Flannery O’Connor: A Beautiful Mind in a Broken Body

Flannery O'Connor with one of her many beloved peacocks

Flannery O’Connor wrote some of the greatest short stories ever published.  Most of her writing life, she was confined to her family farm house, Andalusia, outside of Milledgeville, Georgia.  Yet, her stories reveal a vibrant moral and literary imagination unparalleled by much more travelled authors.

When I was struggling through the “rock-bottom” phase of my life, I read a number of contemporary novels which consumed my time and attention, but nothing lifted my spirit like The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor.  This charming, witty, spiritual, wise woman who wrote her last letter about a month after I was born spoke directly to me as she reflected on literature, art, God, partridges, and (only infrequently) her illness.

Her illness – the “thorn in her flesh” – was lupus.  It caused her excruciating pain and greatly hindered her productivity.  Yet, it did not rule her mind or her spirit.  She died as she lived – full of faith and hope and the promise of a better life to come.

In this afternoon’s mail, I received a copy of The Habit of Being and I’ve already started thumbing through its pages.  I thought I’d share a few choice quotes to give you a sense of this beautiful mind in a broken body –

I didn’t mean to suggest that science is unreliable, but only that we can’t judge God by the limits of our knowledge of natural things.  This is a fundamental difference in your belief and mine: I see God as all perfect, all complete, all powerful.  God is Love and I would not believe Love efficacious if I believed there were negative stages or imperfections in it.  (To “A” 15 September ’55)

I am learning to walk on crutches and I feel like a large stiff anthropoid ape who has no cause to be thinking of St. Thomas or Aristotle, however, you are making me more of a Thomist than I ever was before and an Aristotelian where I never was before.  I am one, of course, who believes that man is created in the image and likeness of God…  (To “A”, 24 September, ’55)

The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction.  I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.  She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.  (To Maryat Lee, 31 May ’60)

I’m sorry the book [The Violent Bear It Away] didn’t come off for you but I think it is no wonder it didn’t since you see everything in terms of sex symbols, and in a way that would not enter my head -… Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way.  (To William Sessions, 13 September ’60)

I asked the doctor if I could sit up at the electric typewriter and work.  You can work, says he, but you can’t exert yourself.  I haven’t quite figured this out yet; anyway, I am confined to these two rooms and the porch so far and ain’t allowed to wash the dishes. I guess that is exerting yourself where writing is officially not. (To “A”, 15 Sept ’55)

(photo above “Flannery O’Connor with one of her many beloved peacocks” from Kobo in Animal Muses)

3 thoughts on “Flannery O’Connor: A Beautiful Mind in a Broken Body

    • Thank you very much. I’ll try to do that later today. I’m going to be doing some furious re-writing on my book, but I should have some time later.

      Thanks again,

  1. I love O’Connor and enjoyed the comments you included. I have The Habit of Being (book), but have only skimmed parts of it — not from lack of interest, just too many urgent distractions. I agree with her about Ayn Rand although I’ve only read The Fountainhead, which didn’t leave me eager for more. I also read O’ Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away and while I thought it had merit, I think her short stories pack much more punch, humor and unforgettable imagery.

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