Since the advent of this past Wednesday, Georgia College and State University has hosted a conference solely concentrated on Milledgeville’s own literary celebrity, Flannery O’Connor. This conference was titled “Startling Figures: A Celebration of the Legacy of Flannery O’Connor” and featured various presentations, films and art galleries where her influence has impacted the culture. On April 16th, three presenters brought their papers to A&S Auditorium to report on varying aspects of O’Connor’s literature and life in regard to religion. I will focus on the second presenter, Dr. Ted Hendricks, since his lecture was the most coherent of the three.
Hendricks presented a paper entitled “François Mauriac, Flannery O’Connor, and the Misapprehension of Grace”. As he opened his presentation, his large booming voice caught the audience with his clarity and authoritative tone. Hendricks began by talking about the several influences in O’Connor’s literature and life, particularly modern Catholic writers. Among those he listed were Graham Greene and Francois Mauriac, and others but he only focused on Mauriac. After briefly mentioning those influential authors and their impact on O’Connor, Hendricks began to divulge a brief biography of Mauriac and the literature he wrote. Mauriac was born in Bordeaux, France where he continued to return for vacations and based his novels in that area. He won the Nobel Peace prize for literature and many other honors. After giving a brief bio of Mauriac, Hendricks talked about three ideas of the misapprehension of grace in the works of Mauriac and Flannery O’Connor. His first was that the novels of O’Connor and Mauriac display the “action of grace”. That is, grace is the subject of novel. Such displays of the action of grace in the novels focus on the virtue of the individual, the challenge to maintain that virtue. Hendricks gave an example from “Revelation” to back this up. The second and third ideas are actually related. His second idea was that the action of grace comes to unworthy characters and third is the difficulty in seeing the prescence of grace in an unworthy character. In both Mauriac and O’Connor’s works, the main characters have a change of heart due to the means of grace. However, the change of heart in both novels comes too late. From there, Hendricks went on to comment on Mauriac’s novel Destins and its corresponding similarities and dissimilarities with some of O’Connor’s work. In Destins, there is some kind of evil life which intrudes and produces the shock of grace. Furthermore, grace humbles the characters. Despite some of their similarities, there are some things wherein the action of grace is different in these works. In Mauriac’s work, the novel is tragic and grace comes too late to change anything. In O’Connor’s work, everything becomes catastrophic but at the end we realize that grace was there all along. Finally, Hendricks commented on O’Connor’s sentiments on whether novels should be uplifting. Flannery was known to have said that people want bright, uplifting literature with little effort rather than tragic works where the work of grace is much more difficult and therefore glorious. Thus he concluded his paper.