Wise Blood was the first of two novels written by Flannery O'Connor. Begun in 1947, some of its chapters appeared individually in Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review, and Partisan Review in 1948 and 1949 before it was published in its complete novel form by Harcourt, Brace & Company in May 1952.
Robert Giroux writes in his introduction to O'Connor's posthumously published Complete Stories that O'Connor went through considerable trouble with her original publisher due to the strange nature of the story and was disappointed with reviews after publication, which "all recognized her power but missed her point." Wise Blood, the story of atheist preacher Hazel Motes and his "Church Without Christ", contains elements prevalent in most of O'Connor's work - morality, redemption, the grotesque and a southern gothic style - informed by O'Connor's devout Catholicism and upbringing in Georgia.
The author's note that O'Connor wrote for the second edition of the novel is so concise and eminently revealing that it is worth reading even here:
"WISE BLOOD has reached the age of ten and is still alive. My critical powers are just sufficient to determine this, and I am gratified to be able to say it. The book was written with zest and, if possible, it should be read that way. It is a comic novel about a Christian malgré lui ["in spite of himself"], and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death. Wise Blood was written by an author congenitally innocent of theory, but one with certain preoccupations. That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for some readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them, Hazel Motes's integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author, Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to do so. Does one's integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man. Freedom cannot be conceived simply. It is a mystery and one which a novel, even a comic novel, can only be asked to deepen."
An enduring classic of 20th century American literature, Wise Blood appears on the Guardian's 2003 list of the 100 greatest novels of all time, at #62.