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Diane

Flannery O'Connor

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Yep, the lady deserves all caps.

Flannery O'Connor is one of my all-time favorite writers. To my knowledge, I've read all of her fiction (sadly, there's not a lot of it), and I revisit her works regularly, gleaning more meaning each time I read. Her work is continually challenging, thought-provoking, frustrating, and mind-blowing.

O'Connor was treated shabbily by my professors at college. We ready her story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in good old English 102. My instructor didn't even bother to discuss the story. The lady, who had previously informed us that she came from a family full of preachers, said something along the lines of, "I find it just too disturbing, so we're not really going to talk about it." Later, in a senior-level course on short stories (taught by Dennis Covington of Salvation on Sand Mountain fame), three of her short stories were covered in about 10 minutes. Covington stated that 10 minutes did her justice.

What are your thoughts on O'Connor? Are her stories too similar? Is the Southern grotesque too far-fetched? Are her works too dark? (An acquaintance once read Wise Blood and announced that O'Connor must have hated everybody.) How do you feel about her use of violence as a wake-up call and how she introduces her characters to the idea of God's grace in sometimes frightening and always startling ways?

I'd love to hear any comments. Favorite stories? Favorite novel? (Oh, right--there are only two of those.) Stories that still don't make sense? Please share.

--Diane

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She's one of my all-time favorite writers. Her Complete Short Stories collection is one of my five desert island books.

"Good Man" is my favorite work by her, as far as short stories go, but I also love "A View of the Woods," "The Geranium," "The Comforts of Home," and... well, all of her stories, really.

Wise Blood is a masterful novel. I didn't like her other novella when I read it, but I've been meaning to revisit it.

A lot of rock albums remind my of Flannery; everyone from Radiohead's "Karma Police" to Dylan's characters on Love and Theft strike me as characters that O'Connor would find amusing.

In one interview, O'Connor said that "A Good Man" is the only one of her stories that she could read without bursting with laughter; that one is meant to be serious, while the others are all comedies.

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I've read Wise Blood and All That Rises Must Converge and I just loved both of them. Farfetched? I'ld definitely say imaginitive; the strength of her stories doesn't so much lie in their realism, but the horrendous ironies that come through. However, I've also heard her critisised as "too disturbing." My boss is a bit of a reader and he just shuddered when he saw that I was reading Wise Blood. Also, when we read the story, All That Rises Must Converge, in one of my lit classes, I was one of the only people who enjoyed it. Everyone else thought it was "weird." Dumb Aggies :oops:

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I've never seen the film version, but I'm quite curious. I seem to remember some discussion about it on the old board. Some folks said they were going to try to track it down, but I can't recall any remarks after that.

More on the stories later....

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My boss is a bit of a reader and he just shuddered when he saw that I was reading Wise Blood.

solishu, I've been on the receiving end of a shudder like that, too, regarding that same novel.

Of course, I agree about all of the selections you all have named. Some other favorites of mine: "The River," "Good Country People," "Greenleaf," and "Parker's Back."

I think I give Wise Blood an edge over The Violent Bear It Away, but that one is certainly a powerful read. I hope you're able to revisit it one day, Josh.

And that's an interesting comment about "A Good Man." Not much to laugh about in that story, that for certain...well, other than Red Sammy's barbecue signs along the side of the road. smile.gif

Josh, didn't you once say you were reading a great Flannery bio? And for anyone wanting to know more about her, I highly recommend The Habit of Being, a collection of her letters.

--Diane

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Josh, didn't you once say you were reading a great Flannery bio? And for anyone wanting to know more about her, I highly recommend The Habit of Being, a collection of her letters.

I read a bio of her, yes, but it wasn't that great. In fact, I never finished; the writing was just too dry, to textbook-ish.

Habit of Being is next in my reading queue.

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Definitely some good stuff there. Thanks for posting that.

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"Parker's Back" is one that has stuck with me over the years. I find it so ironic that your professor refused to discuss "A Good Man..." because it is so disturbing to her. Of course it is! It is great literature, it has done to her what O'Connor intended for it to do.

