Marion Montgomery (1925-2011) was a novelist and poet but is remembered for his literary and cultural criticism. An Anglo-Catholic, he shared the same background and outlook as his Catholic friend, peer, and fellow Georgian, the writer Flannery O’Connor, so much so, that he too described himself as a “hillbilly Thomist.” His cultural criticism draws on Thomism and Southern Agrarianism and stresses the importance of metaphysical realism, localism, and tradition. His literary criticism includes perceptive studies on writers such as Poe, Hawthorne, T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. 

In this interview, Prof. Michael M. Jordan discusses Montgomery’s work and some of his best books. 

Michael M. Jordan is Professor Emeritus of English at Hillsdale College and earned his PhD in English under the direction of Marion Montgomery at the University of Georgia. He lectured on the work of various Southern authors: the Southern Agrarians, Donald Davidson, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O’Connor, M. E. Bradford, Richard Weaver, and Walker Percy. He also has written essays and reviews for various journals of  scholarship and opinion, including Chronicles, Touchstone, The Southern Partisan, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, The South Carolina Review, The Southern Humanities Review, The Chattahoochee Review, and The University Bookman. In 2005, he selected and edited a collection of Montgomery’s essays: On Matters Southern: Essays About Literature and Culture, 1964-2000.

  1. On Matters Southern: Essays About Literature and Culture, 1964-2000
    by Marion Montgomery
  2. Possum, and Other Receipts for the Recovery of "Southern" Being
    by Marion Mongomery
  3. Liberal Arts and Community: The Feeding of the Larger Body
    by Marion Mongomery
  4. Romantic Confusions of the Good: Beauty as Truth, Truth as Beauty
    by Marion Mongomery
  5. With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party: in Company with Flannery O'Connor, T.S. Eliot, and Others
    by Marion Mongomery

Five Books for Catholics may receive a commission from qualifyng purchases made using the affliate links in this post.

What would you add to the preceding biographical profile of Marion Montgomery?
Marion Montgomery's work is inspired by Thomism and by Agrarianism. It is also inspired by what he called the vision and the insights of the “prophetic poet.” Marion was a poet and a novelist. He said that the prophetic poet calls us back to forgotten truths: things that we once knew but have forgotten because, since the Renaissance and the gradual development of modernism, there has been a shrinking of the mind’s access to reality. We have been cut off from tradition and from transcendence.

He adds to the principles of Thomism and the Southern Agrarian’s attention to the local scene the insights of the poet, drawing upon analogy, imagination, intuition, and the fiction writer’s careful attention to detail.

"However, when Montgomery speaks of the South, he is referring not just to the geographical and historical South, but to an older, premodern way of living. Industrialization, urbanisation, specialisation, and commercialism are features of modernity that really do separate us from creation and the ground of our local realities."

What is your fondest recollection of Marion Montgomery?
My fondest recollections are of the many times I visited him at his home in Crawford. He taught at the University of Georgia in Athens but lived in a small village seventeen miles away. Marion and his wife, Dorothy (or Dot as we all called her), were very generous and hospitable. They frequently invited students and friends to visit them and enjoy their hospitality. As a student, and later when I was married with children, I visited and stayed with Marion and Dot many times.

Marion’s personal generosity and hospitality are not something you pick up from his books. However, when he died, The Christendom Review (4:1, 2011) published a tribute to him: “Remembering Marion Montgomery.” Time and again, people attested to how generous and hospitable Marion and Dot were. A friend and colleague of mine said that visiting the Montgomerys was something like perfection. It really was.

What he accomplished in his books is wonderful and great, but what he and Dot did personally is also quite remarkable.

"Montgomery tells the young Southerner that he needs to sort through his inheritance, take in all that is good and worthy, and dismiss all that is bad."

Montgomery was a novelist and poet. How do his works compare to other notable Southern authors of the period, such as Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, and Wendell Berry?
Asked about the connection of her work to that of William Faulkner (the greatest twentieth-century Southern writer), Flannery O'Connor said: “No one wants his mule stranded on the track when the Dixie Limited comes roaring down.” This was her way of saying that she did not want to compare her work to that of the great William Faulkner. That said, Marion's first novel, The Wandering of Desire (1962), is very Faulknerian in its theme, style, and manner of addressing the reader. He knew Faulkner’s work, and his first novel has some similarities with those of Faulkner.

His second novel, Darrell, was published in 1964. It evinces his familiarity with the work of Flannery O'Connor. There is whimsy, a little of the grotesque, and some of the disturbing violence that you find in her work.

