© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 10: Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964)
Outside Link: | The Flannery O'Connor - Andalusia Foundation |
Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |
| A Brief Biography |
Site Links: | Chap. 10: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 7, 2011
Wise Blood, 1952; A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Other Stories, 1955; The Violent Bear It Away, 1960; Everything That Rises Must Converge, 1965; Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1969; The Complete Stories, 1971; The Habit of Being: The Letters of FO'C, 1979; The Presence of Grace, and Other Book Reviews, 1983; Collected Works, 1988.
Selected Bibliography 1990-Present
Asals, Frederick. ed. Flannery O'Connor, 'A Good Man Is Hard to Find'. NY: Rutgers UP, 1993.
Cash, Jean W. Flannery O'Connor: A Life. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2002.
Ciuba, Gary M. Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction: Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2007.
Darretta, John L. Before the Sun Has Set: Retribution in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor. NY: Peter Lang, 2006.
DiRenzo, Anthony. American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1993.
Duvall, John N. Race and White Identity in Southern Fiction: From Faulkner to Morrison. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Giannone, Richard. Flannery O'Connor and the Mystery of Love. NY: Fordham UP, 1999.
- - -. Flannery O'Connor, Hermit Novelist. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000.
Gordon, Sarah. Flannery O'Connor: The Obedient Imagination. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2000.
Hardy, Donald E. Narrating Knowledge in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2003.
- - -. The Body in Flannery O'Connor's Fiction: Computational Technique and Linguistic Voice. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007.
Johansen, Ruthann K. The Narrative Secret of Flannery O'Connor: The Trickster as Interpreter. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1995.
Kreyling, Michael. ed. New Essays on Wise Blood. NY: Cambridge UP, 1995.
Lake, Christina B. The Incarnational Art of Flannery O'Connor. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2005.
McMullen, Joanne H. Writing against God: Language as Message in the Literature of Flannery O'Connor. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1996.
Montgomery, Marion. Hillbilly Thomist: Flannery O'Connor, St. Thomas, and the Limits of Art, Volume 2. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.
- - -. With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party: In Company with Flannery O'Connor, T. S. Eliot, and Others. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's, 2009.
Nisly, L. Lamar. Wingless Chickens, Bayou Catholics, and Pilgrim Wayfarers: Constructions of Audience and Tone in O'Connor, Gautreaux, and Percy. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2011.
O'Gorman, Farrell. Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2004.
Orvell, Miles. Flannery O'Connor: An Introduction. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1991.
Piper, Wendy. Misfits and Marble Fauns: Religion and Romance in Hawthorne and O'Connor. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2011.
Prown, Katherine H. Revising Flannery O'Connor: Southern Literary Culture and the Problem of Female Authorship. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2001.
Russell, Emily. Reading Embodied Citizenship: Disability, Narrative, and the Body Politic. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011.
Quinn, John J., S.J. ed. Flannery O'Connor: A Memorial. Scranton, PA: U of Scranton P, 1995.
Seel, Cynthia L. Ritual Performance in the Fiction of Flannery O'Connor. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2001.
Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.
Spivey, Ted R. Flannery O'Connor: The Woman, the Thinker, the Visionary. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1997.
Srigley, Susan. Flannery O'Connor's Sacramental Art. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame P, 2004.
Sykes, John D. Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and the Aesthetic of Revelation. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2007.
Whitt, Margaret E. Flannery O'Connor. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1997.
Wood, Ralph C. Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.
A Student Project by Sabra Stafford
When Flannery O’Connor received requests from biographers for interviews, she was hesitant and replied to them that she didn’t think people would be interested in a “life spent between the house and the chicken yard.” But in fact people would be interested in what happened between the house and the chicken yard.
Mary Flannery O’Connor was born March 25, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia. She was raised in a family of devout Roman Catholics. Her father was Edward Francis O’Connor Jr. a World War I vet and real estate agent. Her mother was Regina Cline O’Connor and part of an influential family of Milledgeville, Georgia.
O’Connor started her education in a parochial school and biographer Jean Cash interviewed some of O’Connor’s former classmates. Some remembered her as an isolated girl who liked to read, while others recalled her as a girl who “chewed snuff in class and shot the rubber bands off her braces behind the nuns’ back.” Sister Consolata, one of her teachers remembers her as a regular girl and a good student who “had a habit of speaking to adults as though she was on the same level with them.” In fact, O’Connor always referred to her parents by their first names (Cash 12-16).
In her early years, O’Connor also took a particular liking to fowls. When she was five she had a chicken that could walk backward and forward, which attracted the attention of a newsreel. She was so impressed by the experience that she developed a passion for fowls, especially ones that had any oddities (McFarland 6).
