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June 24, 2005



O'Connor only wrote the foreword, which begins, "Stories of pious children tend to be false," and includes her memorable and prophetic claim,

"When tenderness is detatched from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber."

Less memorable but as insightful, O'Connor writes of her impression of the manuscript, written by one of the Sisters, that she had been asked to edit:

"There was everything about the writing to make the professional writer groan... The story was as unfinished as the child's face [disfigured by a cancerous tumor]. Both seem to have been left, like creation on the seventh day, to be finished by others. The reader would have to make something of the story as Mary Ann had made something of her face."


I was under the impression that she had, indeed, edited the manuscript heavily without being actually credited for it. I'll correct the post


Oh, she probably did heavily edit the manuscript. Don't most editors have to?

The republished version, though, does say "by Sister M. Evangelist O.P.," where the original just said something like "by the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Home."

Maclin Horton

Re ...when tenderness is detached...: I'm pretty sure a character in Walker Percy's The Thanatos Syndrome says something very close to this. I had no idea O'Connor had said it, too. It's close enough (unless my memory is wrong--it's been over 10 yrs since I read it) that Percy must have been alluding to or almost quoting her. Interesting.

Sandra Miesel

The impression I got from O'Connor's LETTERS was that she edited the material heavily. Not seeing the actual book, only going by that discussion, the nuns regarded the little girl as a saint and hoped her story would be beneficial to others. Pity Rome didn't notice while they were canonizing everyone in sight.


“The manuscript is not very good, of course. I set about to get the obnoxious pieties out of it and that proved almost impossible. I’m still working on it, and they are expecting me to not only to turn it into descent manuscript but to get them a publisher. Would you read it when I get it edited?”

Letter to publisher Robert Giroux
September 29, 1960
Page 409, The Habit of Being


Yes. I transcribed that passage and others from her letters over on my blog, if anyone's interested.

The upshot appears to be that Sister Evangelist wrote it, then Flannery O'Connor the publishers both used "a free editorial hand" in preparing the manuscript for publication.

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