I have been reading about Flannery O’Connor in Jonathan Rogers, The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor (2012), which is excellent.1
During her life O’Connor was often rebuked for the violence in her fiction, but she explained how it was not at all inconsistent with her Christian faith:
I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.2
I was struck by this, I think, because it seems particularly apropos to our current situation in which our lives have been violently reduced, and much that was extraneous has been torn away from us.
It seems to me that O’Connor echoes C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain (p. 81: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”) and in “Learning in War-Time” (The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”).
O’Connor, as diligent “sub-creator,” looked for ways that her character might be brought to grace — our creator (and hers) is now doing the same.
1Isn’t that a perfect title? The Terrible Speed of Mercy is a great place to start a study of O’Connor. [Ed. note: It turns out that “the terrible speed of mercy” is a phrase of Flannery O’Connor’s.]
2Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (1961) (emphasis added).