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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.4 (2001) 1035-1036

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Book Review

Flannery O'Connor:
Hermit Novelist


Richard Giannone. Flannery O'Connor: Hermit Novelist. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000. x + 287pp.

In Flannery O'Connor: Hermit Novelist, Richard Giannone, Professor of English at Fordham University, reads O'Connor against the tenets of the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-century Christian monastics who retreated to the desert for spiritual renewal and communion with God. Drawing upon O'Connor's classification of herself as a "hermit novelist," Gianonne says that her isolation is both internal and external. Her disease, Lupus erethematos, "yanked her back" to her backwoods home, four miles outside Milledgeville, Georgia, creating a situation he likens to the desert mothers and fathers who understood "the interior bearings of the new starting point to which the homecomer, by choice or fate is bought."

Giannone quotes extensively from The Sayings of the Desert Father,The Lives of the Desert Fathers, and fromJohn Cassian's Conferences. He cites Athanasius's The Life of Antony, Carl Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul, and Thomas Merton's The Seven Story Mountain--as well as such individuals as Amma Theodora, Abbas Anastasius, Aresenius, Isidore of [End Page 1035] Pelusia, Poemen, Rufus, Isaiah, Elias, Evagarius, and Theophilus, to name a few. Giannone's study illumines the lives and characters of the early Christian monastics and examines their acedia, penthos, and concern with driving out demons, which seems, at times, to be grafted onto O'Connor's life and work. Both O'Connor herself and the character Mrs. Greenleaf are designated desert mothers or ammas, the latter "[w]ithout knowing or needing to know the lives and sayings of the desert elders," for she "lives out their exhortations for healing in times of crisis." "Had Mrs. May lived in the time of the desert mothers and fathers," Giannone continues, "when people in mourning and prayer indulged in more boisterous expressions of grief than is often practiced today, she would not have been startled by Mrs. Greenleaf's groaning, sprawled body." Mrs. May, however, did not live in the time of the desert hermits, and it is not clear what "boisterous expressions of grief" are subject to indulgence nor is it stated how the aforementioned expressions are practiced today. Likewise, it seems hard to subscribe to the claim that "thinking the same thoughts as the desert elders, and feeling as they do, O'Connor intuitively reimagines so closely a vignette in The Lives of the Desert Fathers that the fourth-century Egyptian text serves to introduce and elucidate Tarwater's final action."

Although Giannone says that he avoids "trendy academic jargon" in order to make his writing "clear and readable," pedestrian phrases sometimes grate against the author's more erudite uses of Greek and Latin. For example, in reference to the "spree killer" in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Gianonne writes, "This is one nasty misfit." Mr. Head and Nelson in "The Artificial Nigger" are likened to "Catullus, the ancient Roman poet preparing to return home after a painful absence," and are "afflicted with happy feet (laeti pedes)." Nevertheless, as John F. Desmond states in the blurb on back cover of the text, Giannone's study is an important one, especially as it yields new spiritual insights into O'Connor's characters. Flannery O'Connor: Hermit Novelist adds another dimension to the theological studies of O'Connor's work.


Sue Walker
University of South Alabama



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