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DOUBLEFLANNERY c.RalphStephens, ed. The Corre:ipondence of Flannery O'Connor and the Brainard Cheneys. Jackson: University Pressof Mississippi, 1986. xxvii + 220 pp. MarshallBruce Gentry. Flannery O'Connor's Religion of theGrotesque. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.ix + 177pp. Frederick Asals Thecorrespondence of Flannery O'Connor and "Lon" and "Fannie" Cheney makes a neat supplement to the O'Connor letters collected in The Habit of Being, where none of these appeared. As fellow-Southerners and Catholics involvedwith literature, they shared several common grounds, and the acquaintance that began whenO'Connor wrote to acknowledge Cheney's review of Wise Blood--one of thevery few discerning ones on that first novel-rapidly became a warm fnendshipthat continued until O'Connor's death in 1964. Readersfamiliar with TheHabit of Being will find little in the current collection tostartlethem. It is somewhat surprising to see that when, in the mid-1950s, Lon Cheneyproposed to organize a provincial theatre group, O'Connor expressed apparently genuine interest in writing for it, but since the plan never materialised wecanonly wonder what the writer, who admitted she knew nothing about plays yetspokedismissively of Tennessee Williams, might have come up with. Mainly, however,these letters swap gossip, news, plans for visits, reports on health, and sometimesmanuscripts; they testify once again to a relaxed friendliness in O'Connor'spersonal life that may always come as a mild shock to readers of her fiction.What clearly carries over from letters to stories is her inveterate comic sense andthe wit with which she articulates it, and veteran O'Connorites will not wantto pass up bits like these: Ongoingto church: "I like to go to early mass so I won't have to dress up--combining the7th Deadly Sin with the Sunday obligation." 232 FrederickAsals On snapshots purportedly of herself: ''That decidedly ain't me except in the pictur, which looks like an ad for acid indigestion." i: On speaking to the ladies of the Catholic Parish Council on the "daring subJect" "What Is a Wholesome Novel?": "Unfortunately I don't know what a wholesorn; novel is either; I am never informed on the subjects I discuss. I did tell them thatth~ average Catholic reader was a Militant Moron. T.hey sat there like a band of genteel desperados and never moved a face muscle. I might have been saying the rosary In them." l The volume has been tactfully but quite fully edited and has the advantageover The Habit of Being of presenting both sides of the correspondence and (withfew and noted exceptions) of printing letters complete. However, it clearly doesnot have the importance of that larger collection, and with a rather hefty pricetag15 likely to appeal mainly to O'Connor aficionados or to those interested in~he literary life in the South around the mid-twentieth century. The other recent O'Connor book from University Press of Mississippi conjures up a figure who seems only distantly related to the writer of these letters. Theclue to the difference, I think, is found in Marshall Bruce Gentry's conclusron to Flannery O'Connor's Religion of the Grotesque. Using Enoch Emery's andMrs. Flood's '' grotesque misunderstandings'' of Hazel Motes as his model, heargues that O'Connor encourages her readers to be misreaders, for the personallycreative use of the grotesque is what produces the ''paths to redemption'' in O'Connor's work. I believe it is most useful to take Gentry's own book as one such "misreading" rather than to suggest, as he sometimes does, that O'Connor intended the readings he finds. Seen in this manner, Gentry's undertaking becomes an attempt to mediate between those who insist O'Connor's work is orthodoxly Catholic (Kathleen Feeley et al) and those who find its value to be entirely secular (Josephine Hendin et al). Thus Gentry affirms the religious concern of the fiction, but thoroughly psychologizes it: grace, for instance, he views as usually ''caused by sin'' and ordinarily within the control of the character who attempts to forge his m\r, redemption through a process of self-transformation. The religious sensehere owes more to Bakhtin than to Aquinas: the Russian writer's view of the grotesque is crucial to Gentry...


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