Author Flannery O’Conner was anything but glib about orthodox Christianity.

Writer Flannery O’Connor was born in 1925 in Milledgeville, Georgia. After studying at a women’s college in her home town, she attended the University of Iowa’s School for Writers. In 1951 she was diagnosed with lupus erythematosus, an incurable and debilitating disease. She then returned to Milledgeville to live with her mother until her death 13 years later.

A devout and orthodox Roman Catholic, O’Connor often explored the meaning of faith through the fundamentalist characters in her fiction. She once commented that she wrote about such characters “because they express their belief in diverse kinds of dramatic actions which are obvious enough for me to catch.” O’Connor’s further thoughts about life and faith are most explicitly revealed in The Habit of Being, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979).

I have tried for a dozen years to “rescue” Flannery O’Connor from those inclined to read her stories as dramatized sermons for our times. “Although I am a Catholic writer,” she once said, “I don’t care to get labeled as such in the popular sense of it, as it is then assumed that you have some religious axe to grind” (The Habit of Being, p. 391). Despite her concern, however, her fiction has often been read in this limiting way, both by those who applauded her views and by those who deplored them.

Interpreting her stories as if they were “tricky tracts”—to use Marion Montgomery’s felicitous phrase—seems reductionistic to her fiction and unworthy of her artistic achievements. At the same time, having now the perspective of 20 years (the time since her death), it may be appropriate here to lay aside her fiction temporarily and reflect upon her letters in order ...

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