Celebrating St Patty’s Day with Flannery O’Connor

To be honest, I’m only about…194 pages into this 550 page collection. What is that, like 30%? It’s been a slow reading week, though–looking back, I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what I’ve been doing this week. Not reading much, anyway. I did spend almost two full evenings cataloging my personal library in excel (stop judging) and only got to the beginning of “C”, so that’s going to be a big project. I don’t have a problem….

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Anyway, back to O’Connor. She lived from 1925-1964, and the reason I got interested in her in the first place was because of Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer (which was EXCELLENT), which is [extremely] loosely based on the relationship between Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. Yeah, I didn’t recognize Lowell’s name either. Frances and Bernard was wonderful, life-changing, beautiful…absolutely nothing like this collection.

So Flannery started writing in college, published a ton of short stories (to clarify: 32) and two novels, and died young of lupus. There’s an amazing bio here, if you’re interested. But her short stories were not what I expected at all, when I think of a young Catholic woman writing in the 1940’s and ’50s. They’re dark, full of death, rape, and the worst of humanity. People are awful. In the story I just finished, “A Circle in the Fire,” a rather naive woman lets two boys onto her farm, feeds them, lets them stay–they take advantage of her and, when asked to leave, burn the nearby forest to the ground.

I was reading some lit crit, trying to figure out where in the world Flannery thought she was going, and found this gem: “Aware that not all readers shared her faith, O’Connor chose to depict salvation through shocking, often violent action upon characters who are spiritually or physically grotesque.”* In this sense, the characters in her book may be seen as warnings: don’t go off by yourself, don’t be naive, don’t wander from society. Don’t be self-righteous–some drifter might pretend to marry your daughter, and then leave her (deaf-mute?) at a random hotel an hour away. Just sayin’.

The collection that I’m reading is arranged in order of publication, so that her earliest stories are  first in the collection. I don’t know, maybe I’ll like her more as I go?

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*”Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964).” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 132. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 227-368. Literature Criticism Online. Gale. 15 March 2013

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