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FLANNERY O'CONNOR'S "A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND'' AND G. K. CHESTERTON'S MANALlVE William J. Scheick University of Texas at Austin In recent years critics have worked diligently to reveal the traditions informing Flannery OlConnor's writings. This undertaking has identified several influences on her fiction. Chief among these influences have been the Bible and various Christian thinkers ranging from Aquinas to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Jacques Maritain; and next in importance has been the heritage of Poe, Hawthorne, and James.1 The heritage of the romance tradition, however, did not come to O'Connor simply from her American predecessors. The romance tradition flourished in England too, and among the writers in this tradition was Gilbert K. Chesterton, whose Christian perspective and fictional technique would have appealed to O'Connor. In fact, recently a critic cogently remarked the similarities between O'Connor's and Chesterton s views on romance and fantasy, although this critic only notes the similarities without suggesting Chesterton s possible influence and finally places O'Connor "among Hawthorne 's following."2 As a major Catholic writer, Chesterton would have attracted O'Connor s attention, for in her letters and essays she frequently registered her interest in the subject of Catholic authors.3 She apparently owned only one of Chesterton's books4 and she certainly did not refer to him often. A notable instance of her interest in Chesterton, however, occurs in a letter (January 1, 1956), in which she indicates that she has not yet read Elizabeth Sewell's article on Chesterton printed in a current issue of Thought.5 The scarcity of O'Connor's references to Chesterton has contributed to critical insensitivity to the possibility of his influence on her. Also contributing to this oversight is the general unfamiliarity with Chesterton's writings and the specific critical consignment of Chesterton 's work to a small niche; both factors tend to obscure Chesterton's impact on such later significant authors as Jorge Luis Borges6 and O'Connor , at least on O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." The genesis of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" has been traced to various news items in the Atlanta Journal.7 The evidence for this origin is circumstantial, but enough particulars ofcongruence emerge to suggest that O'Connor might indeed have transformed in her story bits and pieces from various news accounts. Nevertheless, the most enigmatic moment in the story, the Misfit's conclusion that the grandmother "would have been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life, "8 has no analog in the news accounts O'Connor 242Notes read in the Atlanta Journal. Its origin appears to be Chesterton's Manalive . Manalive recounts the strange adventures of Innocent Smith, "an allegorical practical joker, "9 who seeks to remind himself, by every electric shock to the intellect, that he is still a man alive. . . . For this reason he fires bullets at his liest friends; , . Tie arranges ladders and collapsible chimneys to steal his own property; . . . he goes plodding round a whole planet to get back to his own home; ... he has been in the habit of taking the woman whom he loved with a permanent loyalty, and leaving her about (so to speak) at schools, boarding-houses, and places of business, so that he might recover her again and again (p. 368). Often Smith's peculiar, "immature" behavior appears to be criminal, but in fact its "moral meaning ... is concerned with an attempt to recover the lost sense of wonder and glamour of everyday life."10 The first of Smith's "crimes" or "jokes" most corresponds to the Misfit's behavior in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find. In this episode Emerson Eames, a student of Schopenhauer and a professor at the college Smith attends, concludes that life is not worth living: "A puppy with hydrophobia would probably struggle for life while we killed it; but if we were kind we should kill it. So an omniscient god would put us out of our pain" (p. 211). Smith, with a characteristic lunacy which paradoxically makes rational sense, suddenly pulls a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 241-245
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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