During her twelve years in Savannah, O’Connor saw her father little because he took an elected position with the American Legion Post of Georgia and spent most of his time traveling and lecturing. Because of this, many of his financial obligations were neglected and the O’Connor family had to move in with Regina’s family in Milledgeville. Just a few years later, when O’Connor was 15, her father would die from lupus at age 45 (Cash 7-10).
With her father on the road and then his early death, Regina was clearly the real power of the family. The O’Connor clan all lived near each other and the women were known for their strong personalities. Regina was very protective of her daughter and gave O’Connor a very structured life. This independent female presence in the family life would be reflected in O’Connor’s writings (Cash 10-12).
In Milledgeville, O'Connor attended public school for the first time because the town was predominately Protestant and the small Catholic community could not support a school of its own (Cash 35).
In high school O’Connor started writing and drawing cartoons for the school paper (Cash 40). Her cartooning experience would have a profound effect on her style of writing. “Like the caricaturist, who uses exaggeration and distortion in order to emphasize the character of his subject, O’Connor created bizarre characters or extreme situations in order to attain deeper kinds of realism.” (McFarland 1) In particular, cartooning opened her eyes to the possibility of combining the comic and serious elements together to create a unique and true vision of reality. This would become one of her signature styles (Walters 13).
After graduating from high school O’Connor stayed in Milledgeville and attended Georgia State College for Women (Cash 50). All through her schooling, O’Connor would be liked but seen as isolating herself from the rest of the students. She continued drawing for the school paper and submitted short stories to the college newspaper.
O’Connor would be liked but seen as isolating herself from the rest of the students. She continued drawing for the school paper and submitted short stories to the college literary magazine (Cash 59-60).
After finishing college, O’Connor moved away from her mother for the first time when she started attending the State University of Iowa in 1945, a school that had one of the first established creative writing programs in the country (Cash 77). O’Connor though would never be without her Southern roots and they would invariably show themselves in her writings. The history and legacy of the South influenced her style. She saw the loss of the Civil War like the Fall of Man in the Bible and a shared experience for generations of Southerners. Said O’Connor, “‘we have had our Fall. We have gone into the modern world with an in burnt knowledge of human limitations and with a sense of mystery which could not have developed in our state of innocence.’” (McFarland 2)
| Top | O’Connor again felt separated from her other students, partly because her thick Southern accent made it hard for others to understand her, and also because of her deep spiritual beliefs (Cash 83). “A major premise of O’Connor’s thinking is that the realm of the Holy interpenetrates this world and affects it. It is the workings of this mystery that she was most concerned with demonstrating in her fiction. By her own explanation, the grotesquerie of her stories is directly related to her Christian perspective.” (McFarland 1)
It was during this time that O’Connor was working on her novel Wise Blood (Cash 87). She also had her short story “The Geranium” published (Walters 11).
She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1947 and moved to New York. She took up residence in Sarasota Springs at the Yaddo artist’s colony, so she could complete her novel (Cash 105-107).
“Living and writing at Yaddo gave O’Connor both financial and artistic security, providing her with a sanctuary where she could avoid the distractions of either the academic and social life of Iowa or the social and family affairs of Milledgeville.” (Cash 109)
While O’Connor enjoyed the atmosphere of the Yaddo colony, she did not share the same enthusiasm for the other artists. She was taken aback by their outspoken atheism and Communism and said they were, “‘so much all the same kind that it gets depressing.’” (Cash 111)
When the leader of the Yaddo colony, Elizabeth Ames came under the suspicion of the FBI for being a Communist, O’Connor found herself involved in a mini scandal. She had to testify to the colony’s board members about activities at the colony and was part of a group that asked for the dismissal of Ames. The issue was eventually dropped and O’Connor left the Yaddo colony (Cash116-120). During her time in New York, O’Connor had several short stories published in a variety of literary magazines (Walters 11).
In New York, O’Connor met Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, a couple who would become very close and important friends for her. In the summer of 1948, O’Connor left New York and became a boarder at the Fitzgerald’s home in Connecticut. The Fitzgerald's were also Catholics and Robert taught at Sarah Lawrence College. At the Fitzgerald’s, O’Connor spent her days writing and her nights relaxing with Sally and Robert, discussing movies and literature while sipping on martinis (Cash 125-130).
During her stay with the Fitzgerald's her health began to decline. One of her kidneys slipped out of place and she underwent kidney surgery in 1949 when she returned to Milledgeville for Christmas. She spent a few months in the hospital and then returned to Connecticut. By the end of 1950 she was again feeling tired. When she went home to Milledgeville for Christmas she arrived so ill that she was immediately admitted into the hospital. Her condition was so perilous that her mother called the Fitzgerald's to tell them that O’Connor was dying. However, an Atlanta doctor diagnosed O’Connor with lupus and was able to pull her through the crisis (Cash 130-131). Lupus is a disease that makes the body produce antibodies that attack its own system, including the blood, joints, and internal organs (McFarland 7).
