Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Day Late

March 25th is the date of birth of one of the greatest writers (my opinion, and nothing humble about it), Mary Frances (Flannery) O'Connor of Milledgeville, Georgia. I am most grateful to the Cunning Runt at Little Bang Theory for calling this to my attention. Here's a bit of my post from his blog,

Southern writer. Catholic writer. Hmmph: writer.

Perhaps my very favorite beginning of any novel is that of *The Violent Bear It Away*; may I?

Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.

The letters were collected and edited by her friend Sally Fitzgerald and published as *The Habit of Being* by FSG in 1979.

My last year of Seminary a granddaughter of John Dewey taught a required “Christ and Culture” course in which many of the students were coming in as shocked Bible Belt believers. We read *A Good Man Is Hard To Find*; they couldn’t believe the author was a Christian. I loved reading The Misfit’s lines aloud: heh. If you looked carefully, ya could see the tiny explosions going off behind their eyes.

The Library of America volume is all you need, and you do need it: both novels, both major short story collections (there are none better in English), and letters and essays.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, Miss O'Connor: great American writer.


Unknown said...

Oh, I love Flannery O'Connor. I'm sorry to say that after reading A Good Man Is Hard to Find, I assumed she WAS a man. I love all the short stories and have read most several times over the years.
I'm not so crazy about the two novels...but who day I may pick one of them up and try again.

Do you happen to know if it's somewhere in her collected letters the story of how she taught her pet chicken how to walk backwards. I read this somewhere many years ago and I'm trying to locate the exact reference.

By the way, I linked to your Invasion and Occupation post from my blog tonight. Thank you.

the P.S.

Jane R said...

I LOVED that volume of letters.

I need to re-read some of her stories. It's been years. Too long. Thanks to you, and to TCR, for the reminder.

johnieb said...

There's nothing at all of her writing I don't love, though some more than others. The letters are a wonderful re-read, and, of course, the stories.

I'm sorry to admit, PS, I don't remember where I heard the chicken story. And thank you for your kind comments about the post; it's a slice of what's often running through my mind, perhaps too much so. I think you are correct in believing she will be better remembered for the stories, though, as I hoped to point out, there is equally fine writing in the novels.

Nice to know there are some other fans amongst us.

Fran said...

Yes - Flannery O'Connor was really something and how good that we have her words and wisdom.

I wrote about her here, which is my other blog that I don't link too very much. I write most of and edit all of it, but I publish at the pleasure of my pastor there.

So no cussin' there please.

johnieb said...

Yes 'um. You heard the lady; no %#^&* cussin' there.

I wuz gonna try to keep it clean so my grandson could see cat pictures here, but I think I already blew it.

Crimson Rambler said...

I think the chicken story is in an essay called "Total Effect and the Eighth Grade" -- even if it's not there, the essay is WAY worth reading. Yes, teaching her to the "born ag'in" group would be Some Fun. I got to present her writing to Roman Catholic seminarians, which was "a whole 'nother" dimension of fun!

June Butler said...

Thanks, for the memory, Johnieb. She was a great lady and a great writer. Oh, I can imagine the explosions in the heads of the Bible Belt believers.

I liked Mystery and Manners quite a lot, too. Here's a quote from M&M that I found in Wiki:

"...anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."

Dat's right, ain't it, Johnieb? Dem Yankees don't get it.

johnieb said...

True, Mimi, but many of them are sweet, if taken on their own terms; after all, they wouldna been Yankees if they'd hadda choice, now would they? The quote is from the essay "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction".

Dadburnit, CR, I caint find no essay with that title in The Collected Works; perhaps Ms. Fitzgerald did not see fit to collect it? I'm sure you had a great deal of pleasure from teaching her work, and especially in such circumstances.

From "The Church and The Fiction Writer", here's a quote for ya

What Mr. Wylie contends is that the Catholic writer, because he believes in certain defined mysteries, cannot, by the nature of things, see straight; and this contention, in effect, is not very different from that made by Catholics who declare that whatever the Catholic writer can (italics in original) see, there are certain things that he should not see, straight or otherwise.

It's hard to stop quoting her, once I start.

June Butler said...

True, Mimi, but many of them are sweet, if taken on their own terms....

You right, Johnieb. I loves dem all.

Missy said...

Thanks for this, johnieb. Love Flannery O'Connor. Especially A Good Man is Hard to Find; but everything she wrote gives you much to think about. Another one I especially like was A Temple of the Holy Ghost.

pj said...

Actually Mimi and Johnie, I've been poring over Southern writers (classic and nouveau) for quite some time now, wondering if I can make my fiction anywhere near as glorious as theirs despite my suburban New Yorkiness.

Southern writers always seem to know the names of every tree and weed alongside the road, and they have this intuitive grasp of how everything is connected to everything else. And they can get away with much more purple prose than a northern writer can. Northern writers have to be all spare and ironic all the time. Yawn. :)

johnieb said...


it may be your special thang to be the non-ironic New York writer, and it doesn't have to trees and weeds that are connected: try bricks and delis and taxis.

June Butler said...

PJ, I don't know shit about how to be a good writer, except for one thing, that you have to write in your own voice. That was reinforced for me when I did guest blogging for Doorman-Priest along with the Reverend Boy. I sent my first draft to RB to look at before I posted it, and he saw immediately that I was writing in a phony voice. I was trying to be DP. I scrapped pretty much the whole thing.

Johnieb is right (ain't he always?). You can be glorious in your suburban New Yorkiness or in NYCness. You lived there, didn't you? I'll admit that southerners have a head start because readers permit and expect over the topiness. And having read good writers of any stripe is always a help when you get to writing yourself.

That's saying a lot for not knowing shit.

johnieb said...

But very well said, as usual; and, as usu8al, you know more than yer letting on.