But "Parker's Back" has always been for me a rallying point of her fiction. It has all of her typical themes and then introduces a befuddling element: the appearance of the image of Christ in an unspeakably interesting place. For me a lot of the "comedy" in O'Connor has been in the absurd nature of the environments that her characters inhabit. A lot of the irony implicit to this comedy is that these absurd environments that are so hard for them to endure are actually products of the perceptions of the characters themselves. So we watch them and either chuckle quietly or read on with that half-smile/half-grimace that O'Connor often elicits until we realize that our worlds are quite the same.

And in "Parker's Back," this irony leads him into the tattoo parlor to be marked with the indelible gaze of God. It is quite similar to my salvation experience, so perhaps that is why I like the story so much.

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This article on "Parker's Back" is the first one I had to read at the site Josh posted. And they also offer this article on the story, too.

And in "Parker's Back," this irony leads him into the tattoo parlor to be marked with the indelible gaze of God. It is quite similar to my salvation experience, so perhaps that is why I like the story so much.

(M)Leary, that's pretty intriguing...

Oh, and Alan, I haven't read it yet, but I just noticed this article at the same site. It discusses the film version of Wise Blood.

--Diane

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Hey, did anybody catch the O'Connor reference in Raising Arizona? Check it out.

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Ditto on the general appreciation for O'Connor.

Has anyone else seen the film version of Wise Blood (starring Brad Dourif)?

Wow, Alan, I did not know about this thread, which has existed longer than I've been at Arts and Faith. So, I am about 4 years late in replying to this.

Yes, I have seen the film version of Wise Blood, probably about 25 times. We bought the VHS tape of it from a "used video" store, proabably about 12 years ago.

I highly recommend it. It is easy, though expensive, to obtain (e.g., at Amazon.com, where it is currently fetching anywhere from $45 to $120 !).

In fact, I'm afraid I've lost a bit of my sharpness on the novel itself, which I've only read 3 times. Generally, though, the film is pretty faithful with keeping the dialogue as Flannery wrote it. Some things are modified due to having it set in a later decade (e.g., Hazel drives a 1958 Ford in the film, when it should be an Essex). Some whole scenes are deleted, such as when Hazel and Enoch visit The Frosty Bottle.

"Parker's Back" is one that has stuck with me over the years. I find it so ironic that your professor refused to discuss "A Good Man..." because it is so disturbing to her. Of course it is! It is great literature, it has done to her what O'Connor intended for it to do.

But "Parker's Back" has always been for me a rallying point of her fiction. It has all of her typical themes and then introduces a befuddling element: the appearance of the image of Christ in an unspeakably interesting place. For me a lot of the "comedy" in O'Connor has been in the absurd nature of the environments that her characters inhabit. A lot of the irony implicit to this comedy is that these absurd environments that are so hard for them to endure are actually products of the perceptions of the characters themselves. So we watch them and either chuckle quietly or read on with that half-smile/half-grimace that O'Connor often elicits until we realize that our worlds are quite the same.

And in "Parker's Back," this irony leads him into the tattoo parlor to be marked with the indelible gaze of God. It is quite similar to my salvation experience, so perhaps that is why I like the story so much.

Parker's Back is the best fictional treatment of the Doctrine of the Incarnation that I've ever encountered.

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Parker's Back is the best fictional treatment of the Doctrine of the Incarnation that I've ever encountered.

Hmm, interesting interpretation of that story. Christ comes "in the flesh" in Parker and is rejected by those who do not know him.

I like it. Thanks.

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Here is an interesting, short article on Flannery O'Conner, from Touchstone magazine.

http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=20-07-015-v'> Three Things Evangelical Authors Can Learn from Flannery O

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Two of the most celebrated Christian novelists working today, Marilynne Robinson and Leif Enger, are writing from a decidedly evangelical perspective.

Are Robinson and Enger lauded and respected by non-Christian critics, as were O'Connor and Greene?

