All I do these days is read Flannery O'Connor. My girlfriend says I'm in love with her, which is completely ridiculous! "How can I be in love with someone who's been dead for 42 years?" I chuck totally not defensively back at her, and that usually settles things.
Flannery O'Connor was the gentle Southern Catholic lady who first blew your mind in high school when you were forced to read "A Good Man is Hard to Find". SPOILER! It ends with a psycho killer named The Misfit blowing away a nice old granny, after already having killed her son, daughter-in-law, and 3 grandkids. Mind you, The Misfit is her bringer of Grace. Basically that is to say he's Christ. Heavy, right? Now multiply that by arson, wooden leg stealing, priest-killing, roofie-raping, baby-drowning, child suicide, racism & xenophobia, self-blinding, a malevolent sun, omniscient treelines, and Christ-in-a-lawn-jockey and you start to get a picture of a religious worldview that you, in your cozy Northern atheistic-protestant upbringing, thought only came in a microdot. It's not the belief system that's such a shock, but the existential terror and sense of inevitability (and yes, grace) that permeate her work that knocks your lame ol' temple of the rational on its ass.
All of O'Connor's work is imbued with her Catholic devotion, and mostly deals with the imponderabilities of grace, crises of faith, and an environment she called the "Christ-haunted South". Writing primarily during the years 1947-1964, she was also heavily affected by the mid-century dilution and assimilation of the character of the South (and the rest of the country, for that matter). And her work is bursting with the urgency and ironic bitterness of the artist who's told she's got X months to live; when she was 15, her father died of lupus. By age 25, Flannery herself was diagnosed with the then-fatal blood disease. At the time, she was enthusiastically pursuing a life in art, living and working at the fabled Yaddo estate in Saratoga Springs, and trying to publish her first novel "Wise Blood". She was instead forced to move back home with Maw and about 40 peacocks, and wait 14 years for her death sentence to pass. Check out "Good Country People" for a heartbreaking fictional telling of this story.
(Flip for more.)
All questions of theme, morality and and the oft-levelled accusations of grotesquery aside, Flannery O'Connor's writing is so good it's a visceral pleasure just to hear her voice coming off the page. At the same time, every single word is just dripping with meaning, and usually several dimensions of it - and that's before you've apprehended it from your own dimension. An old lady from California once wrote to her "...when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will 'lift up his heart'", then accused O'Connor of failing to uplift, to which she replied "...(if your) heart had been in the right place, it would've been lifted up." (For more on her haughtiness, check out her essays "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South", "The Fiction Writer and His Country", and "The Church and The Fiction Writer" - LIFE magazine, the US of A, Catholics and Protestants all get speared viciously.)
Of course, her enormous formal talent and human insight isn't enough to sustain this love affair I'm loathe to admit, so I need to face down the intense religiosity and ultimate moral judgement of her stories, and ask myself just what's going on here that affects me so brutally. I haven't come up with a satisfactory answer, but for now, I'm open to the suggestion that this godless, rootless, war-winning Yank might just crave himself a bit of mythology.
Everything That Rises Must Converge || The Life You Save May Be Your Own || A Good Man is Hard to Find || The Life You Save May Be Your Own (mp3 offsite, read by Miette) || A Late Encounter With the Enemy (mp3 offsite, read by Matt)
Here's a list of art influenced by Flannery O'Connor. Here's Simon Joyner's song "Flannery O'Connor" (realaudio stream). Here's a 15 minute filmed version of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" entitled "Black Hearts Bleed Red" (avi file, links to ubuweb), starring Joe Coleman as The Misfit. And here's my own list of stuff that strikes some of the same feelings I get when I read her, with some helpful listen links to the WFMU Archives:
- Hank Williams
- The Violent Femmes "Good Feeling" and "I Hear the Rain"
- this view of my front yard (look up)
- the paintings of Joe Coleman
- The Residents' "I Hear Ya Got Religion"
- that bookstore -->
- Clark-Hutchinson "Death The Lover"
Oh, how I would love to hear actual audio of Flannery O'Connor speaking. You gots? email me.
GCS & U Library The Georgia College & State University's library has a fantastic Flannery O'Connor collection, online and off. I hear they've even got a copy of the Pathe Newsreel of 5-year old Flannery teaching her chicken to walk backwards. !!!!
Comforts of Home They've got a nice collection of essays and articles, and unlike most of FO'C online, their links still work!
Andalucia This is the foundation that owns & operates the farm where Flannery lived from 1951 until her death, raising peacocks, entertaining guests, and writing.