Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Series Foreword

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pp. vii-viii

Those who undertake a study of American political thought must attend to the great theorists, philosophers, and essayists. Such a study is incomplete, however, if it neglects American literature, one of the greatest repositories of the nation’s political thought and teachings.
America’s literature is distinctive because it is, above all, intended for a democratic citizenry. In contrast to eras when an author would aim to inform or influence a select aristocratic audience, in democratic times, public...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-20

A Political Companion to Flannery O’Connor offers essays to help the reader appreciate Flannery O’Connor’s brilliance as a short story writer, novelist, essayist, and correspondent; and, her importance as a political philosopher, even if political philosophy was for O’Connor an irregular and inadvertent activity. Nonetheless, her contribution to political philosophy should not be surprising: she regularly reviewed books on philosophy and theology for periodicals in the Diocese of Savannah and the Diocese of Atlanta, and she...

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1 Flannery O’Connor and the Agrarians: Authentic Religion and Southern Identity

John D. Sykes Jr

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pp. 21-44

Nothing was more instrumental in shaping Flannery O’Connor’s politics than her placement in the two polities with which she was constantly identified, the Roman Catholic Church and the American South. Even in the midst of resisting stereotypes associated with Catholics and southerners, she defined herself in relation to them, as she does most explicitly in the essay “The Catholic Novelist in the South.”1 Given her investment in the topic of southern identity, it is surprising that she did not read...

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2 “These Jesuits Work Fast”: O’Connor’s Elusive Politics

Benjamin B. Alexander

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pp. 45-67

In January 1956, the Reverend James H. McCown, a Jesuit priest serving a small parish in Macon, Georgia, heard that forty miles away in Milledgeville there was a “coming young writer, a Catholic,” named Flannery O’Connor who labored at her craft in obscurity at her mother’s dairy farm. Afflicted with lupus, yet eschewing self-pity, O’Connor quipped that her suffering taught her more about God’s mercy than a trip to Europe.1 A determined Father McCown enlisted “Mr. Ridley,” a member of his congregation described as a “fat big-hearted unacademic whiskey salesman and lover of...

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3 Desegregation and the Silent Character in O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

Michael L. Schroeder

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pp. 68-78

In spite of all that has been said and written about Flannery O’Connor’s attitude toward race and the changes taking place in racial relations in the late 1950s and early 1960s, most scholars continue to see her attitudes on the topic to be, as concisely stated by Brad Gooch, “one of complex ambivalence” (332). Yet it is misleading to say, as Margaret Earley Whitt does, that “O’Connor was silent towards the events of the civil rights movement—in her letters, in her interviews, in her public talks, and, except for a topical reference...

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4 The Pivotal Year, 1963: Flannery O’Connor and the Civil Rights Movement

Margaret Earley Whitt

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pp. 79-100

The modern civil rights movement, dating from the mid-1950s until Martin Luther King’s death in 1968, takes its origins in three distinct events: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (May 1954), the lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi (August 1955), and the Montgomery bus boycott (December 1955–December 1956). The active days of the civil rights movement and the writing career of Flannery O’Connor have considerable overlap. Interestingly, O’Connor unwittingly predicts her days through one of her female characters, the thirty-two-year-old Joy/Hulga...

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5 Flannery O’Connor, Friedrich von Hügel, and “This Modernist Business”

George Piggford, C.S.C.

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pp. 101-125

In a letter dated July 22, 1956, Flannery O’Connor commented to her new friend and recent Catholic convert William Sessions that “I am getting all this Modernist business more or less straight for the first time.”1 The phrase “this Modernist business” refers to the most significant theological controversy in the Roman Catholic Church in the early twentieth century, what historians commonly term the “modernist crisis.”2 Ideas associated with modernism informed O’Connor’s thought and writing, especially through...

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6 Flannery O’Connor, the Left-Wing Mystic, and the German Jew: A Reconsideration

Sarah Gordon

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pp. 126-144

In a letter to Betty Hester (“A”) in August 1955, Flannery O’Connor wrote: “I am wondering if you have read Simone Weil. I never have and doubt if I would understand her if I did; but from what I have read about her, I think she must have been a very great person. She and Edith Stein are the two twentieth-century women who interest me most” (HB 93). The tone of O’Connor’s statement here is typical of the voice we recognize throughout the letters, intellectually self-effacing and candid. At the time of the writing of this letter, it might be surprising that the thirty-year-old O’Connor, living...

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7 Sacramental Suffering: The Friendship of Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth Hester

Ralph C. Wood

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pp. 145-175

In a letter written to her friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald only a year before her death, Flannery O’Connor reported on the contribution she had made to an ecumenical symposium on religion and art held at Sweet Briar College in March 1963: “I waded in and gave them a nasty dose of orthodoxy. . . . I told them that when Emerson decided in 1832 that he could no longer celebrate the Lord’s supper unless the bread and wine were removed that an important step in the vaporization of religion in America had taken...