And the odds are far more lopsided in the popular music world, where it is evangelicals like U2 and Sufjan Stevens who have arguably released some of the best and most popular albums created from a Christian worldview.

Perhaps what is really going on here is that Evangelicals (and others) have largely abandoned the field of literature for other fields, e.g., music.

The argument in Touchstone was valid thirty years ago. It does not apply now, and it hasn't been true for a long time.

I think some of the points raised in the article (e.g., about any endeavor undertaken by evangelicals needing to have utilitarian value) are true. At least, that has been my experience, and I was raised 100% Evangelical. I also think that the "acid test" of taking the walk through the Christian bookstore will show exactly what Dr. Williams says it will show.

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Two of the most celebrated Christian novelists working today, Marilynne Robinson and Leif Enger, are writing from a decidedly evangelical perspective.

Are Robinson and Enger lauded and respected by non-Christian critics, as were O'Connor and Greene?

Enger's Peace Like a River was named the 2002 Book of the Year in the L.A. Times, and was lauded in almost every review. There are about four pages of review quotes at the beginning of the book, from virtually every respected newspaper and magazine in America and abroad. Robinson's latest novel Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

And the odds are far more lopsided in the popular music world, where it is evangelicals like U2 and Sufjan Stevens who have arguably released some of the best and most popular albums created from a Christian worldview.
Perhaps what is really going on here is that Evangelicals (and others) have largely abandoned the field of literature for other fields, e.g., music.

Well, as Robinson and Enger show, evangelicals haven't abandoned the field of literature. When you add in contemporaries such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, John Updike, and Anne Lamott, who really don't fit into either the High Church or the Evangelical categories, it seems fairly clear to me that non-liturgical, non-High Church Christians have as much of an impact on literature as they ever have.

The argument in Touchstone was valid thirty years ago. It does not apply now, and it hasn't been true for a long time.
I think some of the points raised in the article (e.g., about any endeavor undertaken by evangelicals needing to have utilitarian value) are true. At least, that has been my experience, and I was raised 100% Evangelical. I also think that the "acid test" of taking the walk through the Christian bookstore will show exactly what Dr. Williams says it will show.

Well sure, walking through a Christian bookstore will uncover a high degree of schlock and fructose. But to me, the real litmus test is walking through Barnes and Noble and Borders, where I would argue that non-liturgical, non-High Church Christians are just as well represented as their Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal brothers and sisters.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Thanks for the information, Andy! I have read most of these authors, however, and I don't find any of them (so far) to have risen to Flannery's level. Maybe I'm just a FOC snob.

However, her talent is of such a magnitude that she can be considered an "outlier" in terms of the statistical point the Touchstone article was attempting to make. A genius of her rank is a sort of "freak of nature", and might as easily occur in one church tradition as another, I suppose.

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Thanks for the information, Andy! I have read most of these authors, however, and I don't find any of them (so far) to have risen to Flannery's level. Maybe I'm just a FOC snob.

However, her talent is of such a magnitude that she can be considered an "outlier" in terms of the statistical point the Touchstone article was attempting to make. A genius of her rank is a sort of "freak of nature", and might as easily occur in one church tradition as another, I suppose.

Sure. You'll get no argument from me. I lobbied long and hard (and ultimately unsuccessfully) for my oldest daughter to be a "Flannery," precisely because of Ms. O'Connor. She really is in a class by herself. My only point here is that there are a number of contemporary evangelical or close-to-evangelical authors who are widely respected by people who normally disparage Christian authors.

I'll also add that Enger's Peace Like a River and Robinson's Gilead, although not quite in Flannery's league, are breathtakingly beautiful books.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Andy, we're two peas in a pod. I've decided that Flannery is the first name of choice if I have a daughter (I have a feeling it might be contested by whomever I marry :) ).

I used to hold by the "only good Christian writers of the 20th century come from liturgical blah blah blah" line, but then I discovered Robinson, Buechner, etc. And seriously, O'Connor is hard to touch, but Gilead comes MIGHTY close.

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