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Friday, April 17, 2009

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor

Gooch, Brad. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor.

I really enjoyed this biography; it is one of the best I've read in the last several years. The details of Flannery's childhood, school years, relationship with her father, friendships, attempts to leave Milledgeville, the illness that brought her home, the often touchy relationship with her mother, and her friendships--all fascinated me.

One of the many interesting things in this biography is the revelation of A's name. Sally Fitzgerald who edited The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, chose not to reveal A's name. I thought that was a curious omission. I assumed that Fitzgerald consulted with A and that she chose not to reveal herself so publicly, but I was still mightily curious. At any rate, the biography gives Betty Hester a name and fills in more about her life. Maryat Lee, another friend and correspondent, was also filled out in more detail. What a wide variety of friendships Flannery managed, in spite of her illness and her quiet life in Milledgeville.

Flannery's friendship with Erik Langkjaer is another interesting peek behind the letters in The Habit of Being. The letters are like conversations, but don't include much about other aspects of her correspondents.

Both Maryat and Eric make appearances in Flannery's writing, disguised perhaps, but recognizable. I really need to do some re-reading of Flannery's fiction.

I found much new information and an entirely readable book in Brad Gooch's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor. The research is thorough; Gooch interviewed an impressive number of people who knew O'Connor and used public records, Yaddo records, her correspondence, and her fiction as well.

Excerpt from the conclusion:

"Flannery had spent her life making literary chickens walk backward. But she had also spent much of her adult writing life looking down the barrel of the Misfit's shotgun. Just as her friends had to discern the contours of true suffering between the lines of her funny vignettes of invalidism, so her stories included a coded spiritual autobiography."

Another review: Dabroots
and: Betty & Boo's Mommy

Nonfiction. Biography. 2009. 385 pages.


  1. I'm really looking forward to reading this one!

  2. I've not yet read any of her work, but I'd love to read this biography at some point.

  3. I just started re-reading the stories in Everything That Rises Must Converge, and I love her work all over again. I really should read this bio--thanks for the review!

  4. I read this biography a few weeks ago and greatly enjoyed it. After reading O'Connor's fiction, letters, and essays over thirty-five years, it was terrific to fill in many of the blanks in the sketchy outline of her life that I had, up to that point.

  5. Kate - Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Danielle - The biography will make you really curious about her work!

    Gentle Reader - I need to be re-reading, too. Maybe I'll set aside some time soon just for Flannery.

    dabroots - That is exactly the way I much filled in. And yet, she is still an enigma.

  6. I'm very glad to hear this book is so good! I'm hoping to read it at some point, so your post is encouraging.

  7. I did an independent study of all of Flannery's writings when I was in college--and I felt so stupid. I loved them, but couldn't quite wrap my head around them, if that makes sense. I'm excited to pick up this book. Thanks!

  8. Dorothy - I think you will really enjoy it!

    Scout - I often felt the same way when I first read some of the stories. She is one of the writers who lead you to professional criticism for more insight.

  9. I'm so glad to see another review of this! I read this very recently (there's a review on my blog, if interested) and thought it was well done.

    Found your blog through Kittling: Books today and am very glad I did.

  10. B & B's Mommy - Thanks--I've added a link to your review!