Friday, January 29, 2010

Fifty Years Ago

I have spent some time this morning reading through O'Connor's letters in The Habit of Being from early 1960, when her second novel hit the shelves. The first review of The Violent Bear It Away that O'Connor reported seeing was in Library Journal, and it was not very favorable. O'Connor expressed suspicion to her good friend Elizabeth Hester (identified as "A" in the letters) that she expected to see more negative responses in the days ahead. Some commentaries were indeed less than flattering and illustrated a misunderstanding of the writer's intentions with the novel; however, O'Connor had managed to command notable respect since the publication of Wise Blood eight years earlier from reviewers at newspapers such as the New York Times, one of whom described her talent as a writer to be "almost overwhelming." More troubling to O'Connor than the reactions to the novel was an article published in Time magazine on February 29 where the reviewer included a couple of sentences about her struggles with lupus. She made it very clear to Maryat Lee and other friends that she did not want her medical condition to be a subject of public discussion, especially with regard to her work. While it is impossible to ignore the effects that living with lupus certainly had on Flannery O'Connor's life, attempting to interpret her fiction in light of the disease is as treacherous now as it was in 1960. I am satisfied to appreciate O'Connor's stories, recognizing that her unusual vision came not necessarily from her personal suffering, but from a greater understanding of the human condition.


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