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8 Flannery O’Connor as Baroque Artist: Theological and Literary Strategies

Mark Bosco, S.J.

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pp. 176-198

Flannery O’Connor often described herself to friends and colleagues as a “thirteenth-century lady.” Brad Gooch, in his biography of the writer, offers many instances of this in O’Connor’s own correspondence. The most striking is a secondhand reference in a letter written by the musicologist Edward Maisel to Yaddo director Mrs. Ames, encouraging her to invite O’Connor back for the winter term at the artists’ retreat: “I have been on several evening walks with her, and find her immensely serious, with a sharp sense of...

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9 O’Connor and the Rhetoric of Eugenics: Misfits, the “Unfit,” and Us

Farrell O’Gorman

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pp. 199-221

Medical historians Todd Savitt and James Harvey Young have offered one of the most straightforward answers to the question, “What has, historically, made the South such a distinctive region of the United States?”—or, to put it more negatively, “What has made the South such an American problem?” Their book chronicles the region’s long-standing experience of, and particular reputation for, diseases linked to climate, to socioeconomic factors, or to both, from the colonial era through World War II.1 The most devastating diagnosis of the region’s ills ever presented, however, was surely that of...

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10 “School for Sanctity”: O’Connor, Illich, and the Politics of Benevolence

Gary M. Ciuba

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pp. 222-250

From 1961 to 1964, Flannery O’Connor corresponded with Roslyn Barnes about her friend’s membership in the Papal Auxiliary Volunteers for Latin America (PAVLA). Formed in 1960 during the pontificate of John XXIII, PAVLA was a kind of Catholic precursor of the Peace Corps, which was formed a year later under the presidency of John F. Kennedy.1 The program sent lay missionaries to help the Church in Latin America as it confronted socioeconomic injustices, government hostility, a critical shortage of priests,...

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11 “He Thinks He’s Jesus Christ!”: Flannery O’Connor, Russell Kirk, and the Problem of Misguided Humanitarianism

Henry T. Edmondson III

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pp. 251-277

Sometimes humane impulses turn sinister, and the damage done by the “humanitarian” may be directly proportionate to the fervor with which such humanitarianism is undertaken. Flannery O’Connor suggests such a possibility in her famous introduction to the “A Memoir of Mary Anne,” a short biography of a young girl who succumbed to cancer in the care of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne’s Atlanta house. In perhaps the most remarkable line in that stirring essay, she suggests that benevolence is in...

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12 Flannery O’Connor and Political Community in “The Displaced Person”

John Roos

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pp. 278-302

In such stories as “View of the Woods,” “The River,” and “The Artificial Nigger,” Flannery O’Connor focuses on relations within the small community of the family. In “The Displaced Person,” O’Connor moves from the question of how one treats one’s children or parents to the question of how one treats the stranger—the other. Published in 1954, a time when American xenophobia was being fanned by Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade, the story explores the terrible consequences of communities built on exclusionary principles.1...

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13 Future Flannery, or, How a Hillbilly Thomist Can Help Us Navigate the Politics of Personhood in the Twenty-First Century

Christina Bieber Lake

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pp. 303-326

A self-described “hillbilly Thomist,” Flannery O’Connor was a national anomaly. Equal parts Georgia hillbilly and devoted Catholic writer, she wrote stories about common southerners for no other reason than that they were her people, as blessed by God as anybody. If she wrote about intellectuals, politicians, or pseudo-celebrities, it was only to make fun of them, to take them down a notch or two. The people she wrote about because she loved them were the “folk”: people like Obadiah Elihue Parker, as “ordinary...

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14 In Defense of Being: Flannery O’Connor and the Politics of Art

John F. Desmond

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pp. 327-348

Flannery O’Connor is not usually considered to be a political writer. She would not be included in the ranks of George Orwell, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Graham Greene, or even Joseph Conrad, one of her favorite writers, in this regard. Obviously she was interested in the major historical and cultural events of her day—the effects of the Holocaust, the atom bomb, the politics of changing southern society, and racial strife across the United States, to name a few—but to measure her significance as a political writer, a much...

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15 Flannery O’Connor, Eric Voegelin, and the Question That Lies between Them

Marion Montgomery

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pp. 349-366

Flannery O’Connor was much taken with Erie Voegelin’s great undertaking, Order and History. She reviewed the first three volumes for the Bulletin, her diocesan weekly, and the volumes in her library are heavily marked, showing how closely she read them. But we may well consider a possible limit to her interest, particularly in relation to a central question raised by the most recent volume of that work, The Ecumenic Age, a question implicit from the beginning and one of which she must have been aware. It is a...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 367-368

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 369-372

Contributors

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pp. 373-376

Index

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pp. 377-390