American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 2

American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 2

American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 2

American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 2


Part of an ongoing series covering the texts and lives of the most important women writers of English, this book contains introductory essays by Harold Bloom and provides biographical information, a wide selection of critical excerpts, and complete bibliographies of 11 authors.


Though there are other writers of authentic literary eminence studied in this volume—such as Zora Neale Hurston and Carson McCullers—it seems clear to me that Flannery O'Connor was the most remarkable. Her mode was Southern Gothic, following the Faulkner of As I Lay Dying and Sanctuary in particular, but in O'Connor this is the Southern Gothic of an aggressive Roman Catholic moralist. That blend is astonishing and spiritually very problematic, though the frequent aesthetic splendor that ensues is indisputable.

What mattered most to O'Connor were transcendental entities and verities, no matter how high the cost was to naturalistic experience, whether her own or that of her doom-eager characters. the terrible violence depicted in O'Connor's work was, for her, the inevitable effect of the sacred breaking in upon the fallen world of unbelief. Sacred violence was not only O'Connor's subject but also constituted her stance toward her readers, most of whom she accurately assumed would be skeptics or unbelievers. Myself a Gnostic heretic, a knower rather than an unbeliever, I tend to discover in O'Connor's work an uncanny tension between a Gnostic sensibility and a Catholic believer's morality. Though she fiercely denounced all heresy and affirmed the Church's primacy on all questions of faith and morals, O'Connor's imagination nevertheless manifested heretical tendencies, to the great advantage of her fiction.

John Burt, one of O'Connor's most acute critics, said that "she herself rejects the inward power which her characters take as their sole authority, and through irony and even ridicule she forcefully keeps her point of view separate from theirs." O'Connor's favorite characters are wild Protestants who each form sects of one, American Religionists rather than mainline believers. They tend therefore to be Gnostic seekers and prophets, like Hazel Motes in Wise Blood and the boy Francis Tarwater in The Violent Bear It Away. Burt shrewdly observes that these figures win the respect of both the author and the reader. From O'Connor's perspective, they are fearfully mistaken persons who should seek salvation in the one true authority: the Roman Catholic Church. Yet O'Connor's imagination thrills to them and to their grotesque quests.

Young Tarwater in particular moves O'Connor greatly, as he does any sensitive reader. I once described Tarwater as "the Huck Finn of visionaries" and cite that here because I cannot improve upon it. Perhaps Tarwater is clinically schizophrenic: he hears the voice of the Devil speaking to him from within as a nameless "friend," and he achieves liberation from the Devil only by setting a forked tree ablaze until it becomes "an arch of fire." and yet Tarwater is in most other respects as sane as Huck Finn, valuing freedom above all, as Huck . . .

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