Saturday, June 26, 2010

The problem with sentimentality

Artist: Leon Wyczółkowski

For some reason I have been forgetting about Flannery O'Connor lately. I was in my late teens, I think, when I discovered her and then I found myself consuming her fiction voraciously. Later, I came across her letters and devoured them as well. She actually had a huge effect on my religious formation. The following statement is certainly worthy of considerable refection, I would assert:

We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our turn to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ's death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.

-- Flannery O'Connor


  1. I looooooove, love, love Flannery O'Connor and reread her regularly. The story of hers I love best is "Parker's Back", which I think is stonkingly brilliant and which I buried myself in again recently. I have her letters around somewhere but haven't had a look at them for a couple of years. I must dig them out again.

    I also love "The River" and "A Late Encounter with the Enemy", and "A Good Man is Hard to Find", though that last one is pretty hard going (though culturally startlingly ahead of its time - how many films since have covered the same territory? But that wasn't the case back then). What I really like and admire about her is her total ruthlessness as a writer. There is a real severity about her, both towards her characters and in her insights generally, which is very satisfying, and is part of the brilliance of the way she uses words. So I am not surprised that these are her thoughts on sentimentality. A sentimental writer she is not. In fact, the writer she reminds me most of in this respect is Patricia Highsmith, who is equally harsh and unblinking, and from roughly the same era (at a time when it wasn't really considered the thing for women to deal artistically with unpleasant subjects in an unpleasant way, either).

    Anyway, fabulous quote, with much in it to think about. Ellie, oddly enough I was really wishing someone would post something about Flannery O'Connor because I had been thinking so much about her. Thank you!!

    wv - lifelit. OK, how weird is that.

  2. PS - "buried myself in" sounds a bit melodramatic. I just meant I read it, obviously, but so much in Parker's Back is so brilliant and I get so carried away and excited by it every time.

  3. Somehow, Cathy, I'm not surpised that you love Flannery O'Connor.

    I knew exactly what you meant, by the way, when you said "buried myself in". After all, I'm a Southerner myself--- by both birth and upbringing. We tend to be on the effusive side.

    Somewhere she said (and I wish I could find the quotation) that it is a great blessing to have a severe illness of some length before death and that people who don't have this are actually deprived. She knew whereof she spoke, obviously. And, it illuminates that petition in the Great Litany, "...from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us."

  4. hi Ellie - I have read that quotation about severe illness too and was also struck by it. I'm sure it's in one of the books I have. I will have a hunt round (for the book and the quote) and see if I can find it.


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