Author: Charlotte Allen

Flannery O’Connor and the Ideological War on Literature

On June 15th, Paul Elie—a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a frequent contributor to upscale magazines—published a 3,800-word essay in the New Yorker bluntly accusing the acclaimed Southern Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) of racism. The essay, which has since gone viral, is ostensibly a review of Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor, a new book by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, an O’Connor scholar at Fordham University. O’Donnell surveys O’Connor’s two novels, numerous short stories and essays, and voluminous correspondence (most of which was published following her untimely death aged 39 of complications from lupus) and concludes that O’Connor was “a walking contradiction when it came to matters of race.” O’Connor’s dark and mordantly humorous fiction was written as the civil rights movement tore through the South dismantling Jim Crow during the 1950s and 1960s, and it frequently mocks Southern whites for their condescension and rudeness toward blacks. However, O’Donnell also argues that “racism” is the correct description of O’Connor’s privately expressed views about black people in …

The Fight over Alternative Education

Articles in college alumni magazines, even in the Ivy League, are usually puff pieces about academic programs and professors. They are designed to make graduates feel so good about their alma mater and its intellectual achievements that they will write out yet another donation check. Seldom do the articles circulate much outside of the closed circle of alums. Not so with a 1,007-word piece in the May – June 2020 issue of the Harvard Magazine entitled “The Risks of Homeschooling” in which Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet recommended a “presumptive ban” against parents’ educating their children at home (as between three and four percent of US parents currently do). That is, unless these parents can prove to educational authorities “that their case is justified.” Bartholet had already expressed this view in an extensively footnoted 80-page scholarly article for the Arizona Law Review entitled “Homeschooling: Parent Right Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection” published earlier in 2020. There, she wrote: A very large proportion of homeschooling parents are ideologically committed to isolating their …

Higher Education’s Medievalist Moral Panic

On September 19, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), a 36-year-old organization of academics specializing in the history, culture, and literature of England before the Norman Conquest, hastily voted to change its name. Indeed, the vote was so hasty that the organization had no idea what its new name ought to be (it is soliciting suggestions from members). Nonetheless, the majority of its 600-odd members were certain of one thing: they no longer wanted to be associated with the words “Anglo-Saxon.” In the view of many of those members, that term had become tainted, appropriated by an assortment of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis that calls itself the “alt-right.” During the Charlottesville, Virginia melée of August 11–12, 2017, which included a supremacist’s murder of a woman by car attack, the white nationalists who marched had carried banners and standards incorporating iconography that, if not always precisely Anglo-Saxon in inspiration, was certainly medieval: Templar crosses, the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and in one case, a Germanic rune beloved of neo-Nazis that was …

Tolkien—A Review

Alas, poor Tolkien the movie. The adjective “tepid” most accurately describes the critical response to this biopic, reverently directed by Dome Karukoski, which explores the early years of the author of The Hobbit (1937), the Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–1955), and countless other works of medievalist fantasy. The idea behind Tolkien is that nearly every key theme in these novels had its origins in some episode of the young John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s life, first at the prestigious King Edward’s boys’ school in Birmingham (where, as the gifted son of a cultivated but impoverished widow, he had a scholarship), then at Oxford University (another scholarship), and above all, in the trenches of the Somme, where he was posted as a second lieutenant in 1916 and had ample opportunity to experience all the horrors of World War I before succumbing to trench fever carried by the lice that infested the cramped and filthy bunkers. Thus, Tolkien, presented as a series of flashbacks playing inside the brain of the fever-stricken junior officer, trades heavily in one-on-one …