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Friday, December 04, 2015

The Violent Bear It Away (1960) by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor hanging out with peacocks, AS ONE DOES.
Book Review
The Violent Bear It Away (1960)
 by Flannery O'Connor

  O'Connor only wrote two novels, The Violent Bear It Away and Wise Blood.  They are equally amazing, and work quite well together.  The Violent Bear It Away almost seemed like a prequel to Wise Blood.  O'Connor is almost synonymous with the genre of Southern Gothic, so much so that you could say that her work epitomizes the genre.  I'm sure O'Connor would take issue with the use of such a broad term to describe her work, but ultimately when you are talking about a genre you are talking about it because there is a large audience for books described as such, not because an artist wrote a book for a specific genre.  As a genre Southern Gothic is weak in terms of the total audience size unless you include "every graduate student of literature" and sales of Anne Rice novels.  Certainly, the HBO Series True Blood is firmly rooted in the Southern Gothic tradition.

  The literary genre of Gothic extends back to the 18th century.  As early as the 1780s and 90s there was an English audience for books described as "Gothic" and these books inevitably involved castles in Southern Europe, supernatural forces and a late medieval/early modern time frame.   In the early 19th century, writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters brought Gothic home with books like Wuthering (Bronte) and Northanger Abbey (Austen).  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818, and Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, creating two icons of 19th and 20th century popular culture.

    None of the 18th or 19th century examples resemble the Southern Gothic of Faulkner or O'Connor. 18th and 19th century Gothic is somewhat generic to geography.  Basically, you need a large house/castle in a remote location.  Southern Gothic is obsessed with the geography of the rural south.  Faulkner spent his whole career writing about one county in Mississippi.  Similarly, O'Connor's books are equally more so southern as they are Gothic.  The supernatural plays no part in her work unless you consider Catholicism and Catholic themes supernatural.

   Essentially, by the mid-20th century Gothic became a synonym for weird or outre subject matter and themes.  So, in that sense, The Violent Bear It Away is Gothic but really it's more like Southern Modernism or Southern Grotesque.  

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