Clementines, a mediocre order with no distinctions to its credit. The story illustrates the all too real fact of the all too humanness of the priests with all of the same faults as any layperson. My only criticism is that the author, at times, stretched to far to be funny and the joke fell flat.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Funny if you like Catholicism. Priest tries to improve a dysfunctional religious sect and is met with various challenges as he is relocated from Chicago to rural Minnesota. That’s it. I read this because it won a National Book Award, I think
Mar 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: good-fiction
Wish I could recall what prompted me to check out this 1960 novel about a priest from Chicago transfered to MN, well outside his accustomed well travelled sphere of influence. Liked it, but didn't understand its closing chapters, or the title. Glad to have encountered this author.
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Petty squabbles, intense emotions and condescension shouldn't be a part of the cloistered life....but they are.
Aug 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
This started well but really dragged. Had to stop halfway through.
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NYRB Classics: Morte D'Urban, by J.F. Powers 1 6 Oct 29, 2013 09:11AM  
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James Farl Powers was an American novelist and short-story writer who often drew his inspiration from developments in the Catholic Church, and was known for his studies of Catholic priests in the Midwest. Although not a priest himself, he is known for having captured a "clerical idiom" in postwar North America.

Powers was a conscientious objector during World War II, and went to prison for it. Late