A Subversive Gospel:Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth


Wednesdays at Macsbooks will be set aside for the unusual books – the children’s books, non-fiction, quirky or seldom read genres. After spending a year, 2017, rapidly reading the hottest best sellers, I needed a time to get back to my roots of reading books for the sheer love of reading. This has included simple titles, love stories, historical fiction, scholarly writings and science fiction. I’m definitely not a one genre type gal and I hope that is reflected throughout this blog. With that said, let’s talk about Ms. O’Connor.

At university I floundered, no wait, I explored…. several academic degrees before (finally) graduating with a double major, double minor. I actually had enough hours in literature to add an addition minor in lit and it was due entirely to Flannery O’Connor. I followed her through American Literature, Great Female Writers, Southern Literature and more. I simply could not get enough of Flannery O’Connor and her eclectic writing style. Imagine how exited I was when I discovered A Subversive Gospel, a new look at O’Connor’s writing and the influence that her devout Catholicism played on her writing and her characters.

In A Subversive Gospel, a very readable academic book, Bruner examines O’Connor’s works through the microscope of her religion and asks that you, the reader, do the same. He points out that much of O’Connor’s work was heavily influenced by Baron Friedrich von Hügel and Thomas Aquinas  – and it was – as well as by her own devotion to the Catholic church and her fascination with the Catholic saints. Bruner then suggests that O’Connor’s writing shows the reader God’s grace through the ugly, malformed and the sinner which is far more great a grace than one seen through the eyes of the saint. It is an interesting premise for which he has much research and scholarly backing. It is a well written and thoughtful book. However…

After studying O’Connor as much as I have done over the years and loving her and her characters as I have, I must add that it was O’Connor’s writing that led me to leave the church entirely. Through her eyes and her writing I saw the church and the South as it truly was – a place not filled with beauty but of underlying darkness. O’Connor struggled with illness throughout her adult life, as have I. She was devout, as was I, and through her writing I often saw a woman, much like myself, who knew what we were supposed to believe but knew there was an underbelly of something else lying there. She showed her readers that underbelly, the darkness, the cruelty, the ugliness that was the church, the south, its people. IF you are a very religious person and you want to see a very religious, devout woman, then that is what you will see in her work – I suppose – as Bruner has done. IF you are a woman, raised in the South, raised in a community of misogyny, of racism, in a world where anyone who is not white, male and perfect is condemned, then I suspect that, as I did, you will think this book is an interesting read but full of rubbish. O’Connor was a strong woman who was marching against her time, against her culture and through her work she still is. I will not reduce her to a religious paradigm. She was far too talented for that.

2 thoughts on “A Subversive Gospel:Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

  1. Michael Bruner

    I am not in the habit of responding to reviews of my own book (this is the first and will likely be the last time I do so), but I am compelled to respond to yours for reasons beyond the simple need to clarify.

    That said, I am grateful to you for your (mostly) thoughtful review of my book, in spite of your conclusion that what I had to say was full of rubbish. (How refreshing to hear a unvarnished view of my book!) I can only respond, as I imagine O’Connor might, that her subversive nature led her to subvert the conventions of the Christian religion and not the heart of it, as you seem to suggest. There is no getting around the fact that O’Connor loved God and loved the Church, for all of its (and God’s!) perceived and/or actual faults. I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s quip: “The Church may be a whore, but the Church is my mother.” I’m not sure O’Connor would have been quite so indelicate (thought I wouldn’t put it past her!), but I suspect she shared the sentiment. I can only encourage you, in that same spirit, not to the throw the proverbial baby (Jesus) out with the murky bathwater (the many tawdry conventions of the Christian religion). My book may be rubbish all the same, but I don’t think it can be faulted for having got O’Connor wrong.

    All the best,



    1. Thank you for your response. I don’t believe I ever said that your book was rubbish. As a Southerner, I felt compelled to offer my own view point. Yours is an academic one and your research was without question. I disagreed with some of your conclusions as is, of course, the prerogative of the reader/reviewer even those of us who review non-fic lit. Cheers, Mackey


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