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Flannery O'Connor's Sacramental Art

Flannery O'Connor's Sacramental Art

Susan Srigley

“Susan Srigley has written a book on O’Connor like no other. In this gracefully written and massively researched work, she lays out the distinctively Catholic character of O’Connor’s artistry as no one else has done.” —Ralph Wood, Baylor University

The writings and life of Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) have enjoyed considerable attention both from admirers of her work and from scholars. In this distinctive book, Susan Srigley charts new ground in revealing how O’Connor’s ethics are inextricably linked to her role as a storyteller, and how her moral vision is expressed through the dramatic narrative of her fiction. Srigley elucidates O’Connor’s sacramental vision by showing how it is embodied morally within her fiction as an ethic of responsibility. In developing this argument Srigley offers a detailed analysis of the Thomistic sources for O’Connor’s understanding of theology and art.

Srigley contends that O’Connor’s ethical vision of responsibility opens a fruitful path for understanding her religious ideas as they are expressed in the lives and loves of her fictional characters. O’Connor’s characters show that responsibility is a living moral action not an abstract code of behavior. For O’Connor, ethical choices are not dictated by religious doctrine, but rather are an engagement with and response to reality.

Srigley further argues that O’Connor’s ethics are not systematic, formulaic, or prescriptive. As a storyteller, she explores the moral complexities of life in their most concrete and dramatic form. Behaviors that appear in her fiction such as racism, sexism, or nihilism are exposed as inherently irresponsible. Approaching O’Connor’s fiction from a moral perspective often better illuminates the dramatic struggle of a story, not because it offers a religious solution to a particular issue, but because the choices each character makes reveal a vision of reality that is either meaningful and sustainable or narrow and destructive.

Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art reveals O’Connor’s role as a prophetic novelist whose moral questions speak to the modern world with rare force. It will be welcomed by anyone who appreciates the moral or religious dimensions of her writing.

ISBN: 978-0-268-01779-8
208 pages
Publication Year: 2005

Susan Srigley is associate professor of Religions and Cultures at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

“For once, the book-cover blurbs are right. Susan Srigley has produced that rarest of phenomena: an original and originating reading of the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. . . . What is remarkable about Susan Srigley’s new study is that she keeps her focus on her larger thesis. That thesis does provide a new trail in the ever-extending forest of interpretation of O’Connor. With scrupulous analysis, Srigley reveals once again another triumph of O’Connor’s art that has become, by 2006, international.” — Flannery O’Connor Review

“Srigley’s Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art offers further persuasive arguments for recognizing O’Connor’s spiritual aims in her fiction as necessary for a comprehensive appreciation of her work. In particular, Srigley offers a clear, penetrating analysis of the influence of Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain on O’Connor’s writing. . . . the moral vision and ethic of responsibility that Srigley discerns in O’Connor’s fiction—neither of which absolutely require a belief in Christ—effectively opens the possibility for O’Connor’s fiction to be understood by an audience whom O’Connor could not count on sharing her theological assumptions.” — Religion & Literature

“People have misunderstood O’Connor and her fictional characters too, and Srigley facilitates a better understanding of what they mean, and how.” — Review for Religious

“Srigley . . . focuses not on the premises by which we view O’Connor’s characters, but on the extensions of their characterizations as recipients of grace: she believes that makes them accountable for an “ethic of responsibility,” an enactment of compassionate love in the world, and she thus provides us a new measure for evaluating ‘the moral dimension’ of O’Connor’s art.” — Christianity and Literature

“. . . Srigley’s book offers something new and useful to the field.” — Journal of Religion & Society

“. . . a fascinating study.” — Catholic Library World

Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art breaks significant new ground, exploring the ethical implications of O’Connor’s sacramental view of reality. As a theologian who has used Flannery O’Connor’s fiction in teaching undergraduates and graduate students for over a decade, I applaud Srigley’s approach to ‘ethics as fiction’ and look forward to more of her provocative and intelligent interpretations of Flannery O’Connor.” — America

“sophisticated reconciliations of O’Connor’s artistry and her Catholic religious intentions. . . . Srigley’s book . . . puts to rest any notion that Flannery O’Connor can be regarded as just another of the 20th century’s secular specialists in the grotesque. Anyone seriously interested in her well-deserved place in America’s literary pantheon should take a look. . . . " — Wilson Quarterly

“. . . The sacramentality of O’Connor’s work is undeniable, and Srigley presents the evidence clearly. To her credit, she reminds the readers of O’Connor’s own advice on interpreting literature: ‘When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.’ For what it is about, read O’Connor. Read Srigley for her thoughts on how to do ethics.” — Religious Studies Review

“Susan Srigley mounts an able defense of Flannery O’Connor’s orthodoxy against critics who have argued that her use of the ‘grotesque’ was more Manichean than Catholic-i.e., that she divided matter from spirit. On the contrary, Srigley replies in Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art, the author used the grotesque to hold a mirror up to modern times.” — New Oxford Review

“O’Connor’s fiction is at once dogmatic and realistic. Only a critic with Srigley’s theological and literary abilities can lead us happily to stand in that tension and make deep sense out of what it shows us about ourselves and God.” — Anglican Theological Review

