The total mosaic : the reception and reputation of Flannery O'Connor.


Daniel Moran

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


My research examines some ways in which various audiences have contributed pieces to what Robert Giroux called the "total mosaic" of Flannery O'Connor's reputation. Beginning with the 1952 publication of Wise Blood , I examine O'Connor's critical reception among readers whose assumptions about the South and Catholicism informed (and misinformed) their initial response to an author who defied easy categorizing. O'Connor's thematic concerns and artistic performance provoked great critical unease, an unease evidenced by what critics decided to emphasize about her art. Drawing on the work of Peter J. Rabinowitz, I describe the two general audiences--one "genuine" and the other "ironic"--that shaped O'Connor's reputation. However, I also examine the effects of people such as Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, who helped to foster some parts of O'Connor's reputation that readers now take for granted. Further, I examine the ways in which adaptations of O'Connor's work for stage and screen--especially John Huston's Wise Blood --influence and reflect the course of O'Connor's reputation and her increased acceptance as an outsider entering the mainstream of American letters. My study closes with an inventory and analysis of how O'Connor is seen by over 4,000 reviewers on Goodreads.com, as a way to gage O'Connor's current reputation reflected in the reviews of common readers. My study ultimately suggests that O'Connor's status has, of course, something to do with her subject matter, but is also a function of how she has been presented to the public by reviewers, editors, publishers, filmmakers, and thousands of readers who post their opinions online. I examine the contingencies of literary reputation and identify the moments in which a reputation was created. This is a work of book history; my aim is not to explicate O'Connor's work but to examine the ways in which it has been edited, marketed, read, and received. Drawing extensively on hundreds of reviews and the Farrar, Straus and Giroux Archives, my book tells the story of the understanding and misunderstanding, the reading and misreading, the attacks and eventual canonization of Flannery O'Connor.