O is for Flannery O’Connor

Her first name was Mary, but she didn’t use it as an author (remember Harper Lee? Her first name was Nelle, and she also dropped it).

Flannery O’Connor lived from 1925 to 1964.  In her short life, she wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories.   Her Southern roots were evident in her writing, as was her Catholic upbringing, and she frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

She was an only child, and described herself as a “pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex.”  Her father died when she was fifteen, leaving her totally bereft.

In 1951, like her father, she was diagnosed with lupus.  Although she was expected to live only five more years, she managed fourteen.  She never married, relying for companionship on her correspondences with other writers and on her close relationship with her mother.

Flannery O’Connor was a disciplined writer, devoting each morning to her work and making great demands of herself even in her last years as she struggled with lupus. She possessed a keen ear for southern dialect and a sense of irony and comic timing.  Her dark humor consciously intended to underscore our common human sinfulness and need for divine grace. Even her characters’ names (Tom T. Shiflet, Mary Grace, Joy/Hulga Hopewell, Mrs. Cope) are often clues to their spiritual deficiencies.  These characters, usually deprived economically, emotionally, or both, inhabit a world in which, in O’Connor’s words, “the good is under construction.”

O’Connor was a Roman Catholic in the Bible Belt (Protestant) South; her fiction, though, is largely concerned with fundamentalist Protestants, many of whom she admired for the integrity of their search for Truth.  She attained in her brief life what Sally Fitzgerald called (after St. Thomas Aquinas) “the habit of being,” which Fitzgerald describes as “an excellence not only of action but of interior disposition and activity” that struggled to reflect the goodness and love of God. (these last two paragraphs from the New Georgia Encyclopedia)

She died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39, of complications from lupus.






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