American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque

American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque

American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque

American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque


Focusing here on the comic genius of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, Anthony Di Renzo reveals a dimension of the author's work that has been overlooked by both her supporters and her detractors, most of whom have heretofore concentrated exclusively on her use of theology and parable.

Noting an especial kinship between her characters and the grotesqueries that adorn the margins of illuminated manuscripts and the facades of European cathedrals, he argues that O'Connor's Gothicism brings her tales closer in spirit to the English mystery cycles and the leering gargoyles of medieval architecture than to the Gothic fiction of Poe and Hawthorne to which critics have so often linked her work.

Relying partly on Mikhail Bakhtin's analysis of Rabelais, Di Renzo examines the different forms of the grotesque in O'Connor's fiction and the parallels in medieval art, literature, and folklore. He begins by demonstrating that the figure of Christ is the ideal behind her satire- an ideal, however, that must be degraded as well as exalted if it is ever to be a living presence in the physical world. Di Renzo goes on to discuss O'Connor's unusual treatment of the human body and its relationship to medieval fabliaux. He depicts the interplay between the saintly and the demonic in her work, illustrating how for her good is just as grotesque as evil because it is still "something under construction."


The idea for this book dates back to 1 November 1980. That was the day I tried returning a gargoyle to a novelty shop near Syracuse University. The gargoyle had been a prop for a comedy special on campus television, a parody of The Exorcist set in a network news studio. Bedeviled by inexplicable technical problems, however, the live broadcast on Halloween had been a disaster. The teleprompter had malfunctioned, the mikes had produced feedback, the scenery had cracked, and the control board had short-circuited. Not surprisingly, the superstitious television crew blamed the gargoyle; and since using the statue had been my idea, the producer ordered me to get rid of it. I accepted my penance philosophically. After all, tomorrow was All Saints' Day, and if you couldn't unload a gargoyle on All Saints' Day, when could you? But the clerk at the novelty shop didn't see it that way. Gargoyles, apparently, were nonrefundable. "Looks like you've got a friend for life," he said, his Cheshire grin matching the gargoyle's. He added that trying to disown the damn thing would only compound the jinx. I was stuck with it forever (heh, heh), and there was nothing I could do about it.

As a consolation prize for being saddled with a monstrosity, I visited the university bookstore. I was so preoccupied with the Halloween fiasco and the way the clerk had stonewalled me that I forgot to check the gargoyle at the door. I wandered abstractly through the stacks, the statue -- a squat, wingless griffin with a lopsided mouth -- tucked under my arm. I was dimly aware that people were staring but was too morose to care. When I reached the paperback section, however, I perked up. A bizarre book cover had caught my eye. Seated behind the wheel of a beat-up jalopy was a country preacher . . .

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