Friday, March 27, 2009

In Praise of Gail Godwin

In the comments section of my Belief vs. Practice post, we've been talking about authors who have moved towards faith because of the writing that they've done. It makes me wonder how many other authors have developed religious faith because of their writing. And then I wonder about other types of artists. Are there any examples of artists who started out as agnostic or atheist and became believers because of their work?

Here I want to praise Gail Godwin. I read her book Father Melancholy's Daughter during the summer I was supposed to be studying for my Ph.D. Comprehensive Exams. I had vowed that summer that I wouldn't read any books except for the ones that would help me with my Comps. And yet, I couldn't resist several of them (the only other one I remember was A. S. Byatt's Possession, which I could almost justify, since one of my Comps areas was 20th Century British Lit).

I was already a big Gail Godwin fan. In fact, in 1984, she came to Newberry College to speak to us students, and I remember that she came to our Creative Writing class. I can't tell you specifically what she talked about, but I remember how inspiring she was.

To this day, Father Melancholy's Daughter is one of my favorite books of hers; The Good Husband is the other. I love how she explores issues of faith, love, and the question of the best ways to spend our all-too-short life. She also often explores issues of artists and how artists interact with the world. How do we stay true to our art and not abandon all our other commitments?

In an interview I read long ago, Gail Godwin said that Father Melancholy's Daughter brought her back to church. The story revolves around an Episcopalian priest, and Godwin talks about going to a local church so that she correctly painted a picture of the life of the faithful. And she never left.

I also think that she prays the daily office because she talks about coming across this line in her prayer book: "Shield the joyous." That line helped inspire part of the sequel to Father Melancholy's Daughter, a book called Evensong.

Father Melancholy's Daughter was a book that made me want to return to church, although it's taken me many years to find a church and a pastor like the one in the book. Other writers that made me long for a church life to call my own? Kathleen Norris and Nora Gallagher (go here to explore Gallagher's website). I expect I'll blog about them at some future time.


Lynn Domina said...

One of the things I like about Godwin is that her religious characters are so "normal"--in the sense of just regular folks. I like Flannery O'Connor, too, for instance, but her religious characters are generally decidedly not "normal" in that way.

Kristin said...

I couldn't agree more. I love the idea that regular people can have religious practices and still be capable of functioning in society--and Godwin shows us that it's possible.