Flannery O’Connor and the Christ haunted South

Biography

Author RALPH C. WOOD

Publisher WM. B. EERDMANS

ISBN 0-8028-2999-3

I think it was the reading of Eugene Peterson who first put me on to the writings of Flannery O’Connor.  A little later, when we began to minister a bit in the South I was advised that I would never understand the South unless I read about the Civil War and some of the southern writers.  She is one of those known as the writers of “southern gothic” literature.  The use of the word ‘gothic’ relates more to the idea of ‘ugly’ when used of literature, a style that is not beautiful in the accepted sense.  She suffered from the disease of lupus that in the end took her life in 1964 at the age of 39.  She had inherited this condition from her father who lived until he was 44.  She was a committed Roman Catholic and nearly all her short stories and novels are set in the southern states of the USA and she came from and did most of her writing in Georgia.  Ralph C. Wood is a Southern Baptist minister who has taught in several southern universities and has written books that reveal what an astute critic of Christianity and literature he is and this particular book on the writings of O’Connor is illuminating to say the least.  He shows how, in much of her writing, she was a real prophet who rightly discerned what was taking place in the Christian south and other parts of the Union and to the wider Christian church.  I would call this book one that is pretty powerful and deserves to be read several times as well as obviously reading the writings of O’Connor herself.  I mention the word ‘gothic’ when applied to literature implies the grotesque and one of the things that Woods’ book does is show us that in the stories he is analyzing that ‘grotesque’ element is rooted in O’Connor’s conviction that Christianity requires a one hundred percent response rather than the effete mediocrity that is so patent in much of Nth American Christianity.  The characters and story lines O’Connor employs are mind blowing and arresting to say the least.  A first reading will not be sufficient to grasp what she is saying and that is why books like this by Wood are much needed to help those of us who more philistine and dull in our understanding to get a handle on what is going on.  This author/lecturer is a bit of a rare breed, although an evangelical Baptist, it is amazing to see him quoting various Roman Catholic authors (some of whom are more perceptive than their protestant counterparts) and also theologians like Karl Barth.  Underlying the writings of Flannery O’Connor there is a holy fire rising right above denominationalism and the color line and at the same time there is a kind of strange joy evident in the pathos.  She must have been an amazing woman and Ralph Wood helps to quicken our interest.  The writings of O’Connor speak to the church today but it is likely that we will need interpreters like Ralph C. Wood to help us in our understanding of her message.

Last modified: October 21, 2013

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