Books

University of Notre Dame Press, October 2020

For many Americans of both right and left political persuasions, the Russian bear is more of a bugbear. On the right, the country is still mentally represented by Soviet domination. For those on the left, it is a harbor for reactionary values and neo-imperial visions. The reality, however, is that, despite Russia’s political failures, its rich history of culture, religion, and philosophical reflection–even during the darkest days of the Gulag–have been a deposit of wisdom for American artists, religious thinkers, and political philosophers probing what it means to be human in America.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stands out as the key figure in this conversation, as both a Russian literary giant and an exile from Russia living in America for two decades. This anthology reconsiders Solzhenitsyn’s work from a variety of perspectives–his faith, his politics, and the influences and context of his literature–to provide a prophetic vision for our current national confusion over universal ideals. In Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson have collected essays from the foremost scholars and thinkers of comparative studies who have been tracking what Americans have borrowed and learned from Solzhenitsyn as well as his fellow Russians. The book offers a consideration of what we have in common–the truth, goodness, and beauty America has drawn from Russian culture and from masters such as Solzhenitsyn–and will suggest to readers what we can still learn and what we must preserve. The book will interest fans of Solzhenitsyn and scholars across the disciplines, and it can be used in courses on Solzhenitsyn or Russian literature more broadly.

Louisiana State University Press, May 2018

Walker Percy (1916–1990) considered novels the strongest tool with which to popularize great ideas among a broad audience, and, more than half a century after they first appeared in print, his works of fiction continue to fascinate contemporary readers. Despite their lasting appeal, however, Percy’s engaging narratives also contain intellectual elements that demand further explication. Philosophical themes, including existentialism, language acquisition theory, and modern Catholic theology, provide a deeper layer of meaning in Percy’s writings.

Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading Walker Percy’s Novels serves as a companion guide for readers who enjoy Percy’s novels but may be less familiar with the works of Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, and Dante. In addition to clarifying Percy’s philosophies, Wilson highlights allusions to other writers within his narratives, addresses historical and political contexts, and provides insight into the creation and reception of The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome. An introduction covers aspects of Percy’s biography that influenced his writing, including his deep southern roots, faith, and search for meaning in life. An appendix offers an explanation of Percy’s satirical parody Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.

Written in an accessible and conversational style, this primer will appeal to everyone who appreciates the nuances of Walker Percy’s fiction.

Ohio State University Press, October 2017

Although Walker Percy named many influences on his work and critics have zeroed in on Kierkegaard in particular, no one has considered his intentional influence: the nineteenth-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. In a study that revives and complicates notions of adaptation and influence, Jessica Hooten Wilson details the long career of Walker Percy. Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence demonstrates—through close reading of both writers’ works, examination of archival materials, and biographical criticism—not only how pervasive and inescapable Dostoevsky’s influence was but also how necessary it was to the distinctive strengths of Percy’s fiction.

From Dostoevsky, Percy learned how to captivate his non-Christian readership with fiction saturated by a Christian vision of reality. Not only was his method of imitation in line with this Christian faith but also the aesthetic mode and very content of his narratives centered on his knowledge of Christ. The influence of Dostoevsky on Percy, then, becomes significant as a modern case study for showing the illusion of artistic autonomy and long-held, Romantic assumptions about artistic originality. Ultimately, Wilson suggests, only by studying the good that came before can one translate it in a new voice for the here and now.

Cascade Books, February 2017

Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky shared a deep faith in Christ, which compelled them to tell stories that force readers to choose between eternal life and demonic possession. Their either-or extremism has not become more popular in the last fifty to a hundred years since these stories were first published, but it has become more relevant to a twenty-first-century culture in which the lukewarm middle ground seems the most comfortable place to dwell. Giving the Devil His Due walks through all of O’Connor’s stories and looks closely at Dostoevsky’s magnum opus The Brothers Karamazov to show that when the devil rules, all hell breaks loose. Instead of this kingdom of violence, O’Connor and Dostoevsky propose a kingdom of love, one that is only possible when the Lord again is king.