His third novel, Fugitive, published in 1974, is a fascinating experimental novel. Its themes clearly show the influence of the Fugitive Poets and the Southern Agrarians. Fugitive’s stories and vignettes are rendered in the local idiom and might remind some readers of Wendell Berry’s work.

Do any of his novels, poems, or short stories distil the central themes of his cultural criticism?
They do, though this does not come up in the same way. They address his concerns about the family, assaults on the family, and the challenges of living in a world that has separated itself from tradition and transcendence. All three of his novels deal with the changes over time from the Old South to the New South. His cultural criticism focuses on the same thing: changes that have occurred since the Renaissance and the Reformation that eventually produced modernism (and later, postmodernism), shrinking our world, and, through materialism and secularism, truncating our awareness of reality.

Interestingly, Montgomery wrote his novels and most of his poetry in the 60s and early 70s. Thereafter, he increasingly wrote cultural criticism, producing altogether twenty-two critical works. He either decided or discerned that his calling was to write cultural criticism. However, his gifts as poet and writer of fiction render his cultural criticism remarkedly vivid and vital. He is attentive to the local, the particular, the concrete. While presenting some philosophical abstractions and definitions, he incarnates them by getting into the fabric, the texture, the warp and woof of the world. That is a real virtue.

"More than anyone I have ever known, Marion always brought everything—economics, literature, philosophy, popular culture, science, education—back to the cause of causes, the Creator of being."

You have already mentioned how Montgomery can be classified as a Southern Agrarian. For those who are not familiar with this movement, could you describe what makes one a Southern Agrarian?
Marion Montgomery was keenly familiar with the Southern Agrarians and their manifesto, I'll Take My Stand, an anthology published in 1930 by twelve Southerners, most of whom were connected with Vanderbilt University. They were taking a stand for the South and the agrarian tradition against industrialism, urbanism, secularism and a host of other isms that are associated with industrialization.

However, when Montgomery speaks of the South, he is referring not just to the geographical and historical South, but to an older, premodern way of living. Industrialization, urbanisation, specialisation, and commercialism are features of modernity that really do separate us from creation and the ground of our local realities.

Montgomery frequently quotes Stark Young, one of the Southern Agrarians, who wrote, “We defend certain qualities not because they belong to the South, but because the South belongs to them.” What Young is really saying is that certain values of Christendom or Western Civilization had been manifested or incarnated in the American South, a region that held onto these values longer than the North. The South manifested a recognition of the importance of one’s time and place, tradition, ceremony, and hierarchy, among other things.

Maion would claim St. Thomas Aquinas or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as an honorary Southerner. This is because the South belongs (or used to belong) to the larger community called Christendom, with its practices and beliefs that, increasingly, are diminished, challenged, or dismissed in our time.

Why is it worth reading Montgomery for Catholics in particular?
He was an Anglo-Catholic, not a Roman Catholic. However, his chief guide was St. Thomas Aquinas. In his works, he frequently cites St. Thomas's basic principles, attitudes, and vision. He also draws readily upon the neo-Thomists: Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, Joseph Pieper, and others. He absorbed their thoughts on art, politics, and economics. This made him essentially Catholic in his vision. He emphasises the universality of the Catholic tradition.

Montgomery would have said that seeing and knowing the world through the eyes and mind of St. Thomas and the Neo-Thomists both introduces us to minds greater than our own and enables us to see an integrated world not undone by the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. He calls us back to that older world, with St. Thomas as his chief guide. He is very Catholic.

More than anyone I have ever known, Marion always brought everything—economics, literature, philosophy, popular culture, science, education—back to the cause of causes, the Creator of being. He filtered everything through a basic address to the Creator and our status as creatures.


Montgomery’s works are packed with references to philosophers and writers. Is it fair to say that, unless you are well-read, you might struggle to follow his works of cultural criticism? If so, are any of his works more accessible to less advanced readers?
His work is difficult because it is philosophical and wide-ranging. He knew a great deal, far more than most of us. Moreover, some of his works are not only difficult but quite lengthy. His trilogy, The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age (is about 1500 pages long (vol. 1, 2, 3). I am not the first to call attention to the difficulty of his work.

The collection of his essays that I edited—On Matters Southern—is short (205 pages), has the Thomistic overview as its background, and should be accessible to most educated readers. One of my reasons for publishing those sixteen essays was to give readers an introduction to his work. It is easier than his longer and more formidable philosophical studies.

Which essays from the anthology merit particular note?

This post is for paying subscribers only

Sign up now and upgrade your account to read the post and get access to the full library of posts for paying subscribers only.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in