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Flannery O'Connor, a Southern writer of deep Catholic convictions, once wrote, "The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural." On Henry Edmondson's persuasive reading of O'Connor, the distortions of modern life stem primarily from the easy nihilism of a culture soured on the dictates of both revelation and reason.

Edmondson, professor of political science and public administration at O'Connor's alma mater, Georgia College & State University, could as well have titled his book "Return to Good Through Evil." He argues that O'Connor's emphasis upon human vice and the lengths to which pride and self-justification will go suggests the grace that is necessary for man's redemption. She seeks to restore the distinction between good and evil in order to reconnect fallen man to his forgiving Maker.

The context of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, as Edmondson makes clear, was "the threat of nihilism to human civilization." As the title intimates, where Friedrich Nietzsche sought to take humanity "beyond good and evil" to a world without God or morality, Flannery O'Connor hoped to return the reader to a created cosmos with transcendent standards of right and wrong. Following Jacques Maritain, O'Connor believed that after the Enlightenment replaced faith with reason, men soon lost faith in reason itself. For O'Connor, reason "loses its footing" when one excludes God. This paved the way for nihilism, which spurred much of her literary energies.

Edmondson's interpretation of O'Connor's fiction as a deliberate confrontation with nihilism is confirmed by her published correspondence. ...

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January 2004

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