Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Flannery O'Connor

She would have been 84 years old today. But she died nearly 45 years ago from lupus, at the age of 39.

Ralph Wood, observing that "it is almost impossible to read O'Connor without revulsion," explains the key to understanding her life and work:
The key to comprehending Flannery O’Connor’s life and work is to remember that, in her lexicon, divine grace is never synonymous with human graciousness. On the contrary, it is often abrupt and rude and disrespectful of ordinary proprieties, for the skin of human resistance is exceedingly thick. When asked why her characters meet such violent self-awakenings, O’Connor replied that it’s because their heads are so hard. Grace must wound before it can heal, she declared, and her fiction is filled with both woundings and healings. O’Connor wittily consoled readers that, while a lot of folks get killed in her fiction, nobody gets hurt. In her unsentimental reckoning, there are states of thriving but damnable life far worse than a grisly but saving death. Thus is O’Connor’s fiction comic in a precise Dantesque sense: It does not close down toward tragic and final defeat, but opens out toward drastic, even eternal, hope — often at the threshold of total ruin. And this is why, though lean and angular, her fiction will endure.
Read the whole thing.