"You know one of the causes of modern despair is the fact that we have had proposed to us, from various quarters, an impossible perfection." -- Morris West
Morris Langlo West AO (26 April 19169 October 1999) was an Australian novelist and playwright, best known for his novels The Devil's Advocate (1959), The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963), and The Clowns of God (1981). His books were published in 27 languages and sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. Each new book he wrote after he became an established writer sold more than 1 million copies.
His works often were focused on international politics and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in international affairs. One of his most famous works, The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963), described the election and career of a Slavic Pope, 15 years before the historic election of Karol Wojty?a as Pope John Paul II.
"All institutions are prone to corruption and to the vices of their members.""And I've always worked on the principle that if it interests me enough to write about it, then it must interest a lot of other people.""Ever since the Greeks, we have been drunk with language! We have made a cage with words and shoved our God inside!""I look out of this window and I think this is a cosmos, this is a huge creation, this is one small corner of it. The trees and birds and everything else and I'm part of it. I didn't ask to be put here, I've been lucky in finding myself here.""I've always worked on the principle that if it interests me enough to write about it, then it must interest a lot of other people.""If God be God and man a creature made in image of the divine intelligence, his noblest function is the search for truth.""If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you'll never enjoy the sunshine.""Man is a creature who walks in two worlds and traces upon the walls of his cave the wonders and the nightmare experiences of his spiritual pilgrimage.""None of us is guaranteed against failure or corruption of any kind; witness what's going on in the world in this moment, the follies of human nature and the failures of human nature.""Once you accept the existence of God - however you define him, however you explain your relationship to him - then you are caught forever with his presence in the center of all things.""One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.""The fact is that the learning process goes on, and so long as the voices are not stilled and the singers go on singing some of it gets through.""There are still things I want to do but they're not necessary for me to do. I'm not clinging to anything that I can't open my hands and let go.""Well I travelled quite a lot in the east, and one of the things that impressed me greatly was the buddhist notion of the continuity of things, the wheel of life which is what we're talking about, the ever turning wheel.""You are also caught with the fact that man is a creature who walks in two worlds and traces upon the walls of his cave the wonders and the nightmare experiences of his spiritual pilgrimage."
He was born in St Kilda, Victoria and attended Christian Brothers College, St Kilda. He graduated from the University of Melbourne during 1937, and worked as a teacher in New South Wales and Tasmania. He spent 12 years in a monastery of the Christian Brothers, taking annual vows, but left during 1941 without taking final vows. That same year, he married (this first marriage did not survive), and enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was seconded from the RAAF to work for Billy Hughes, former Australian Prime Minister, for a time. After becoming well known for producing radio serials, he left Australia during 1955 to write, and lived in Austria, Italy, England and the United States, finally returning to Australia during 1980. During this time he had a stint as the Vatican correspondent for the Daily Mail. His son, C. Chris O’Hanlon, said that he spent his first 12 birthdays in 12 different countries.
A major theme of much of West's work was a question: when so many organizations use extreme violence towards evil ends, when and under what circumstances is it morally acceptable for their opponents to respond with violence? He stated on different occasions that his novels all deal with the same aspect of life, that is, the dilemma when sooner or later you have a situation such that nobody can tell you what to do.
He wrote with little revision. His first, longhand version was usually not very different from the final, printed version. Despite winning many prizes, being awarded honorary doctorates, his commercial success, and his skills as a story teller, he never won the acceptance of Australia’s literary clique. During the 1998 Oxford Literary History of Australia, it was stated that: "Despite his international popularity, West has been surprisingly neglected by Australian literary critics". The previous edition, edited by Dame Leonie Kramer, did not mention him at all.
West was awarded the 1959 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Devil's Advocate. During the early 1960s, he helped found the Australian Society of Authors.He presented the 1986 Playford Lecture.
During 1993 he announced that he had written his last book and a formal valedictory dinner was held in his honour. However, he found he could not retire as he had planned, and wrote a further three novels and two non-fiction books.
Morris West died while working at his desk on the final chapters of his novel The Last Confession, about the trials and imprisonment of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy during 1600. Bruno was a person with whom West had long sympathized and even identified. During 1969 he had published a blank-verse play The Heretic on the same subject. This was staged in London during 1970. Of all his writings, he said this play had "the most of me in it". During 1998 he converted it into a libretto for an opera, which was set to music by Colin Brumby, but it has not been staged. During early 1999 he also contemplated a film script based on the play. He wrote The Last Confession in the form of the diary that Bruno might have written knowing that execution was approaching. The diary was intended to cover the period 21 December 1599 to 17 February 1600, however it covers just 14 days; the entry West was writing when he died was dated 4 January 1600, and he had written only about half as much as he had intended. Nevertheless, the last paragraph he ever wrote was poignant: I can write no more today who knows to what nightmares I might wake. West himself had had several severe heart attacks, and had undergone double-bypass surgery. Murray Waldren writes: "This is a book written by a man aware death is imminent about a man aware execution is near". West’s family decided to publish it during 2000, in an incomplete form and without any editing, leaving readers free to imagine how the story might have ended. It has a foreword by Thomas Keneally, an editor’s note by his publisher Angelo Loukakis, and an epilogue co-written by his assistant Beryl Barraclough and his widow Joy West.
West’s early first marriage did not survive. He and his second wife had four children together. One son, C. Chris O’Hanlon, born 1954, changed his name at the age of 26 as a gesture of independence. After starting four books in an attempt to realize what he believed were his father’s expectations, and having to give back the advances he received from publishers when he could not finish them, he realised that he was not destined to be a writer. O’Hanlon, who suffers from a severe bipolar disorder, founded Spike Wireless, a successful internet design house.
Another of West's sons, Mike, is a moderately successful musician who fronted cult UK independent popular music band The Man From Delmonte during the late 1980s/early 1990s and has released several solo albums of New Orleans Country music during recent years.
West had re-married while his first wife, whom he divorced, was living. He struggled for a church annulment of his first marriage. Although he was out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church for many years because of this marital situation, and while he had significant issues with the church’s teachings, he never considered himself as anything other than a committed Catholic. His wife said that he was a believer and attended Mass every Sunday.
West has a 21 year old Grandson Ant West who fronts the band 'Futures'.