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Flannery O'Connor: A Life


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The Author: Jean W. Cash is professor of English at James Madison University.


Cash's scrupulously detailed biography, the result of a decade of research, offers readers many particulars about O'Connor's (1925-1964) life, but ultimately falls short on insight into one of America's finest and most enigmatic writers. Throughout her life, O'Connor (ne Mary Flannery O'Connor) wrestled with both faith and sexuality, yet Cash offers little of her own analysis to illuminate the writer's conflicts; she focuses, instead, on facts: the titles of O'Connor's college classes, the specifics of her travel itineraries. With such a methodical chronicling of the author's years from her childhood in Savannah, Ga., and her young adulthood nearby; her years at the University of Iowa and her stints in New York and Connecticut; and from her return to Milledgeville, Ga., to her untimely death at age 39 this volume sometimes feels like an extended encyclopedia entry. O'Connor emerges as intensely private, eccentric and self-contained, devoted to Catholicism and to her art, and dominated by her mother. Her most intense friendships were with women who were attracted to her both intellectually and also sexually; O'Connor's carnal desires appear to have been subsumed by her fierce imagination. When O'Connor experienced her first bout of lupus in 1950, her life was further circumscribed. In 1964 O'Connor died of kidney failure, her early death compounding the mystery of her character. And that is perhaps precisely how O'Connor, an advocate of New Criticism (which held that a writer's life had no bearing on his or her work) would have wished it. Cash's book is not the definitive account that O'Connor devotees have been waiting for, but despite its faults, it's a step in the right direction. Photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925-64) was a Southern writer and a Roman Catholic whose shrewdness, biting humor, and seeming lack of interest in cultural mores all contributed greatly to her unique literary voice. She spent most of her adult life in Milledgeville, GA, forced to live on a farm with her mother owing to lupus, the disease that eventually caused her early death. There she continued to write, receive guests, lecture (her main source of income), and correspond with a number of literary and personal friends. O'Connor's daily life may have seemed prosaic, but as revealed by her writings and this fine new biography her interests, irony, and cold eye were hardly conventional. Cash (English, James Madison Univ.) spent ten years researching this work, and it shows; while this is not a critical study, it is the first book to chronicle O'Connor's life in such painstaking detail. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Robert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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