One reviewer makes a bold promise of Professor Gordon's newest volume on Flannery O'Connor: ''O'Connor, with her usual skepticism, believed that it would take one hundred years for her work to be properly understood. Thanks to Sarah Gordon, who began her heroic labors shortly after the novelist's death in 1964, it has taken only thirty-six.'' It's doubtful Gordon would recognize such a claim. In fact, while her decidedly academic and biographical voice maintains an earned authority on her subject, she remains throughout a student of O'Connor. Borrowing from Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of aesthetics, Gordon refuses to limit art to form alone, lauding O'Connor's work as a deed that is never completed, an experience in endless process. She discusses O'Connor's struggle for an authoritative voice and subsequent adoption of the ''fierce narrator,'' her portraiture of women and apparent lack of ''plain old milk of human kindness,'' her use and interpretation of the anagogical imagination, and the (sometimes) dueling traditions from which O'Connor wrote, both Southern and Roman Catholic. Gordon's title, ''The Obedient Imagination,'' is a subtle theme throughout the book -- one she only acknowledges outright in the epilogue: ''One might well argue that O'Connor's very success as a fiction writer depends on the tension in her work between her powerful imagination and her ultimate obedience to the Church.'' Speaking of imagination, don't miss the flow-chart Gordon includes for composing your own Flannery O'Connor masterpiece.
An Eighth Day View:
Disturbing, ironic, haunting, brutal. What inner struggles led Flannery O'Connor to create fiction that elicits such labels? Much of the tension that drives O'Connor's writing, says Sarah Gordon, stems from the natural resistance of her imagination to the obedience expected by her male-centered church, society, and literary background.
"Flannery O'Connor: The Obedient Imagination" shows us a writer whose world was steeped in male presumption regarding women and creativity. The book is filled with fresh perspectives on O'Connor's Catholicism; her upbringing as a dutiful, upper-class southern daughter; her readings of Thurber, Poe, Eliot, and other arguably misogynistic authors; and her schooling in the New Criticism.
As Gordon leads us through a world premised on expectations at odds with O'Connor's strong and original imagination, she ranges across all of O'Connor's fiction and many of her letters and essays. While acknowledging O'Connor's singular situation, Gordon also gleans insights from the lives and works of other southern writers, Eudora Welty, Caroline Gordon, and Margaret Mitchell among them.
"Flannery O'Connor: The Obedient Imagination" draws on Sarah Gordon's thirty years of reading, teaching, and discussing one of our most complex and influential authors. It takes us closer than we have ever been to the creative struggles behind such literary masterpieces as "Wise Blood" and "A Good Man Is Hard to Find."