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Hard Sayings

The Rhetorics of Christian Orthodoxy in Late Modern Fiction

Thomas F. Haddox

Publication Year: 2013

Hard Sayings: The Rhetoric of Christian Orthodoxy in Late Modern Fiction by Thomas F. Haddox examines the work of six avowedly Christian writers of fiction in the period from World War II to the present. This period is often characterized in western societies by such catchphrases as “postmodernism” and “secularization,” with the frequent implication that orthodox belief in the dogmas of Christianity has become untenable among educated readers. How, then, do we account for the continued existence of writers of self-consciously literary fiction who attempt to persuade readers of the truth, desirability, and utility of the dogmas of Christianity? Is it possible to take these writers’ efforts on their own terms and to understand and evaluate the rhetorical strategies that this kind of persuasion might entail? Informed by the school of rhetorical narratology that includes such critics as Wayne Booth, James Phelan, and Richard Walsh, Hard Sayings offers fresh new readings of fictive works by Flannery O’Connor, Muriel Spark, John Updike, Walker Percy, Mary Gordon, and Marilynne Robinson. In its argument that orthodox Christianity, as represented in fiction, still has the power to persuade and to trouble, it contributes to ongoing debates about the nature and scope of modernity, postmodernity, and secularization.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press

Series: Literature, Religion, and Postsecular Studies


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

No book is produced alone, and whatever merits this one may possess derive in large part from the contributions of friends, colleagues, and family members who discussed it with me, offered constructive criticism, and encouraged me to persevere. Among my colleagues at the University of Tennessee, I particularly want to thank Misty Anderson, Dawn Coleman, Allen Dunn, Amy Elias, Heather Hirschfeld, Russel Hirst, Mark Hulsether, ...

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Introduction: Christian Orthodoxy and the Rhetoric of Fiction

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pp. 1-21

This is a book about the work of six writers of fiction—Flannery O’Connor, Muriel Spark, John Updike, Walker Percy, Mary Gordon, and Marilynne Robinson—and its relationship to what i call “Christian orthodoxy.” I define Christian orthodoxy as the conviction that the central dogmas and moral imperatives of historic Christianity are true and binding and that we ...

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1. Flannery O'Connor, the Irreducibility of Belief, and the Problem of Audience

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pp. 23-49

Any consideration of the rhetoric of Christian orthodoxy in late modern fiction cannot avoid Flannery O’Connor, for no other Christian writer of the period has been as explicit about her avowed purpose and her intended audience. Her commentary on her fiction has been quoted perhaps more often than the fiction itself, and her statements have, through repetition, acquired a magisterial ring. “Let me make no bones about it: I write from ...

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2. Catholicism for "Really Intelligent People": The Rhetoric of Muriel Spark

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pp. 50-84

When Muriel Spark died in 2006, after a career that spanned five decades, obituaries duly identified her as a Catholic writer, and the most perceptive of them followed earlier critics in noting her affinities with Flannery O’Connor.1 Both writers avow a religious dimension in their work; both have a marked hatred for sentimentality; and both are known for violence and shock—not only in the fates that often befall their characters but also ...

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3. John Updike's Rhetoric of Christian American Narcissism

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pp. 85-124

In an unfavorable—and now legendary—review of Toward the End of Time (1997), David Foster Wallace refers to John Updike as one of the “Great Male Narcissists who’ve dominated postwar American fiction” (51). The label is apt, for many of the specific indictments that have been lodged against Updike in the course of his career—misogyny, satyriasis, quietism, racism, preciousness of style, distortion of Christian doctrine—converge ...

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4. Walker Percy's Rhetoric of Time, Apocalypse, and the Modern Predicament

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pp. 125-160

Among avowedly Christian writers of merit in the late twentieth century, Walker Percy is distinguished not only by his novelistic achievement but also by the range and sophistication of his intellectual interests. Valued by some readers primarily as a novelist and by others as a philosopher or even a guru, Percy has engaged in his fiction and essays with French existentialism, the civil rights movement in the South, the mid-twentieth-century ...

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5. The Uses of Orthodoxy: Mary Gordon and Marilynne Robinson

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pp. 161-203

Nearly fifty years after its commencement, few topics continue to generate as much debate within Roman Catholicism as “the spirit of Vatican II.” Should the pastoral council of the 1960s be understood as continuous with earlier magisterial teachings or as a dramatic departure from them that redefines what it means to be Catholic? Numerous observers have offered conflicting interpretations of the council and of its effects in the ...

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Epilogue: On Belief and Academic Humility

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pp. 204-207

In 2005, Stanley Fish predicted that religion “would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy” (“One University”). Eight years later, I can tentatively conclude that Fish was on to something. Religion has certainly not replaced these earlier foci, and its increased presence in the academy has not always entailed respect—certainly those who despise it, such as the New ...

Works Cited

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pp. 209-217


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pp. 218-225

Other Works in the Series

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p. 235-235

Back Cover

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p. 236-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270080
E-ISBN-10: 0814270085
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212080
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212085

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Literature, Religion, and Postsecular Studies