- Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Partnership by Patrick Samway, SJ
Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux is a tale of love and friendship. With meticulous detail, Patrick Samway charts the progress of O’Connor’s and Giroux’s relationship from their fateful first meeting on March 2, 1949 in the Madison Avenue offices of Harcourt, Brace (the publisher that employed Giroux at the time) until O’Connor’s death on August 3, 1964. And yet, in a sense, Samway’s book suggests that their relationship extends far beyond those scant fifteen years. In some ways their partnership seems to have been destined before they met, and it continues beyond their deaths. The books they produced together are still being published and read, and O’Connor enjoys her status as one of the twentieth century’s premiere writers at least in part because of their remarkable literary and theological kinship.
As editor of four of O’Connor’s books, including her first, the ground-breaking novel Wise Blood (wherein he first recognized her genius), and her last, The Collected Stories (which Giroux edited as she was dying, published posthumously, and witnessed its winning the National Book Award in 1972), Giroux was her literary partner for nearly the whole of her career. Though there were two interim editors who worked with O’Connor at Harcourt, Brace after Giroux resigned (1955) and before [End Page 79] O’Connor rejoined him when she began publishing with his new firm, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy (1958), O’Connor regarded Giroux as “the best” editor she had ever had (2). Samway’s account of their meeting and the flourishing of their friendship is governed by the eloquent metaphor of “confluence”: “When O’Connor first met Giroux, she could not have imagined the impact that meeting would have on her life . . . At that moment, the lives of these individuals, as well as certain of their friends and acquaintances flowed into one another, creating an unanticipated multilevel confluence whose swirling vortices move forward, creating receding eddies or new currents of one sort of another” (14–15, emphasis Samway’s). Samway traces this confluence faithfully, offering an account not only of O’Connor’s and Giroux’s lives, but also of the lives of many of their friends and associates, all of whom conspire, in ways both conscious and unconscious, to bring the two together and whose futures are shaped by their meeting. The reader learns of the complex relationships each shared with Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford, Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, and Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, among others. The book is a rich literary tapestry, full of anecdotes that illuminate the parallel and shared histories of this collection of writers, most of whom are Catholic. This latter fact, of course, is no coincidence, nor is the fact that it took a Catholic editor to recognize the genius of Flannery’s first novel. Bound by a common set of beliefs, most of which ran (and continue to run) counter to the prevailing secular literary culture, these writers understood there to be a mysterious intersection between their twin vocations as Catholics and artists, and they valued and encouraged one another’s work accordingly. In the midst of this mid-twentieth-century flowering of the Catholic imagination is the central figure of Robert Giroux, whose labors helped to bring it about.
The account of O’Connor’s life Samway provides is helpful and necessary in this context, and will be appreciated by readers, but the account of Giroux’s life breaks new ground. As Samway mentions, there has been “no formal in-depth biography” of this influential literary figure (a man who edited over 480 books, many of which have won Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes), and this book seeks to fill that serious lacuna in scholarship. Drawing heavily on the letters exchanged between O’Connor and Giroux, many of which have never been published before, Samway makes evident the “development of her stories and novels as detailed in...