Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

When they agreed to publish The Seven Storey Mountain, the editors of Harcourt Brace hoped to sell five thousand copies of this work, believing that Catholic readers might be interested in the reasons for Merton’s conversion. The appeal of The Seven Storey Mountain, however, has never been limited to Catholics. Within two years of its first publication more than 600,000 hardcover copies had been sold in the United States alone, and Merton’s autobiography has continued to fascinate readers and critics. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton expressed with extraordinary sincerity and insight the universal elements of his spiritual growth.

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The Seven Storey Mountain was Thomas Merton’s first important work. Nevertheless, it contains all the major themes which he would develop during the remaining twenty years of his life. In such profound works as The Sign of Jonas, The Wisdom of the Desert (1960), and New Seeds of Contemplation (1961), he would explore more thoroughly the meaning of the ecumenical movement, the nature of contemplative prayer, and the complex relationship between Eastern and Western monasticism. Yet The Seven Storey Mountain remains his most psychologically powerful work. Merton’s moving analysis of his search for meaning in his life should continue to fascinate readers for generations to come.

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