Enjoying Flannery

March 25: Flannery O'Connor was born on this day in 1925. Some critics attempt to classify O'Connor as a "Southern Gothic" or "Southern Catholic" writer, but most just surrender themselves to her unique talent, as her biographers surrender to her enjoyable idiosyncrasies:

Flannery O'Connor was far from normal, and we should all be grateful for that. In the early 1930s, at the age of 5, the bizarre little girl from Savannah, Ga., attracted the attention of the Pathé newsreel company in New York because she had trained a chicken to walk backward. The company, which made uplifting newsreels for Depression-era movie audiences, dispatched a filmmaker south to capture the antics of O'Connor and her unusual hen.... (from the New Statesman review of Brad Gooch's recent Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor)

O'Connor's letters are prized almost as much as her prose. They certainly reflect her lifelong tendency to go, if not exactly backwards, in unpredictable directions.


On the feminist movement:

I just never think, that is never think of qualities which are specifically feminine or masculine. I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome without regard to sex. Yes and there are the Medium Irksome and the Rare Irksome.

On the Beat Generation:

Certainly some revolt against our exaggerated materialism is long overdue. They seem to know a good many of the right things to run away from, but to lack any necessary discipline. They call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It's true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial. As long as the beat people abandon themselves to all sensation satisfactions, on principle, you can't take them for anything but false mystics. A good look at St. John of the Cross makes them all look sick.

The cross which O'Connor had to bear over her last fifteen years was lupus. "I have enough energy to write with," she told Robert Lowell, "and as that is all I have any business doing anyhow, I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing. What you have to measure out, you come to observe more closely, or so I tell myself."

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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