Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works: Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge / Essays & Letters  edited by Robert Fitzgerald (Library of America) Flannery O'Connor did not even live to see her 40th birthday; she died, in 1964, of lupus, the same inflammatory disease which had killed her father when she was a mere teenager and which all too soon began to cripple her as well. A graduate of the Iowa State University's journalism and writing program, she had started to write her first stories, poems and other pieces when she was still in high school, and had submitted a collection of six short stories entitled "The Geranium" as her master's thesis in university. (Most of the stories contained in that collection were published individually in various magazines and anthologies around the time of their inclusion in the thesis; the collection as a whole, however, was first published only posthumously in the National Book Award winning "Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor.") Only a few years after having obtained her master's degree, and after a prolonged residence at Yaddo artists' colony in upstate New York, O'Connor began to spend time in hospitals and, in due course, was diagnosed with lupus. From that moment on, she focused on her writing even more than she had before - and the result were two novels, two short story collections, several stand-alone short stories, essays and other pieces of occasional prose, as well as a barrage of letters. The majority of that work product, including twenty-one previously unpublished letters, is reproduced in this collection published in the Library of America series; notably, the fiction part also includes, as one piece, O'Connor's master's thesis, "The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories."

A native of Georgia, Flannery O'Connor defined herself as much as a Catholic writer as a Southerner; and she commented on the impact that regional influences on the one hand and her religion on the other hand had had on her writing in the 1963 essays "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South" and "The Regional Writer." Yet, while religion (and more specifically, Catholicism) certainly plays a big part in her writing, from the "Christian malgre lui," as she herself characterized the hero of her first novel "Wise Blood" in the Author's Note to book's 1962 second edition, to the "odd folks out" and searching souls populating her short stories, and to her frequent biblical references, it would not do her writing justice to limit her to that realm, nor to that of "Southern" fiction. (No matter for which specific dramatic purpose a writer employed a Southern setting, he would still be considered to be writing about the South in general, and was thus left to get rid off the label of a "Southern writer ... and all the misconceptions that go with it" as best he could, she quipped in her 1960 essay "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction." Rather, she added three years later in "The Regional Writer," location matters to an author insofar as any author "operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet," and it is up to him to find that precise spot and apply it to his writing.) Similarly, while her heroes are certainly not the kind of people you expect to meet on your daily errands (or do you?), it would shortchange them were we to succumb to the temptation of merely defining them as some particularly colorful examples of grotesque fiction. For one thing, "[t]o be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man," as O'Connor noted in "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction." More fundamentally, however, she saw her calling - and that of any Southern author treading the same ground as William Faulkner and trying not to have their "mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down" - as an attempt to reach below the surface of the human existence to that realm "which is the concern of prophets and poets," and to strike a balance between realism on the one hand and vision, poetry and compassion on the other; to recognize the expectations of his readers without making himself their slave.

Thus, the famously unexpected endings of Flannery O'Connor's narratives are more than merely weird plot twists, the encounter between the grandmother and The Misfit in the title story of her first published short story collection "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (1955) is the result of a wrong turn in the road as much as that of a series of wrong choices, coincidences and essential miscommunications, and the title story of her second, posthumously published collection of short stories "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (1965) truly does indicate more than a physical proposition and indeed, a situation applicable to the entire world, as O'Connor wrote in a 1961 letter regarding the initial publication of the collection's title story in New World Writing.

A six-time winner of the O. Henry Award for Short Fiction and winner of the posthumously awarded 1972 National Book Award for her Collected Short Stories, in her short career as a writer Flannery O'Connor left an indelible mark on American literature, far transcending the borders of her native South. We can only speculate what she would have contributed had illness and death not intervened - and in a time when, as O'Connor wrote so prophetically in "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction," too many writers abandon vision and instead contend themselves with satisfying their readers' more pedestrian expectations, her contributions would doubtless be invaluable. Alas, we are left with a body of work that fits neatly into this marvelously edited single-volume entry in the "Library of America" series - but the content of this one book alone is worth manifold that of the much ampler output of many a writer of recent years.

The Narrative Secret of Flannery O'Connor: The Trickster as Interpreter by Ruthann Knechel Johansen (University Alabama Press) "Johansen... goes a long way toward unlocking the diverse strategies employed by O'Connor. Her thoroughgoing knowledge of O'Connor's work is always impressive. It's a lively time for O'Conner criticism, and Johansen is certainly one of O'Connor's more lively readers." - South Atlantic Review "I recommend the book to readers interested in the trickster, and those who know and love O'Connor's fiction enough to relish new insights.... Johansen has earned her place in the ranks of those who continue to delight in O'Connor's fiction, to delight in attempts to explain its power over us, and to take pleasure in the certainty that her fiction will continue to elude our explanations." - Text and Performance Quarterly
Examines the structural elements and narrative methods Flannery O'Connor employs "to create her fictional landscape." Focuses on her use of the archetypal trickster as "a likely guide through [her] landscape and interpreter of her narrative secret."

Discusses the characteristics, importance, and utility for her "artistic and religious purposes" of the trickster figure. Suggests that these figures not only link her stories "with diverse literatures but also open a discourse between twentieth-century material-rationalist interpretations of reality and ancient folklore and myth."

Focuses on five "narrative devices through which O'Connor shapes the structures of stories" in A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, including, her use of: backwoods speech juxtaposed to biblical allusions; incantation; doubled characters who embody the shadows and contradictions of innocence and experience; circular narrative structures; and, her use of "ambiguous figures who move from the fringes to the center of action" to transform characters.

Discusses how she uses "techniques of indirection" to create tension. Then, explores: the unpredictable and uneven role of her narrators and the challenges they pose for critics; "how the shifting narrative voice assists "the mediations of the trickster"; her use of "as if"; and, use of irony, "which makes it possible to hold apparently contradictory perceptions simultaneously."

Juxtaposes Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away to review the variety of literary devices she uses to animate the structure of her fiction, and reviews "the principle of analogy" to explore "how the very structures of her novels are animated by her metaphysical views of the Incarnation."

Inside the Church of Flannery O'Connor: Sacrament, Sacramental, and the Sacred in Her Fiction edited by Joanne Halleran McMullen, Jon Parrish Peede(Mercer University Press) Continuing the debate of classifying O'Connor as a religious writer, this book offers significant new essays by leading scholars - William A. Sessions, John F. Desmond, Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner, Ralph C. Wood, and John R. May - who have advanced the codification of O'Connor as a writer preoccupied with religious, and especially Catholic, themes. In counterbalance, the collection presents voices of sharp dissent - chiefly Joanne Halleran McMullen and Timothy P. Caron. These scholars find themselves at odds with O'Connor's own interpretations and with much of the existing scholarship concerning her work. Contributors include Helen R. Andretta, Stephen C. Behrendt, and Robert Donahoo explore issues completely outside this dichotomy, such as comparative literature and the influence of consumer culture on her writing. The promise of such a diverse collection rests in the dialogues between and among their essays. One will not find consensus within these pages, nor even a settled path for the future of O'Connor studies. Rather, the collection puts on record the state of affairs during this period of transition, when those scholars who knew O'Connor personally are declining in number and canonical authority, and those who know her as a field of study as opposed to a flesh-and-blood human being are in ascension.





Headline 3

insert content here