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Understanding the Hillbilly Thomist

Understanding the Hillbilly Thomist

The Philosophical Foundations of Flannery O’Connor’s Narrative Art

by Fr. Damian Ference

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Flannery O’Connor is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Her novels and short stories—shockingly violent, absurdly comic, spiritually potent—continue to entertain, beguile, and transform readers of all backgrounds to this day.

For many encountering them for the first time, O’Connor’s stories of backwoods prophets and outcasts feel strangely nihilistic and dark. Others familiar with her letters and essays appreciate the deep Catholic understanding of sin and grace that animates them. In this new book, Fr. Damian Ference proposes a more precise lens for decoding Flannery O’Connor’s narrative art, one that originates in O’Connor’s own words about herself: Hillbilly Thomism. The author examines the various ways in which St. Thomas Aquinas and the philosophical tradition of Thomism shaped not only O’Connor’s view of reality but also the stories she told to help us see and know it.  

Featuring an impressive array of biographical and literary evidence and extended analysis of her short stories “The River,” “Parker’s Back,” and “The Displaced Person,” Understanding the Hillbilly Thomist is an important look at the intersection of medieval philosophy and modern fiction in one of the most treasured artists of the American South.

More Info

Publisher: Word on Fire
ISBN: 978-1-68578-016-6
Binding: Paperback
Page count: 280
Dimensions: 6 x 9
Thickness: 0.86 (in)
Language: English
Release date: Aug 03, 2023
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About the Author

Fr. Damian Ference is a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland, where he serves as Vicar for Evangelization, Secretary for Parish Life and Special Ministries, and Professor of Philosophy at Borromeo Seminary. He holds a licentiate in philosophy from The Catholic University of America and a doctorate in philosophy from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He writes regularly on the intersection of faith and culture for a variety of outlets and is the author of the award-winning book The Strangeness of Truth. Fr. Ference is the founder and director of Tolle Lege Summer Institute and is a lifetime member of the Flannery O’Connor Society.

What People are Saying

“Fr. Ference’s scholarly work is a great contribution to the understanding of one of America’s most influential authors, who used the incarnate human experience to expand the soul’s ability to receive the mystery of transformative grace.”

Bishop Edward Malesic, Diocese of Cleveland

“This is the book on Flannery I've been waiting for without knowing it: a serious investigation of the Thomistic inflections and foundations that give form to O’Connor’s fiction. Understanding the Hillbilly Thomist allows these friends across the centuries to clarify one another.”

Joshua Hren, founder of Wiseblood Books, author of Infinite Regress and Contemplative Realism: A Theological-Aesthetical Manifesto

“There is no one so well-versed in O’Connor’s philosophical background as Fr. Ference. In his attentive exploration into Flannery’s art and the thought behind the work, especially her reading and absorption of Thomas Aquinas, he illuminates the soul of O’Connor’s fiction.”

Jessica Hooten Wilson, author of Giving the Devil His Due: Flannery O'Connor and The Brothers Karamazov

“Fr. Ference has written a fine O’Connor volume undertaken with the parameters of Thomism, the first study of its kind. His book is not to be missed by anyone with an interest in, and appreciation for, O’Connor’s writing.”

Henry T. Edmondson III, author of Return to Good and Evil: Flannery O’Connor’s Response to Nihilism

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