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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Flannery O'Connor...

was 23 in 1948 when she wrote the first letters in this book, and already in the process of writing Wise Blood. She won the Rhinehart-Iowa Fiction Award for a first novel, with the incomplete manuscript and was recommended for a place at Yaddo, where she worked for a few months with the likes of Robert Lowell. Pretty heady company!

The $750 prize from Rhinehart gave them the option to Wise Blood, but they weren't really pleased with it and suggested that O'Connor revise the parts of the novel that she felt were the strongest. She refused. That must have taken courage, don't you think? At 22-23 years old to stand up to a publishing company with that kind of confidence in her own work? She told John Selby that she would "listen to Rinehart criticism but that if it didn't suit me, I would disregard it."

In a letter to Paul Engle: "Selby and I came to the conclusion that I was 'prematurely arrogant.' I supplied the phrase."

That absolutely delighted me when I read it, and I highlighted and flagged it immediately because this book isn't going anywhere. This is one that will stay on the shelves all highlighted, flagged, and annotated. For me. (I know many of you don't mark your books, but I have a number of nonfiction books that I've marginalia'd to death.)

In 1951, she was reading "Dr. Johnson's Life of Dryden. Dryden 'embraced Popery' but Dr. Johnson is very lenient with him about it and says the measure of his sincerity was, he taught it (Popery) to his children..." That quote is to show Dorothy how well-rounded Miss Flannery was because I'm enjoying D.'s updates on Dr. Johnson.

When Wise Blood was published in 1952, O'Connor wrote Robert Giroux asking for extra copies (that she could get for 40% off) to be sent to several people because "My nine copies have to go to a set of relatives who are waiting anxiously to condemn the book until they get a free copy."

She tells Sally Fitzgerald that her mother is "composing you a fruitcake."

and "My mamma & I are on the way to the polls to cancel out each other's vote."

To Ben Griffith: " Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Bean [ducks] are slated for the deep freeze in August but Clair Booth Loose Goose is going to live a natural life until she dies a natural death."

OK, OK...enough already! This is like having someone read the newspaper to you.

I know there is a copy of Wise Blood (or maybe of Three) boxed up in the garage somewhere, but it might be easier to buy another copy--

O'Connor was strongly influenced by Faulkner (no surprise there), and Bookfoolery and Babble
has several posts and pictures of Off-Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi and here.


  1. Dangit, JenClair, now I'm going to have to trek up into the tower and back down in the next ten minutes (before the library opens) to get this.

  2. The letters sound fascinating. I just realized that they are included in the Library of America volume of her "Collected Works" that I I'm going to have to dip into them because they do sound like fun.

  3. Susan - sorry about the trek into the tower, convenient to have a tower!

    Sam - Hope you enjoy the letters as much as I'm enjoying them.

  4. These letters do sound great -- and her thoughts on Johnson's Life of Dryden are quite interesting!