Flannery O’Connor

A Journey through Georgia

Flannery O’Connor

(March 25, 1925 — August 3, 1964)

When I dediced to start looking into Flannery O’Connor’s life and works, I knew very little about her and what she had written. Now — only a few days after I started searching — I can at least say that I have read some of her stories, starting with “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” one of her most famous and praised narrative — and rightly so. Besides discovering her literary work, I have found out that she was much more than just a writer of short stories and novels. Just to make an example, before becoming a literary icon, she tried to be a cartoonist and spent her high school and college years drawing. Her works have recently been collected in a volume called “Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons.”

“I don’t enjoy looking at these old pictures either, but it doesn’t hurt my reputation for people to think I’m a lover of fine arts.

Although she died young — she was killed at 39 by lupus, the same disease that had prematurely taken her father away from her — and her literary production is therefore limited to two novels and two collection of short stories, she still has a lot to offer. This is why, I made the decision to start looking for the woman behind the words. Beyond what’s left in ink and paper and it’s guarded by cardboard covers, there are other things and other places that need to be explored: the house in Savannah, Georgia, where she was born in 1925; the college she went to and where she started writing and drawing; the family farm near Milledgeville, Georgia, where she spent the last years of her life raising peacocks and other breeds of birds; the cemetery where she was buried in 1964.

Flannery O’Connor’s literary production: “Wise Blood” (1952), “The Violent Bear It Away” (1960), “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (1955), “Everyhting That Rises Must Converge” (1965), “The Complete Stories” (1971).

Before and beyond the writer there is — we might say — all her Southern, Georgian background that needs to be explored in order to understand her life and works. Therefore, this journey will be, first of all, a journey through the state she spent most of her life living in, Georgia, and a journey through the South — what it meant to her, and how it shaped her literary production. The heart of this project will consist in two road trips — to Savannah and to Milledgeville — in order to retrace Flannery O’Connor’s steps and place her in her Georgian context. Along the way, I will document my adventures not only through written accounts and interviews, but also through the eye of my camera. Indeed, photographs will constitute the main proof of my ramblings up and down Georgia.

Savannah and Milledgeville, the two Georgian towns where Flannery O’Connor spent most of her life.

Then, the analysis of some of her works — mostly her novels and her short stories, but also some of her essays and letters — will speak for her relation to the South and to Southern culture. This is exactly the main aspect upon which I would like to focus my attention: that is to say, the way in which she inserts herself and her characters in the Southern context, and the way in which both the writer and the people she creates on the page relate to their surroundings. This strikes me as being a very peculiar kind of relationship, especially when one thinks about Southern literature. William Faulkner believed that this Southern identity was transmitted from generation to generation through the very air people breathed. Flannery O’Connor paid more attention to what she could hear: knowing the South — knowing that you are a Southerner — is only a matter of hearing things and recognizing sounds. To say it in her own words:

The things we see, hear, smell, and touch affect us long before we believe anything at all. The South impresses its image on the Southern writer from the moment he is able to distinguish one sound from another. He takes it in through his ears and hears it again in his own voice, and, by the time he is able to use his imagination for fiction, he finds that his senses respond irrevocably to a certain reality, and particularly to the sound of a certain reality. The Southern writer’s greatest tie with the South is through his ear.
Flannery O’Connor, “The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South”