In a Grotesque, Yet Spiritual Place

Today, while bloghopping, I found a site where a Christian author, a year or so ago, had invited his readers to consider why Flannery O’Connor is so often disliked by Christian readers and writers. He suggested that discomfort with Flannery O’Connor’s fiction might be due to a limitation in Christians’ view of what fiction can and should be. Then followed a firestorm of strong opinions about O’Connor, ranging from “love her” to “admire her craft, but…” to “don’t like” and “hate.”

Was Flannery O’Connor attempting to write “Christian” literature? If so, to what extent did this involve her regionalism? For today’s meditation, I quote liberally from her 1960 essay, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” also published in Mystery and Manners. Either way, I encourage you to read her own words as she has authoritatively (if not divinely) ordered them.

Despite her strong Catholic faith, it appears that the author did not covet the badge of a “Christian writer,”  even as her intentions were mystical. Her focus was to tell a story, one strong enough to send a shock of spiritual magnitude through the reader, from which recovery would be slow and costly. Here are her words:

There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his senses tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.

From the tone of that last sentence, we may conclude that O’Connor disapproved of absolving the one she calls the “tired reader” with spiritual reassurance and a closing hymn, as the story ends.

(next post, more on Flannery O’Connor)

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