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Unformatted text preview: The Protestantism of Flannery O'Connor Critic: Robert Milder Source: The Southern Review, Vol. XI, No. 4, Autumn, 1975. pp. 80219. Reproduced by permission [What Miss O'Connor wrote] about might be comprehended by the word mystery. There are two qualities that make fiction, she was fond of saying: One is the sense of mystery and the other is the sense of manners. You get the manners from the texture of experience that surrounds you; the sense of mystery is the writer's own. [Mystery] for Miss O'Connor, a Roman Catholic, ... centered upon the three basic theological doctrines of the Church: the Fall, the Redemption, and the Judgment. The South provided her with a language and a social fabric, a texture of experience, but it was never more than the scene for a pageant universally enacted, the pageant of salvation through divine grace. As an artist in the Jamesian tradition, profoundly convinced that a story must carry its meaning inside it, Miss O'Connor was sensitive to the charge that Christian dogma inhibited a writer by imposing homiletic conclusions upon his work.... Belief, in her view, was an instrument for penetrating reality, not for molding it, and the Catholic novel was nothing more or less than one in which the truth as Christians know it has been used as a light to see the world by. In the greatest fiction, she wrote, the artist's moral sense coincided with his dramatic sense, with judgment so implicit in perception itself that the writer had no need to moralize. And here, she added, the Catholic writer enjoyed an inestimable advantage over the secular writer, who, skeptical of any absolute moral order, felt called upon to create one in his fiction. Secure in his faith that the universe is meaningful, the Catholic writer was free to observe and reflect his world unburdened by the moral responsibilities of the unbeliever. Had Miss O'Connor described her art as Christian rather than Catholic, the congruence between its theory and practice might have been almost complete. But she did not. The longest section in Mystery and Manners consists of four essays dealing with the Catholic writer and his audience, in each of which Miss O'Connor makes a strong case, implicitly or explicitly, for the Catholic nature of her fiction. She chooses Catholic, she tells us, because the word Christian is no longer reliable. It has come to mean anyone with a golden heart. And for Miss O'Connor a golden heart was not merely a positive interference in the writing of fiction, but a symptom of everything that was wrong with modern religion, most notably, of the tenderness of the liberal reformer which she considered mawkish, theoretical, and corrupt. By insisting upon Catholic, Miss O'Connor sought to emphasize the literalness with which she took the traditional doctrines of the Church and to separate herself from those politer elements for whom the supernatural is an embarrassment and for whom religion has become a department of sociology or culture or personality development. The paradox is that in department of sociology or culture or personality development....
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