Tag: religion

Flannery O’Connor, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” (1954)

flannery o'connor a temple of the holy ghost

‘Sleeping Venus/Hermaphrodite’ at the Liverpool Museum. See details.

A 12-year-old girl’s caustic, aggravating, proud, funny observations about her two 14-year-old girl cousins visiting from Mount St. Scholastica, a convent school. The title is taken from Corinthians 6:19 (“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself) and anticipates in remote ways The Handmaid’s Tale. The younger girl, who takes to the notion that she could be a temple of the holy ghost and becoming a saint but for the tortures she might have to endure, makes fun of the older, seemingly more simple-minded girls. The older girls go to a fair and see a hermaphrodite. The hermaphrodite shows them his genitals and says repeatedly, “God made me thisaway… and I ain’t disputing His way.” O’Connor would like us to think that he represents the acceptance of god’s will. Of course that implies that there’s something wrong with the hermaphrodite–a prejudicial, a priori judgment by O’Connor necessary as a premise for the story to “work.” The judgment is a distasteful construct. This being O’Connor, the girl has an epiphany at the end, accepting grace, letting go of her pride, embracing Catholicism. Drench the ending in sun all you like, it’s a preachy, flimsy story saved by its humor and the girl’s curious insights. But it’s no “Keela.”

Harper’s Bazaar, May 1954

Cather, “The Joy of Nelly Deane” (1911)

Red Cloud, Nebraska.

A moving, sad story, a touch tedious and out of focus in parts but heartbreaking as Margaret, the narrator, tells of her friendship with Nelly, the prettiest, most free-spirited girl in Riverbend, a girl of “unquenshable joy.” The scene opens as the girls are in a play. Even then Nelly is pursued by the hard and unimaginative Scott Spinny though her eyes are on Guy Franklin. Margaret spends the night with her as she didn’t want Spinny to walk her home alone. There is an undercurrent of something between Margaret and Nelly, though only Margaret projects it. It’s unspoken, unacted upon. Nelly reveals that she’s engaged to Guy Franklin, but for an unexplained reason that ends up going nowhere. Margaret and her family move to Denver, Nelly teaches sixth grade. Eight years later, Spinny manages to put his grip into her, though he seems to have nothing in common with her. He wants to change her, as do too many people in town no matter how much they love her. They want her foremost to be a Baptist, not a Methodist, and she is baptized, a ceremony Margaret attends in a visit before the marriage: “Such a sad, sad visit! She seemed changed–a little embarrassed and quietly despairing.” She had begun to die. As she prepared for the baptism, “she looked so little and meek and chastened!” Margaret in Rome 10 years later gets a letter from Mrs. Dow back in Riverbend. Nelly died a few days after giving birth to a boy, her second child. She had an eight year old daughter. Margaret, homesick–there is not one note of sorrow over the death of Nell, strangely–returns to Riverbend and sees the two children, seeing nelly in them and learning that Spinny’s obtuseness, his falling out with the two experienced doctors in town, had resulted in Nelly being cared for by a boy just out of med school who didn’t know what he was doing. Her death was preventable. But she had died long before, had it not been for her children. A town can murder a spirit like Nelly’s. The story is not distant from the lost dreams of Cather’s “Enchanted Bluff.”

Century, October 1911

Hawthorne, “Mrs. Hutchinson” (1830)

The brief story of Ann Hutchinson, who couldn’t abide the rigidity of Plymouth Colony. Wikepedia: “Anne Hutchinson (née Marbury; July 1591 – August 1643) was a Puritan spiritual adviser, religious reformer, and an important participant in the Antinomian Controversy which shook the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638. Her strong religious convictions were at odds with the established Puritan clergy in the Boston area, and her popularity and charisma helped create a theological schism that threatened to destroy the Puritans’ religious community in New England. She was eventually tried and convicted, then banished from the colony with many of her supporters.”

The story includes this good passage about what could be interpreted as America’s origins founded in groupthink, submission, dogma, not liberty, let alone liberty of thought, if it’s puritanism we’re looking at: “These proceedings of Mrs. Hutchinson could not long be endured by the provincial government. The present was a most remarkable case, in which religious freedom was wholly inconsistent with public safety, and where the principles of an illiberal age indicated the very course which must have been pursued by worldly policy and enlightened wisdom. Unity of faith was the star that had guided these people over the deep, and a diversity of sects would either have scattered them from the land to which they had as yet so few attachments, or perhaps have excited a diminutive civil war among those who had come so far to worship together.”