Silence of the Catholic Critic

Reproduced in The Habit of Being is a letter from Flannery O’Connor to critic John Lynch dated 6 November 1955. Flannery makes some interesting observations in it:

I am extremely obliged to you for sending me the copy of the review and very much surprised and pleased that a Catholic magazine would want it and would get somebody intelligent to do it. The silence of the Catholic critic is so often preferable to his attention. I always look in the Catholic magazines my mother reads, to see if my book has been reviewed, and when I find it hasn’t, I say an act of thanksgiving. This should not be the case but it is, and for me, the ironical part of my silent reception by Catholics is the fact that I write the way I do because and only because I am a Catholic. I feel that if I were not a Catholic, I would have no reason to write, no reason to see, no reason ever to feel horrified or even to enjoy anything. I am a born Catholic, went to Catholic schools in my early years, and have never left or wanted to leave the Church. I have never had the sense that being a Catholic is a limit to the freedom of the writer, but just the reverse. Mrs. [Caroline Gordon] Tate told me that after she became a Catholic, she felt could use her eyes and accept what she saw for the first time, she didn’t have to make a new universe for each book but could take the one she found. I feel myself that being a Catholic has saved me a couple of thousand years in learning to write. I don’t want to bother you but I would like to know if this has been your experience, since you write fiction. I have never talked to another Catholic writer of fiction, except converts, and the experience there is different. They have been formed by other things, I have been formed by the Church, and perhaps you have also.

I am wondering too if you teach writing at Notre Dame and if they go about it there any differently from what they do at Standford or Iowa—if they go on about “reflecting Christian values,” etc. I am not very sure that I think the business of the Catholic writer is to reflect anything but what he sees the most of; but the subject of what is and what isn’t a Catholic novel is one I give wide berth to. Ultimately, you write what you can, what God gives you.

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