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DONALD E. HARDY University of Nevada, Reno The “Less Fashionable” Influence of Max Beerbohm on Flannery O’Connor IN A 2008ISSUE OF MODERN LANGUAGE QUARTERLY. DEVOTED TO LITERARY influence, Andrew Elfenbein comments, “Writing about influence turns out to be harder than it looks” (“Defining Influence” 436). I would say that writing about influenceisalsomuchmoredifficultthan feeling with certainty that one has recognized influence. Happening upon a passage in an earlier author’s work that might have been echoed, however subtly, in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, for instance, is exhilarating. There is a sense of being in the presence of a written voice that O’Connor knew well. The question of influence on such a stylistically striking writer as Flannery O’Connor has, naturally, occupied many readers and scholars. Melvin J. Friedman, for example, finds motivation for O’Connor’s “Dickensian devotion to oddity” of characters in François Mauriac’s call for a “transposition of reality and not a reproduction of it” (10) in fiction; Friedman also notes that others, including O’Connor herself, have discussed her connection to Mauriac (10-11). Further influence studies include analyses of O’Connor focused on the impact of the content, style, or thought of the following: Aquinas (Rath), Conrad (Burkman and Meloy), Dostoevsky (McMillan; Hooten), Eliot (Sally Fitzgerald), Gogol (Maus), Hawthorne (Emerick), James (Desmond), Poe (Evans), and West (Sally Fitzgerald). This small sample includes only some of the more widely recognized writers who have attracted the attention of O’Connor scholars. Yet, proving influence or even distinguishing influence from the effects of two authors simply and accidentally using similar images, for example, is sometimes dangerous ground, as Elfenbein implies (“Discrimination” 483) and as some of O’Connor’s comments on her readers’ suggestions of influence warn them and us. Kathleen Feeley’s remarks in her book on the influence of O’Connor’s theological readings on her fiction are especially apt, both specifically and generally, for my explorations in this essay: “Because many of the books [in O’Connor’s library] are not dated, it is difficult to discern whether other writers inspired ideas in her, or whether their 280 Donald E. Hardy ideas confirmed her own thought” (10-11). Knowing what O’Connor read and when she read it are only two of the many problems with proving influence. In 1964, very shortly before she died, O’Connor wrote a letter to Marcus Smith in response to his suggestion that Nathanael West figured heavily in her literary development.1 She admits, “West may have had some influence on me stylistically.” But she concludes, “Thanks for your interest. I wish I could be of more help but I doubt if most writers have much idea of where their greatest influence came from. For me, I wouldn’t say West” (Collected 1215-16). O’Connor was very ill at this time; it is remarkable that she had the energy to respond to the inquiry at all. In one of the best essays yet published on O’Connor’s influences, Sally Fitzgerald traces the heavy significance of T. S. Eliot on the composition of Wise Blood, with some treatment of Nathanael West’s more widely recognized impact; Fitzgerald notes her own indebtedness to James O. Tate’s discussion of Eliot’s influence in his unpublished dissertation (“The Owl” 52). In that essay, Fitzgerald argues that O’Connor denied West’s influence on her for the same reason she rejected Kafka’s influence: “If at any point she rejected—or found that she was greatly at variance with—theessential vision of a writer, she was likely to reject, as well, the idea that she had been influenced or affected byhim”(“TheOwl”51).CharacterizingO’Connor’sviewofthesewriters and their works, Fitzgerald points out in particular that Kafka’s writing was “too deeply pessimistic” and that West’s “Christ-figure” was “sentimental” in Miss Lonelyhearts (“The Owl” 47, 50). As for O’Connor’s fiction itself, it is far from being taken as either pessimistic or sentimental, except perhaps by those few who grossly misunderstand her deeply spiritual yet clear-eyed view of human nature. In a 1953 letter to her good friend Ashley Brown, written much earlier than the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 279-302
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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