Denise Giardina's "Theological Writing": What Do We Do With Good King Harry?

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Jolliff, Bill
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Summary: This presentation demonstrates the role that Good King Harry plays in the progression of Denise Giardina's theological argument. In a 1993 interview with Thomas E. Douglass, West Virginia novelist Denise Giardina stated, "As much as I'm an Appalachian writer, I get called a political writer, but the label that is most appropriate for my writing is theological writing." That claim is a bold and potentially dangerous one for any artist who seeks a popular audience, but it has proven to be true. And despite the apparent dearth of critical attention given to her self-categorizing confession, she was not over-stating her case. Giardina's canon is, I believe, best read as the development of a closely focused narrative theology. Yet it's worth noting that when she gave herself that label, she had published only three books. The Appalachian novels, Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth, obviously demonstrate clear theological weight; they further the themes, motifs, and theological obsessions that would recur and develop in her later non-Appalachian books as well. But what do we do with her first novel, Good King Harry? It has religious content and context, but what kind of role, if any, does it play in the progression of Giardina's continuing theological argument? My suggestion in this paper is that while Giardina's primary themes are less apparent in Harry, the book lays the foundation in social problems upon which her more overtly theological work would be constructed.