- Revelation and Convergence: Flannery O’Connor and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition ed. by Mark Bosco, SJ and Brent Little
In the very first chapter of Don Quixote, Cervantes diagnoses his hero’s malady: “Our gentleman became so caught up in reading that he spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading from sunrise to sunset, and so with too little sleep and too much reading his brains dried up, causing him to lose his mind” (Edith Grossman’s translation, 21). Everyone knows the rest of the story. Quixote has become a fixture of Western culture not only because of his misadventures, but because his “illness” illuminates a profound truth: we are what we read. The Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance may be foolish, deluded, or (of course) Quixotic, but he is only so a few degrees more than those of us who have turned to libraries for the same reasons as Quixote: to find something beyond our quotidian experiences. And as Quixote had The Four Books of Amadis of Gaul, Don Olivante of Laura, and Don Belainis to inspire him, so Flannery O’Connor had Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest, Bloy’s Pilgrim of the Absolute, and Baron Von Hügel’s Essays. Revelation and Convergence: Flannery O’Connor and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition combs the stacks of O’Connor’s library to help us better understand O’Connor’s “ongoing conversation with the Catholic theological and literary heritage” (9). It is an indispensable guide to what the editors call “the writer’s intellectual life of faith” (3) and will interest scholars of O’Connor and Catholic fiction.
Those familiar with O’Connor and her reading habits may, by force of habit, first think of Jacques Maritain and Augustine as authors who had influenced her work—and such readers would, of course, be well-grounded in their assumptions. One of the collected essays, Stephen E. Lewis’s “Mysterious Heart: Maritain, Mauriac, Chrétien, and O’Connor on the Fictional Knowledge of Others” raises the issue of whether any writer of fiction could—or should—assume a knowledge of the “secret and innermost interiority of a human being’s ‘heart,’ in the biblical [End Page 79] sense of the term” (78). Jacques Maritain called such presumptions “shameless” (78), while Francois Mauriac responded to Maritain’s charge with the claim that novelists had not only the wherewithal, but the duty, to assume godly understandings of their creations to better dramatize and explore the nature of fallen humanity. Lewis examines how O’Connor’s reading reveals that she “absorbed what was at stake in the Maritain-Mauriac debate in both direct and indirect ways” (81); his essay is notable for how it transcends a discussion of O’Connor and provokes the reader into regarding how “radical our reading experiences have become” in light of our expectation of being able to judge fictional characters from “the prerogative of God alone” (85).
Other essays examine other influences of O’Connor’s reading, both expected and unexpected. In “The ‘All-Demanding Eyes’: St. Augustine and the Restless Seeker,” Andrew J. Garavel, SJ, explains how the protagonist of “Parker’s Back” can be considered a “restless fellow wanderer” (165) like Augustine as portrayed in his Confessions. The link between Augustine and O’Connor is also explored by Jessica Hooten Wilson in her sharp treatment of O’Connor’s unfinished novel, Why Do the Heathen Rage?—a treatment that also examines how O’Connor’s reading of Rev. Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints influenced her final work. In “O’Connor’s ‘Pied Beauty’: Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Aesthetics of Difference,” the book’s co-editor, Mark Bosco, SJ, explores how the poet’s “aesthetics of contrast and difference” are “amplified” in O’Connor’s work (110). These essays take texts with which many readers of O’Connor are familiar and pair them in illuminating ways. In “Mrs. May’s Dark Night in O...