Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah Georgia on this day in 1925.  One of the greatest writers of the twentieth-century, O’Connor felt the weight of Jesus’ words as He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil.”  She called herself a “Christian realist” and understood doctrine to be far more than adornments to daily life.  She read Thomas Aquinas every evening before going to bed and fortified herself every morning.  For O’Connor, her work was “invading territory largely held by the devil,” and a weapon in the battle against the nihilism of our age.

She prayed

Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story-just like the typewriter was mine.

As Terry Glaspey wrote in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

If one expects religious fiction to be sentimental, inspirational, and encouraging, they will be surprised to discover that one of the finest Christian writers of the twentieth century penned unexpectedly dark tales about the murky places in the human heart and the violence that it sometimes takes to awaken it to the motions of grace. Flannery O’Connor was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for The Complete Stories in 1971, demonstrating that these strange and fascinating stories, mostly located in the South, resonated with readers and critics alike, whether they were people of faith or those who would never darken the doors of a church. Her stories are marked by unexpected twists and turns, unforeseen moments of violence, profound observation of human motivations, an unmasking of the multiplicity of ways in which we deceive ourselves about ourselves, an earthy and sardonic sense of humor, and a splendid grasp of the rhythms of speech and dialect, particularly those accents one might hear in the Deep South.

O’Connor’s stories usually center on the shock of a revelation—a violent and unexpected experience or calamity that causes her characters to have to reevaluate who they are, what they believe, and how they should live. Their vain, artificial sense of self is thoroughly dismantled when they are brought face-to-face with the darker aspects within their own souls. And since it is difficult to get through to the hardened human heart, it sometimes takes the appearance of grace in a violent form to get our attention.

Matthew 6:9–13

Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Flannery O’Connor

(born March 25, 1925, Savannah, Georgia, U.S.—died August 3, 1964, Milledgeville, Georgia) American novelist and short-story writer whose works, usually set in the rural American South and often treating of alienation, are concerned with the relationship between the individual and God.

O’Connor grew up in a prominent Roman Catholic family in her native Georgia. She lived in Savannah until her adolescence, but the worsening of her father’s lupus erythematosus forced the family to relocate in 1938 to the home in rural Milledgeville where her mother had been raised. After graduating from Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University) in 1945, she studied creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Her first published work, a short story, appeared in the magazine Accent in 1946. Her first novel, Wise Blood (1952; film 1979), explored, in O’Connor’s own words, the “religious consciousness without a religion.” Wise Blood consists of a series of near-independent chapters—many of which originated in previously published short stories—that tell the tale of Hazel Motes, a man who returns home from military service and founds the Church Without Christ, which leads to a series of interactions with the grotesque inhabitants of his hometown. The work combines the keen ear for common speech, caustic religious imagination, and flair for the absurd that were to characterize her subsequent work. With the publication of further short stories, first collected in A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (1955), she came to be regarded as a master of the form. The collection’s eponymous story has become possibly her best-known work. In it O’Connor creates an unexpected agent of salvation in the character of an escaped convict called The Misfit, who kills a quarreling family on vacation in the Deep South.

Her other works of fiction are a novel, The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and the short-story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). A collection of occasional prose pieces, Mystery and Manners, appeared in 1969. The Complete Stories, published posthumously in 1971, contained several stories that had not previously appeared in book form; it won a National Book Award in 1972.

Disabled for more than a decade by the lupus erythematosus she inherited from her father, which eventually proved fatal, O’Connor lived modestly, writing and raising peafowl on her mother’s farm at Milledgeville. The posthumous publication of The Habit of Being (1979), which was a book of her letters, The Presence of Grace, and Other Book Reviews (1983), which contained her book reviews and correspondence with local diocesan newspapers, and A Prayer Journal (2013), a book of private religious missives, provided valuable insight into the life and mind of a writer whose works defy conventional categorization. O’Connor’s corpus is notable for the seeming incongruity of a devout Catholic whose darkly comic works commonly feature startling acts of violence and unsympathetic, often depraved, characters. She explained the prevalence of brutality in her stories by noting that violence “is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” It is this divine stripping of man’s comforts and hubris, along with the attendant degradation of the corporeal, that stands as the most salient feature of O’Connor’s work.

Sources & Resources

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Elie, Paul. The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.

Gooch, Brad. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. New York: Little, Brown, 2009.

O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971.

———. The Letters of Flannery O’Connor: The Habit of Being. Edited by Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.

———. Mystery and Manners. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962.

———. A Prayer Journal. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Rick is an ordained minister who is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on English Literature in the context of Classical Education. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is Deputy Director of PACES PAideia Classical School and leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.

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