Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, July 29, 2013

Brad Gooch, _Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor_

WHEN I WAS complaining a few weeks ago about the drying-up of biography as a pursuit among the last couple of generations of academic literary scholars, I had forgotten all about Brad Gooch, author of a fine biography of Frank O'Hara and this more recent volume on O'Connor.

Gooch fills the gap left when Sally Fitzgerald died without finishing what was to have been the definitive life of O'Connor, and does so skillfully; the research is thorough, the writing graceful. Gooch gives utterly persuasive accounts of O'Connor's family, of Georgia State College for Women during O'Connor's time there, and of her largely correspondence-based friendships with Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, Betty Hester (the "A." of Habits of Being), and Maryat Lee.

However--the spine of O'Connor's fiction was her faith, and as a reader I just wasn't sure Gooch got it.  Hard to blame him--O'Connor's faith was one of a kind.  Not exactly straight-down-the-pipe Baltimore Catechism orthodoxy...but not exactly not that, either. Deeply excited about Teilhard de Chardin...but not exactly a Vatican II modernizer, either. Apparently deeply acquainted not only with the strongest Protestant theologians--Barth and Tillich--but with the wild-eyed bizarrerie of storefront churches, the itinerant self-ordained prophets banging down the back roads of the deep South. Mix in whatever she picked up about modern continental thought from hanging out with Partisan Review types.

To be honest, I don't know who could have done justice to all this. Roman Catholic critics tend to smooth over her idiosyncrasies and make her too orthodox, Protestant critics probably feel desperately under-prepared and unqualified for the attempt, secular critics can't be bothered. O'Connor's readers will never have the nuanced. historically informed, theologically sophisticated analysis of her faith that we need.

But I still want one, damn it.

No comments: