O'Connor, Flannery (1925-1964)

views updated

O'Connor, Flannery (1925-1964)

The name Flannery O'Connor has become synonymous with Southern literature. Her characters are good country people and lowly misfits who speak with rich Southern accents, and no matter how misguided their actions, they are never beyond redemption. In an essay entitled "The Catholic Novelist in the South," O'Connor, an orthodox Catholic, wrote that the "two circumstances that have given character to [her] own writing have been those of being Southern and being Catholic." Her remarkable fictional landscape—a "Christ-haunted" place of backwoods preachers, mad prophets, and moonshine visionaries—signifies the intimate relation that exists between Flannery O'Connor's art and the dynamics of the Southern culture that brought her art to life.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925, Flannery O'Connor was the only child of Regina Cline and Edward Francis O'Connor, Jr. Raised in her mother's family home in Milledgeville, Georgia, the author later moved to a dairy farm in Andalusia, where she lived with her mother. It was there that she was diagnosed with lupus erythematosus, the disease that caused her untimely death at the age of 39.

In a letter to a friend, O'Connor wrote, "Sickness is more instructive than a long trip to Europe." She further described her illness as "one of life's blessings." The blessing was that the disease brought her home to her native Georgia and to the landscape where she recreated the language and the often bizarre and grotesque characters, which come to life in her fiction. Addressing her Georgia homecoming—one strikingly similar to that of Asbury in "The Enduring Chill"—O'Connor told Cecil Dawkins that she had always thought the "life of [her] writing depended on … staying away," and that she would have persisted in that delusion had she "not got very ill and had to come home. The best of my writing has been done here."

O'Connor's work, though scant, generates the kind of critical attention that makes her, along with William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams, one of the most notable figures in Southern literature. This body of work consists of two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, two collections of stories published in A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, and a collection of essays, Mystery and Manners. "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction," "The Fiction Writer and His Country," "The Catholic Novelists and Their Readers," "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South," and "The Teaching of Literature" —essays found in this collection—address the issues with which O'Connor was most concerned. The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin, expertly edited by Sarah Gordon at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, is devoted solely to O'Connor scholarship. Books and critical studies continue to proliferate. Although a volume of letters collected in The Habit of Being, edited by Sally Fitzgerald, reveals elements of O'Connor's life, a biography has yet to be published. Much of the mystery and manners associated with Flannery O'Connor's life and work is yet to be discovered.

—Sue Walker

Further Reading:

Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. The Art and Vision of Flannery O'Connor. Baton Rouge and London, Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Coles, Robert. Flannery O'Connor's South. Athens and London, University of Georgia Press, 1993.

Fitzgerald, Sally, editor. The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor. New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.

Johansen, Ruthann Knechel. The Narrative Secret of Flannery O'Connor. Tuscaloosa and London, University of Alabama Press, 1994.

McCullen, Joanne Halleran. Writing against God: Language as Message in the Literature of Flannery O'Connor. Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press, 1996.

Spivey, Ted R. Flannery O'Connor: The Woman, the Thinker, the Visionary. Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press, 1995.

Walker, Sue. "The Being of Illness: The Language of Being Ill." The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin. Vol. XXV, 1996-97, 33-58.

About this article

O'Connor, Flannery (1925-1964)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article