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REVIEW-ESSAY JOSEPH M. FLORA University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emeritus Desire, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor ANGELA O’DONNELL’S SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR WAS written for the People of God Series. The series, designed for the general reader, aims to inspire through narrations of the lives of twentieth- or twenty-first-century Catholics. O’Donnell teaches at Fordham University, and her roots are Irish. She makes no claim to a Southern identity. Her subject is, of course, famously Southern, though Southernness is not the identity most important to O’Connor. The subtitle skillfully announces what was O’Connor’s focus and what drew O’Donnell to O’Connor: “Fiction Fired by Faith.” Most O’Connor aficionados would agree this was what she wanted her fiction to be. O’Donnell’s account of O’Connor’s life is a mix of encyclopedic detail and insightful attention to the “fired” fiction. The author never hides her own religious commitment or the important part that O’Connor has played in that commitment. Her study foregrounds the great price exacted for O’Connor’s achievement. Well-read by the time she completed her apprenticeship in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, O’Connor knew first-hand the temptations of the intellect. But she was careful to continue study of the great theologians along with her secular reading, and she attended mass regularly. Her views were tested often during her time at Yaddo and in New York City. She could hold her own with the doubters, and she made tight bonds with several Catholic intellectuals. At age twenty-five, O’Connor would be deprived of the life in New York and Connecticut that she had envisioned for her writing career. During Christmas 1925, the lupus that had killed her father struck hard; the disease had become her destiny as well. Henceforth, O’Connor would live with her mother in Georgia. There she would write her major fiction. Eventually, O’Connor would consider the constant pain another form of grace. She died at age thirtynine . O’Donnell’s study of O’Connor might seem the ideal prelude for a readingofKathaleenAmende’sDesireandtheDivine:FeminineIdentity 328 Joseph M. Flora in White Southern Women’s Writing. Given that title with two “fired” words, Amende can hardly avoid some mention of O’Connor, though it will not be extensive. Amende announces from the start that her focus is not on agape, but on two forms of eros, “a desire for something sexual that the subject takes as an object” and a spiritual or mystical desire “for whatever he or she perceives to be divine.” Under this lens “the authors and their characters can move back and forth between eroticizing Christ and exalting mortal partners” (12). Amende is also freed from extensive consideration of O’Connor because she confines her investigation to six Southern women writers of the late twentieth century. Her goal is to show how “conservative” Christian ideals of femininity shaped ideals of religion, sexuality, and power in the South. Three of Amende’s choices have enjoyed secure positions among Southern writers for some time: Lee Smith, Valerie Martin, and Dorothy Allison. The remaining three—Rosemary Daniell, Connie May Fowler, and Sheri Reynolds—made their reputations more recently but also impressively, with titles in several genres and numerous awards. The works of the six writers have been studied on college campuses and been frequent choices for book clubs; all six have also taught creative writing. Each is a feminist, though their emphases vary. Their works are set in areas of the South from Appalachian Virginia to Louisiana. Chapter One lays the groundwork for what Amende hopes to accomplish. Her topic is huge: “Southern Women, Desire, and the Divine.” Inevitably, she ends up painting with a very broad brush. Not much, she suggests, has changed since Lillian Smith in 1949 lamented that middle- and upper-class mothers in the South had warped their daughters’ understanding of sexuality and deprived them of a joyous sexuality. The nineteenth-century views still endure and are continuously propagated not only by male-headed churches and organizations in the South, but also by mothers and grandmothers, the very victims of that system...


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pp. 327-333
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