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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hey, Maggie!

Maggie has found some of the language in Flannery O'Connor's stories distressing. This I understand full well, as O'Connor's fiction often makes me distinctly uncomfortable for several reasons. When my daughter fell in love with O'Connor's work, I was surprised, but decided to give O'Connor a go. With mixed results: appalled and admiring at one and the same time. Then I discovered that my much admired Dr. Rath was an O'Connor scholar...made another effort, and I did fall in love with Hulga and her wooden leg, but still found O'Connor's writing caused me great tension. And then I discovered her letters and almost immediately fell in love with the woman behind stories.

From Flannery's letters:

"I mortally and strongly defend the right of the artist to select a negative aspect of the world to portray and as the world gets more materialistic there will be much more to select from" (173).

After selling the rights to The Live You Save May Be Your Own to the General Electric Playhouse, she writes: "Mr. Shiflet and the idiot daughter will no doubt go off in a Chrysler and live happily ever after. Anyway, on account of this, I am buying my mother a new refrigerator. While they make hash out of my story, she and me will make ice in the new refrigerator" (174).

"At Emory they had a list of questions for me to answer and the first one was: Do you write from imagination or experience? My inclination at such a point is always to get deathly stupid and say, 'Ah jus writes'" (204).

"My parent took advantage of my absence to clean up my room and install revolting ruffled curtains. I can't put the dust back but I have ultimated that the curtains have got to go, lest they ruin my prose" (215).

One of Regina's (Flannery's mother) hired hands had taken the test for his driver's license numerous times and was tutored by Regina with gradually improving results: "...Wish to announce that Willie Shot Manson was granted license to drive by the State of Georgia in Sparta, Georgia on June 3 at 4:31 p.m. EST, 1957 A.D. I tell Ma she should send out engraved announcements..." (224).

An aunt had decided to finance a European tour for Flannery and Regina, and Flannery had worried about it in letters to several people, then "Here I am misinforming my dear friends a mile a minute. No I am not going to Rome nor nowhere else (except Missouri). The doctor as of yesterday says I can't go. You didn't know I had a DREAD DISEASE didja? Well I got one....I owe my existence and cheerful countenance to the pituitary glands of thousands of pigs butchered daily in Chicago Illinois at the Armour packing plant. If pigs wore garments I wouldn't be worthy to kiss the hems of them. They have been supporting my presence in this world for the last seven years. What you met here was a product of Artificial Energy" (266).

from the Letters of Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being

I'm only half way through this huge tome, but each time I sit down with Flannery, listen to Regina, visit Andalusia and Milledgeville, hear about her pea hens and Regina's farming difficulties and the escapades of the hired help--I enjoy every minute of the visit.


  1. Wow, the letters sound fun. I've just recently purchased some Flannery O'Connor on the basis of being in the South and thinking it's just not right to overlook her entirely. Now, you've got me a little nervous with the remarks about her writing being disturbing; but, I was going to save her for winter, anyway. :)

  2. Those sound great! I wonder if, years from now, people will read author's emails with the same window into the life of the person behind the book view that old collections of letters have provided for past authors.

  3. Wow, what great letters. Is this out in paperback?

    Now I'm kind of pissed at myself for not including a Flannery O'Connor story in my favorite short story list. I did go through an O'Connor phase.

  4. Stop messin' wid me! ;D

    I was rolling on the floor with, "Ah jus writes."

    Thanks JenClair, the letters just sound so fascinating and I'm inspired to read the book and her stories in chronological order.

    Oh, and we are takin' an extree suitcase to New York, Friday, 'casen we meet a real live Hulga. Bah!

  5. If those quotes are any example, the writing looks like it would be very entertaining!

  6. Bookfool - I've never read anything quite like Flannery O'Connor's fiction; she is really in a class by herself. Her fiction is Southern Grotesque with a twist of lime! She can't be overlooked or forgotten.

    Kim - I've been reading the letters (slowly) for months now, always coming back for more. I don't think email will ever be the same as snail mail, but it would provide another unique look at an author's thoughts.

    Bybee - Yep, mine is paperback...huge, but paperback.

    Maggie - She is so funny and light...not a bit of what I was expecting.

    Lord, Save Maggie and her crew from any wayward O'Connor characters, especially those in gorilla suits and any with or without wooden legs. New York is scary enuff for us poor backwoods rednecks from Louisiana and Mississippi.

    Have a good trip, Maggie!

    Carl - Flannery is both comfortable and entertaining in her letters, even if she is not comfortable in her fiction.

  7. Well, I'm just going to have to give her a try in order to figure out what "Southern Grotesque with a twist of lime" entails. After reading quotes about ruffled curtains that ruin prose, writers who should have been stifled, dread diseases and freak identification, I'm raring to go. But, I have to wait till it cools off a bit. My favorite quote is that "Ah jus writes" bit. It makes me wish I'd known her. :)

  8. bookfool - Her letters make me wish I had known her, too! She was an original.