Heroes of the Faith

Courageous literary talent refused to silence her prophetic voice

Flannery O'Connor, a writer from America's Deep South, brought Christian themes to her work with "uncommon vision and prophetic clarity", writes Rosalind Myer.

By Rosalind Myer

Flannery O’Connor, born in Georgia (USA) in 1925, was a novelist and short story writer, a committed Catholic whose career was curtailed by her death from lupus at the young age of 39, the disease that killed her beloved father when O’Connor was only 15. Her work slowly achieved recognition during her lifetime, was even lauded by several influential critics, but as a writer unashamedly steeped in theology (“I read theology because it makes me bolder”) she was also greatly misunderstood. Nevertheless, being a conscientious student of the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, she was fortified by the advice of the twentieth century French Thomist, Jacques Maritain: “Do not make the absurd attempt to sever in yourself the artist and the Christian”.

I would classify her as a “Hero of the Faith” because she refused to silence her prophetic voice, which cried out against the spiritual barrenness of her time (and ours). O’Connor did not deviate from the artistic vocation she believed was God-given, undeterred by the sceptical and supercilious response of critics and academics from the Ivy League universities in the Northern liberal states. Her stories’ Deep South characters were often maimed souls, racist and ill-educated, warped by poverty and neglect, their fundamentalist faith unshakeable but distorted. The violence could be startling, the depiction of human perversity ugly. T.S. Eliot confessed himself horrified: “She has certainly talent of a high order but my nerves are just not strong enough to take much of a disturbance” ... 

Rosalind Myer is a member of the parish of St George and St James, in Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale. Her interests include theology, philosophy and literature.

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