Book Chapters

Introduction

Divine Providence Press, May 2019

The human community is never more endangered than when totalitarianism appears to be benevolent. The new totalitarian’s idealism, his “humanitarianism,” his public image, may all communicate to us many good things, and thus our imagination is captured to the detriment of real discernment. We soon find ourselves succumbing to a magnetic attraction, and voting for leaders whose agendas mix admirable elements and fatal flaws. We then discover that we have elevated to positions of maximum influence men who would sacrifice human lives for the sake of “peace” or a thriving economy or some other value. Our guilt is denied, our sense of personal responsibility is numbed, to the degree that we perceive the sacrificed lives as statistical abstractions and our personal comforts as more real. By such choices we are revealed to ourselves. Where our treasure is, there is our heart. By and large, in the once-Christian democracies of the West we have been measured in the scales and found wanting.

“How to Teach O’Connor as a Catholic Novelist”

The Modern Language Association of America, September 2019

Known for her violent, startling stories that culminate in moments of grace, Flannery O’Connor depicted the postwar segregated South from a unique perspective. This volume proposes strategies for introducing students to her Roman Catholic aesthetic, which draws on concepts such as incarnation and original sin, and offers alternative contexts for reading her work.

Part 1, “Materials,” describes resources that provide a grounding in O’Connor’s work and life. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” discuss her beliefs about writing and her distinctive approach to fiction and religion; introduce fresh perspectives, including those of race, class, gender, and interdisciplinary approaches; highlight her craft as a creative writer; and suggest pairings of her works with other texts. Alice Walker’s short story “Convergence” is included as an appendix.

“The Influence of Saints’ Lives on Flannery O’Connor’s Unpublished Novel”

The Catholic University of America Press, February 2017

Did Flannery O’Connor really write the way she did because and―not in spite of―her Catholicism?

Revelation & Convergence brings together professors of literature, theology, and history to help both critics and readers better understand O’Connor’s religious imagination.

The contributors focus on many of the Catholic thinkers central to O’Connor’s creative development, especially those that O’Connor mentioned in the recently discovered and published A Prayer Journal (2013), or in her many letters to friends and admirers. Some, such as Leon Bloy or Baron von Hügel, remain relatively obscure to contemporary readers. Other figures, such as Augustine of Hippo or St. John of the Cross, are well-known, but their connection to O’Connor’s stories has received little attention.

Revelation & Convergence provides a much-needed hermeneutical lens that is often missing from contemporary criticism, representing O’Connor’s ongoing conversation with her Catholic theological and literary heritage, and provide a glimpse into the rich Catholic texture of her life and work.

“The Bible, Slavery, and Lincoln”

“Remembering God in November 1916.”

Life and Work OF Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Way to «The Red Wheel»

“From the Underground Man to Alyosha Karamazov: The Trajectory of Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer

LSU Press, April 2016

More than fifty years after its publication, Walker Percy’s National Book Award Winner, The Moviegoer, still confronts, comforts, and enlightens generations of readers. This collection of twelve new essays, edited and introduced by Jennifer Levasseur and Mary A. McCay, emphasize the evolving significance of this seminal, New Orleans novel. Authors’ consider the text with diverse perspectives, drawing from philosophy, theology, disability theory, contemporary music and literature, social media, and film studies.

Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer at Fifty is the first critical work devoted solely to the author’s debut novel. Coinciding with the centenary of Percy’s birth, this collection invites both new and veteran readers to enjoy The Moviegoer with fresh perspectives that underscore its lasting relevance.

“After Modernity, After Theory: Reading Humbly”

Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010

Dealing with the historical and thematic intersections of Christianity and critical theory, this collection brings together a diversity of specialist scholars in the area. Building on recent discourses in theology as well as their knowledge of hermeneutic and critical traditions, they examine major themes in contemporary critical theory.