Monday, 12 May 2014

Catalogue of the Carmel Library, Middle Park, circa 1939

Esmae Boutros and Frank Shortis O.Carm. of the Carmelite Archives have rescued this ‘Selected Catalogue of General Literature’ during their sifting. The four page pamphlet records books held in the Carmel Library, Middle Park, a collection circulating from the Carmelite Hall in Richardson Street and shelved in what today is called the Malone Room at the street front of the building. The most recent titles were published in 1939, so we are looking at a date around the time of the outbreak of World War Two.
To judge by the contents, the Library was not one of spirituality or theology, in fact religious literature is not its main priority. It appears to have served an educated Catholic reader interested in popular fiction, church apologetics, British and Irish history, Outback tales, and current European politics.
The politics startle us today, in particular the works of high officials of the then German government and biographies of living dictators. While we judge these acquisitions in the light of subsequent events in Europe, readers in 1939 had access to these books on the basis of being informed about the imminent enemy. Works of Goebbels and Hitler stand on the shelf next to those of British sympathisers like Viscount Rothermere, but also tellingly, I think, those of Waldemar Gurian, one of the first great critics of totalitarianism of both left and right. Gurian, a Russian Jew, saw both Fascism and Bolshevism as threats to the church’s position in modern society.
Interesting too are the absences. In the European Catholic world of that time we might have expected something more on the appalling civil war just ended in Spain. Australian politics seems to be a virtual non-starter and the closest we come to some knowledge of our future wartime enemy are Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s novels about feudal Japan.

The Carmel Library continued after the War, being 'conducted' by the Carmelite Third Order and only open Sunday mornings to parishioners. Many of the religious titles are still to be found in the current-day Carmelite Library, so at some stage those books were merged, thus making the Carmel Library one of the contributing collections, if not the foundation collection, which at that time (mid-century) was still growing at Donvale.

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