Form and Content
The publication in October, 1948, of his autobiographical work The Seven Storey Mountain marked the true beginning of Thomas Merton’s extraordinary literary career. Seven years earlier, Merton had entered the Trappist abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Encouraged by his abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, Merton wrote his autobiography in order to describe his transformation from a nonpracticing Anglican into a convert to Catholicism who abandoned a promising academic career in order to enter a cloistered monastery. During the last twenty years of his life, Merton wrote extensively on such diverse topics as war and peace, the ecumenical movement, racial and social injustice, Eastern and Western monasticism, and the relationships between traditional Christian beliefs and the modern world. Although Merton never composed a formal autobiography after The Seven Storey Mountain, he did write several fascinating journals, including The Sign of Jonas (1953), Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), and his posthumously published The Asian Journal (1973). In 1968, he undertook his first extended trip away from his monastery: On December 10, 1968, he was accidentally electrocuted while attending an international conference of Eastern and Western monks in Thailand.
Before the publication of The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton was not entirely unknown in literary circles. In 1944, his first book, Thirty Poems, had...
(The entire section is 465 words.)