‘Some Can’t Be That Simple’: Flannery O’Connor’s Debt to French Symbolism

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Howell, Evan
Flannery O'Connor; Arts and Humanities; English Language and Literature
thesis / dissertation description
In this thesis, I trace the influence of French Symbolist poetry on the works of Flannery O’Connor. Many of O’Connor’s influences are well-known and documented, including Catholicism, the South, modern fiction, and her battle with lupus. However, I argue that Symbolism, via its influence on Modernist literature, is another major influence. In particular, I focus on several aspects of O’Connor’s writing: the recurrence of the same symbol across multiple works, the central location of symbols in several stories, the use of private symbols of the author’s invention, and use of symbol, rather than language, to convey transcendence. Aided by the scholarship of critics such as Richard Giannone, Laurence Porter, and Margaret Early Whitt, I argue that there is much in the aesthetic of Flannery O’Connor to suggest that her writing is, in part, a legacy of the French Symbolists.