Friday, April 19, 2013

No Georgia Kafka?

Flannery O'Connor claimed that she hadn't even heard of, much less, read Franz Kafka until she went to graduate school at the University of Iowa.  "When I went to Iowa I had never heard of Faulkner, Kafka, Joyce, much less read them." (Collected Works p. 950).  Perhaps Flannery was trying to point out the deficiency of her literary education, but the truth of the matter is that O'Connor did read Joyce and Faulkner with enthusiasm while she was at GSCW (and some of her earliest stories show their influence).  I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she hadn't read Kafka, too, before she got to Iowa.  One can certainly find literary parallels in her work and that of the great Czech author.  Caroline Gordon certainly did.  In a blurb on the dust jacket to the first edition of Wise Blood, Gordon compares the novel favorably to the absurdest fables of Kafka: "Her picture of the modern world is literally terrifying.  Kafka is almost the only one of our contemporaries who has achieved such effects." Flannery was not flattered. She claimed she wasn't able to get through The Trial and The Castle.  She once told a class at GSCW that she was "distressed" that others thought she shared the intellectual pessimism of an existentialist like Kafka.  (see Brad Gooch Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor - p. 204).  In a more pointed remark to her friend Ashley Brown she exasperatedly exclaimed, "I'm no Georgia Kafka." (Collected Works p. 911).  I beg to differ.  As is often the case with O'Connor, it is the writers she says she hates (e.g. Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers) that have influenced her more than she is willing to admit.
- Mark

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