Seriously weakened, O’Connor could no longer live independently and took up permanent residence in Milledgeville with her mother. The return, “which O’Connor so dreaded, enhanced rather than stifled her creativity.” (Cash 133) In 1952 her novel Wise Blood was published and in the following year she won the Kenyon Review Fellowship. In 1954 she was reappointed as a Kenyon Fellow and won second prize in the O. Henry awards for her story, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” (Walters 11)
Because O’Connor never married, questions about her sexuality have been raised. According to Cash, O’Connor decided not to marry because of her writing. Her disease made her so weak that she could only devote her energy to one thing and she chose writing over a husband (134). Sally Fitzgerald said that O’Connor never had a long-lasting relationship with a man because she, “‘became a lifelong victim of unrequited love.’” (Cash 136)
After her health stabilized, she and her mother moved to a farm in Andalusia, four miles out of Milledgeville. Life on the farm introduced O’Connor to a wide group of family farm workers that formed the basis of many of her characters (Cash 146-147). It also gave her a place she could populate with her beloved peacocks, which she enjoyed for their aloof nature (Walters 15). The peacock would be an important symbol in O’Connor’s stories, including “The Displaced Person.”
O’Connor was able to support herself, her mother and the farm by her writings and lectures and readings. Her mother became her social buffer and would entertain her visitors while O’Connor worked. Regina however was not the intellectual type and O’Connor felt that void, but found that it could be filled by corresponding with her friends via letters. These letters would be published after her death in The Habit of Being (Cash 165-169).
| Top | Between the years of 1955-1963, O’Connor traveled a few times a year around the country giving lectures and reading her works. Even though she was an intensely private and reserved person, she enjoyed these performances and felt that she helped readers understand her works as she meant them to be (Cash 259-260). She won another second prize in the O. Henry awards in 1955 for “A Circle in the Fire” and published A Good Man Is Hard to Find. In 1957 she received the National Institute of Arts and Letters grant and she won first prize in the O. Henry awards for “Greenleaf.” (Walters 11) By this time, her style of natural realism had been firmly established. Her characters and landscapes are recognizable and they all act with motives that correspond to them. Her stories often had ironic endings that seemed “to mock or deny both conventional expectations and commonly accepted human values.” (McFarland 13)
O’Connor made one trip to Europe, which was paid for by an old family friend with the condition that O’Connor bathe in the legendary waters at Lourdes. Though O’Connor did not at first intend to do this, her mother and Sally Fitzgerald cajoled her into it (Cash 274-275).
After returning from Europe, O’Connor worked on The Violent Bear it Away and had an improvement in health. In talking about her experience in Lourdes, O’Connor wrote to a friend that, “‘I prayed there for the novel I was working on, not for my bones which I care about less, but I guess my prayers were answered about the novel, inasmuch as I finished it.’” (The Habit of Being - Cash 277) The novel was published in 1960 and in 1962 she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame (Walters 12).
In 1963 she got another Honorary Doctor of Letters, this time from Smith College. She also won first prize in the O. Henry awards for “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” (Walters 12) Near the end of 1963, O’Connor was ill again and had to cancel appearances because of the side effects of her medications, which were causing her face to swell and her hair to fall out (McFarland 9). She was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor and had surgery in February of 1964, which reactivated her lupus (Cash 297). As the disease progressed, O’Connor’s bones and joints deteriorated until she could only walk with crutches (McFarland 9). O’Connor developed kidney failure and on August 3, 1964 she passed away at the age of 39 (Cash 316). That same year she again won first prize in the O. Henry awards for “Revelation” and seven years after her death, The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor won the National Book Award (Walters 12).
Though her death met with relatively little fanfare, her influence on literature and art has steadily been increasing. Cash said that artists like Jimmy Buffet, U2 and Billy Bob Thorton have sited O‘Connor has having an influence on their works. “Because she herself was fascinated by the absurdities of popular culture, she would no doubt have been amused to learn that she has become something of an icon to pop musicians and movie stars.” (320)
In all of her writings, the human spirit and how it related to God and vice versa was always her main concern. She would show this by writing in a style that became known as grotesque because it mixed things together that usually do not occur or belong together. “Certainly her fascination with incongruity ran deep; it is present in all her writings both stylistically and thematically. Incongruity embodied for her a fundamental human reality: a man’s experience of himself as a creature of both flesh and spirit, a being that is rooted in nature but that longs to transcend nature.” (McFarland 1-7)
Cash, Jean W. Flannery O’Connor: A Life. Knoxville: u of Tennessee P.
McFarland, Dorothy T. Flannery O’Connor: Modern Literature Monographs. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1976.
Walters, Dorothy. Flannery O’Connor. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1973.
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 10: Flannery O'Connor." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap10/oconnor.html (provide page date or date of your login).
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