My introduction to Flannery O’Connor happened later than for most others. While many became initiated to the writings of O’Connor in a college literature class, for me it was not until this past year. Perusing various audio books for my commute, I thought it was time to get acquainted with Flannery O’Connor.
What struck me first were the twisted yet relatable characters. Second, the themes of sin, redemption, faith, grace, etc., which lay as the foundation to O’Connor’s writings, had me constantly going back for more. Finally, her stories are the type that continually gnaw at you. Long after you stop reading, O’Connor’s words continue to work on you.
Now, Daniel Moran’s Creating Flannery O’Connor: Her Critics, Her Publishers, Her Readers (University of Georgia Press, 2016; source: publisher) is not a biography. If you are looking for one try any of the following:
Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor
Lorraine V. Murray, The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey
Eileen Morgan-Zayacheck, Flannery O’Connor, Hermit Novelist
Nor does Moran’s work treat O’Connor’s theological foundation like any of the following:
Ramsey Michaels, Passing by the Dragon: The Biblical Tales of Flannery O’Connor
Rather, Moran’s work recreates O’Connor’s reception. Beginning with Wise Blood, Moran maps out how O’Connor and her work were received by the critics. Moran’s argument is that O’Connor’s “reputation and establishment in the canon can be examined not only as the result of her talent but also as the result of a network of events, chance occurrences, personal relationships, media adaptations, cultural institutions, and websites— a network that has affected and continues to affect O’Connor’s literary identity” (Creating Flannery O’Connor, Kindle: 191 of 4597).
Without taking away from O’Connor’s talent, Moran traces the changes to how critics came to understand O’Connor’s work and how this shaped how O’Connor was received.
O’Connor’s reputation as an author was immediately tied to the South. As Moran states, “The original reviews are filled with mentions of O’Connor’s southern roots, regardless of whether the review is one that lauds or dismisses the novel” Creating Flannery O’Connor, Kindle: 266 of 4597. However, there is a major difference between how “Southern” is used to describe O’Connor now and how it was used to describe her early career. Moran shows how the term was used to connote “backward, regressive social policies and antimodern attitudes” (Creating Flannery O’Connor, Kindle: 310 of 4597).
A second term that continues to be used to describe O’Connor’s work is the word “grotesque.” Moran follows how the term was first associated with O’Connor, and how it became the most common word associated with her style. Despite the abundant use of “grotesque,” very few critics actually defined the term.
Equally telling was what was missing from these early reviews. Today, O’Connor is immediately associated with her Catholicism. Reviews of Wise Blood did not mention her faith. In fact, Moran demonstrates that some reviewers interpreted O’Connor’s discussion of faith as satirical or sarcastic.
Perception of Wise Blood quickly changed after the publication of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and The Violent Bear It Away. At this point, O’Connor had established her place in the literary world. It seemed that based on this new reputation, the second edition of Wise Blood received much more favorable reviews. Moran writes that these two later works “had readjusted the critical focus so that the very issues puzzling Wise Blood’s initial reviewers now appeared clearer.” He goes on to claim, “An examination of the reception of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and The Violent Bear It Away suggests that critics gradually began reading her work as she imagined members of her authorial audience doing so. Once they did, the Catholic themes of her work, previously obscure, became apparent” (Creating Flannery O’Connor, Kindle: 683 of 4597).
The scope of the work is vast. It begins with Flannery O’Connor’s early career, beyond her death, to even works O’Connor was not directly involved with. I enjoyed reading the develop of O’Connor’s reception. Moran presents a fascinating study of how O’Connor’s reputation developed throughout her life to the present.
I found Moran’s Creating Flannery O’Connor very interesting and significant for Flannery O’Connor studies. Though I could not directly relate to the work, I have never read any critics discussing O’Connor and I doubt that I ever will, this does not undermine the worth of Creating Flannery O’Connor. Moran’s work adds an important dimension to the study of Flannery O’Connor and the interpretation of her writings.