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Michael J. Colacurcio

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Flannery O'Connor's Sacramental Art

Susan Srigley

 Flannery O'Connor's Sacramental Art
Cloth Edition
Paper Edition

“Susan Srigley has written a book on O’Connor like no other. In this gracefully written and massively researched work, she lays out the distinctively Catholic character of O’Connor’s artistry as no one else has done.” —Ralph Wood, Baylor University

The writings and life of Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) have enjoyed considerable attention both from admirers of her work and from scholars. In this distinctive book, Susan Srigley charts new ground in revealing how O’Connor’s ethics are inextricably linked to her role as a storyteller, and how her moral vision is expressed through the dramatic narrative of her fiction. Srigley elucidates O’Connor’s sacramental vision by showing how it is embodied morally within her fiction as an ethic of responsibility. In developing this argument Srigley offers a detailed analysis of the Thomistic sources for O’Connor’s understanding of theology and art.

Srigley contends that O’Connor’s ethical vision of responsibility opens a fruitful path for understanding her religious ideas as they are expressed in the lives and loves of her fictional characters. O’Connor’s characters show that responsibility is a living moral action not an abstract code of behavior. For O’Connor, ethical choices are not dictated by religious doctrine, but rather are an engagement with and response to reality.

Srigley further argues that O’Connor’s ethics are not systematic, formulaic, or prescriptive. As a storyteller, she explores the moral complexities of life in their most concrete and dramatic form. Behaviors that appear in her fiction such as racism, sexism, or nihilism are exposed as inherently irresponsible. Approaching O’Connor’s fiction from a moral perspective often better illuminates the dramatic struggle of a story, not because it offers a religious solution to a particular issue, but because the choices each character makes reveal a vision of reality that is either meaningful and sustainable or narrow and destructive.

Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art reveals O’Connor’s role as a prophetic novelist whose moral questions speak to the modern world with rare force. It will be welcomed by anyone who appreciates the moral or religious dimensions of her writing.

ISBN: 978-0-268-01779-8

208 pages

“For once, the book-cover blurbs are right. Susan Srigley has produced that rarest of phenomena: an original and originating reading of the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. . . . What is remarkable about Susan Srigley’s new study is that she keeps her focus on her larger thesis. That thesis does provide a new trail in the ever-extending forest of interpretation of O’Connor. With scrupulous analysis, Srigley reveals once again another triumph of O’Connor’s art that has become, by 2006, international.” — Flannery O’Connor Review

“Srigley’s Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art offers further persuasive arguments for recognizing O’Connor’s spiritual aims in her fiction as necessary for a comprehensive appreciation of her work. In particular, Srigley offers a clear, penetrating analysis of the influence of Thomas Aquinas and Jacques Maritain on O’Connor’s writing. . . . the moral vision and ethic of responsibility that Srigley discerns in O’Connor’s fiction—neither of which absolutely require a belief in Christ—effectively opens the possibility for O’Connor’s fiction to be understood by an audience whom O’Connor could not count on sharing her theological assumptions.” — Religion & Literature

“People have misunderstood O’Connor and her fictional characters too, and Srigley facilitates a better understanding of what they mean, and how.” — Review for Religious

“Srigley . . . focuses not on the premises by which we view O’Connor’s characters, but on the extensions of their characterizations as recipients of grace: she believes that makes them accountable for an “ethic of responsibility,” an enactment of compassionate love in the world, and she thus provides us a new measure for evaluating ‘the moral dimension’ of O’Connor’s art.” — Christianity and Literature

“. . . Srigley’s book offers something new and useful to the field.” — Journal of Religion & Society

“. . . a fascinating study.” — Catholic Library World

Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art breaks significant new ground, exploring the ethical implications of O’Connor’s sacramental view of reality. As a theologian who has used Flannery O’Connor’s fiction in teaching undergraduates and graduate students for over a decade, I applaud Srigley’s approach to ‘ethics as fiction’ and look forward to more of her provocative and intelligent interpretations of Flannery O’Connor.” — America

“sophisticated reconciliations of O’Connor’s artistry and her Catholic religious intentions. . . . Srigley’s book . . . puts to rest any notion that Flannery O’Connor can be regarded as just another of the 20th century’s secular specialists in the grotesque. Anyone seriously interested in her well-deserved place in America’s literary pantheon should take a look. . . . " — Wilson Quarterly

“. . . The sacramentality of O’Connor’s work is undeniable, and Srigley presents the evidence clearly. To her credit, she reminds the readers of O’Connor’s own advice on interpreting literature: ‘When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.’ For what it is about, read O’Connor. Read Srigley for her thoughts on how to do ethics.” — Religious Studies Review

“Susan Srigley mounts an able defense of Flannery O’Connor’s orthodoxy against critics who have argued that her use of the ‘grotesque’ was more Manichean than Catholic-i.e., that she divided matter from spirit. On the contrary, Srigley replies in Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art, the author used the grotesque to hold a mirror up to modern times.” — New Oxford Review

“O’Connor’s fiction is at once dogmatic and realistic. Only a critic with Srigley’s theological and literary abilities can lead us happily to stand in that tension and make deep sense out of what it shows us about ourselves and God.” — Anglican Theological Review