Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor

Article excerpt

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor. By Brad Gooch. New York: Little, Brown ami Company, 2009. 464 pp. S30.00 (cloth).

As does ber fiction, so does Flaniiery O'Connors life present a mystery. She was at once deeply pious and scandalously witty, eminently sociable and pai nfullv withdrawn. How, a reader asks, can someone who came from a relatively privileged and sheltered life write stories of such literary and theological power and violence? Educated as she was in the relative seclusion of Roman Catholic schools, the Georgia State College for Women, and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where did she get the kind of life experience that so informs IrCr work? And how. given her deep intellectual sophistication, could she have faced the depredations of the twentieth century as an unreformed, ardent exponent of unalloyed, uncritical, pre-Vatiean II Roman Catholic doctrine?

Brad Gooch s wonderful and eminently readable new biography, Flannenj: A Life of Flannen/ O'Connor, is only partially successful at answering these questions. A literary rather than a theological biography, Flannen/ is better at mining the stories for correspondences in the life than it is at peering through those stories into the edifice of O'Connors theological faith. But there are welcome discoveries along the way. For example, we learn that toward the end of" her college career, O'Connor demonstrated a sophisticated command of Aquinas as she argued in philosophy class with her modernist professor George Beiswanger (who nevertheless realized her brilliance and helped her win a scholarship to the University of Iowa). And Gooch is especially good at detailing Flannery O'Connor's late-life engagement with the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose publication in English translation in the 1950s was so influential on O'Connor's last novel. Even/thing That Rises Must Converge. As Flanneiy O'Connor wrote in 1958, "This is not an age of great Catholic theolog)'. . . . What St. Thomas did for the new learning of the 13th century we are in had need of someone to do for the 20th" (p. 323). O'Connor found that someone in Teilhard's paleontological theology, and Goocb did well accounting the way .she accommodated that theology to her ongoing "absolute Thomism," but a theologically-oriented reader would like to have seen a longer discussion in greater depth. …

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