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The Life You Save

There have been dozens of books and hundreds of articles written about Flannery O’Connor (1925-64) in America alone, and considerable attention from overseas as well.  Indeed, R. Neil Scott’s new Flannery O’Connor: An Annotated Reference Guide to Criticism describes 3,297 books, articles, dissertations, and master’s theses by 2,474 different authors.  Though she died at age 39, O’Connor (perhaps like Poe and Chopin) made an extraordinary impact that is still felt.  Her posthumous publications (stories, essays, reviews, letters, addresses) and the film renderings of her works have greatly extended her presence, while the publication of her collected works in a volume of the Library of America in 1988 perhaps fixed her reputation.  She was the second woman so honored (Edith Wharton was the first), and the first born in the 20th century.  Riffing through all the pages of that library, we may well conclude that, word for word, the O’Connor volume is the single most distinguished in the entire series.  Toughski luckski, Edith.  Tant pis, Henry James.

Owing to the explosive nature of her fiction, much of the attention that O’Connor has received has been either perplexed or indignant.  Sensitively attuned to the Zeitgeist, O’Connor set herself against it insofar as it contradicted the theological depth she knew from her Catholic...

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