Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (1952)
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Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, first published in 1952, was this author’s first novel. Followed by The Violent Bear it Away, another novel, and A Good Man is Hard to Find, a collection of short stories, it was reissued in a new hardcover in 1962 as a nod how much O’Connor’s audience had grown in the intervening years.
O’Connor was best known for fiction (primarily short stories) in the form of morally driven narratives populated with flawed characters sometimes described as grotesque. As she herself reminded readers in her essay “The Teaching of Literature”:
“The freak in modern fiction is usually disturbing to us because he keeps us from forgetting that we share in his state. The only time he should be disturbing to us is when he is held up as a whole man.”
This review of Wise Blood from the date of its reissue in 1962, takes note of this, and assures readers that if they had already read the book, a second look would be rewarding:
Adapted from the August 24, 1962 edition of Oakland Tribune: Wise Blood unquestionably deserves a second reading. As a first effort, it has several uncommon qualities. Among them is a sense of economy and selection in the writing. We aren’t asked to ferret out the promising passages from the masses of tedious verbiage.
No less effective is the author’s artistic objectivity and her ability to create a small world and people it with creatures of the imagination. Miss O’Connor’a prose is never excessive, always maintaining a sort of tough precision.
If Miss O’Connor has artistic debts as a writer, they are to Sherwood Anderson. Her novel is filled with a gallery of fascinating grotesques. And while they perhaps do not have the largeness of the citizens of Winesburg, Ohio, they are a haunting lot.
Introducing Hazel Motes
The central figure of Wise Blood is a young man from Tennessee named Hazel Motes. At twenty-two, Hazel is released from the Army and goes to a Southern town to make his way. The obsession that has made a grotesque figure of Hazel is a religious one. Outwardly, he tries valiantly to deny Christ in a particularly violent way.
Standing on the hood of his ancient car, he loudly addresses unsuspecting crowds as they leave movie theaters. Hazel declares that he is the preacher of a new and different sort of religion, a “Church without Christ.” But he is unable to find converts, and his obsessive denial of Christ — always in fierce battle with his hidden need to return to the conventional teachings of his childhood — takes more violent forms.
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor on Amazon
The religious charlatan Asa Hawks
At large in the city, Hazel meets Asa Hawks, a religious fanatic who feigns blindness, and his predatory daughter, Sabbath. Although Hazel believes himself completely at odds with the Christian doctrines of Hawks, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to the old charlatan and his daughter.
Hazel finds another friend of sorts in Enoch, who loves to browse at lengths in supermarkets inspecting the labels of the canned goods and reading the picture stories on the backs of cereal boxes. Enoch is a guard at the city zoo and his great need to belong to the human community brings him to some grimly comic actions. Like those of Hazel, Enoch’s pathetic efforts often evoke a kind of grotesque comedy.
Flannery O’Connor’s people are not drawn from life in the manner with which we are most familiar. Yet in another way they are, for in this author’s hands they embody more than the characteristics of individuals. Wise Blood is an unusual and highly satisfying reading experience.
A review of
The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor
More about Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
- Reader discussion on Goodreads
- Sin and Symbolism in Wise Blood
- The Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood
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