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A Treasure Trove of Flannery
on February 24, 2004
Robert Ellsberg has come through again. He provides us with a marvelous review of the spiritual writings of Flannery O'Connor, most famous for her short stories but neglected, up until now, for her deep analyses of the Catholic faith and salvation.
Ellsberg selects the best from the voluminous collection of her letters, "The Habit of Being," and arranges them for accessibility and understanding in sections entitled "Christian Realism," "Mother and Teacher," "Revelation," "A Reason to Write," and "The Province of Joy."
Flannery didn't want to be a voice crying in the wilderness. She wanted to reach an unbelieving audience even though she bridled at being called a "Catholic writer." She preferred to be called "a Christian realist" and said that "one of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation, that is, nobody in your audience." Flannery wanted her audience to be broad and for that she strove to become the best story teller possible, beginning with her stint at the Iowa Writers Workshop. She went on to become required reading in college English courses. There are PhD theses galore now on this most excellent of American writers.
Although she died just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, she was awesomely prescient in her observations on the Church, including its warts: "We sometimes have to suffer more from the Church than we do for it."
This is spiritual reading, yes, but it is also an inside look at a great artist.
I'm not doing justice to this book, nor to Flannery O'Connor herself. You will just have to see for yourself, which is all Flannery ever asked us to do.