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February 02, 2006


T. Chan

interesting, i wonder what TLJ's spiritual life is like


"interesting, i wonder what TLJ's spiritual life is like"

Far removed from Flannery's, I would suspect.


Nice Blog :)


Old Zhou

I don't get it.

I mean, you could say that Flannery O'Connor and Ecclesiastes were important for "Brokeback Mountain," too. Or any other messy, complicated human experience story.

Mark Wyzalek

"...O'Connor, who was a rather classical Catholic thinker who wrote about nothing but backwoods north Georgia rednecks."

Actually Milldgeville is in central Georgia and O'Connor wrote about a lot more than "Georgia rednecks" - but whan can you expect from an article in the Boston Globe with an article mentioning Georgia outside of Atlanta?


It's good to see so much charity displayed here. So a Hollywood guy shows what appears to be some real depth, and all we can do is criticize. Good God.

Cheeky Lawyer


good point. I was struck by the depth of Jones' thinking. He doesn't strike me as your typical Hollywood A-lister. He's obviously had a broken life but he also seems to "get" O'Connor, no?

Smithin Wells

Friends of Amy Welborn:

In this crowd what I am about to say may approach blasphemy, but here goes: I am ignorant of Flannery O'Connor's appeal to Catholics. What is it about her, or her writings, that make her a friend of orthodoxy? Your charitable replies will be appreciated. I will accept individual e-mail replies if this topic is too far the center here.


Kath: of the five non-spam comments ahead of you, I see one person who thought it was "interesting" and made what I read as a pretty non-judgmental comment about the actor, one slapper-down of the actor (bad), one criticizing the newspaper's ignorance without taking issue with the man being interviewed, and Zhou politely engaging with the intellectual content of the interview by asking what in this particular story is specifically Ecclesiastes-ish or O'Connor-ish, more so than other film stories involving rural settings and dysfunctional people.

I'm afraid I'm not seeing any vast groundswell of un-charity here...unless you're the mother of the Globe's factchecker, in which case...


Smithin: O'Connor writes very dark, very ambiguous stories about people digging themselves into very deep holes that they can't climb out of without grace. Sometimes they accept grace, more often they don't, but always grace manifests itself in some weird form or other.

Ambiguous and darkly sardonic endings give literary types the same kind of warm-fuzzies happy endings give more normal people, so they love O'Connor. Northerners like O'Connor because they can use her to validate their image of Southerners as freaks, Southerners like her because she portrays them as *real*, Catholics like her because she's theologically sound (once you parse out what's going on), stylistically gifted, and critically acclaimed (ie, she's good for bragging rights).

Personally, the only pleasure I get out of her fiction is watching really unpleasant people get their comeuppance-it's like Tales From the Crypt, with good prose and characterization instead of bad pictures and excessive violence. Her writings on the *theory* and *function* of fiction on the other hand and how they relate to theology, seem to me quite intelligent.

Smithin Wells

Derringdo: Thank you ~very~ much. I'm fairly well read, but no one has ever explained this before. There's only so much time! Despite your reservations, what would you - or what do others - recommend to those with the time for only one or two of her works?


If I had to cite one gotta-have work by her for Catholics-keeping in mind that I'm biased towards her nonfiction observations-it would be the recently edited collection of her letters, where most of her thoughts on life, suffering, and fiction are contained.

Of her fiction, the good news is that she wrote a number of widely anthologized short stories, pretty uniform in quality to my untutored eye. The one called "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (and gives its name to an anthology of her stories) is considered a particularly quintessential example of her style-I studied it in writing class, years ago.

Old Zhou

Personally, I don't care much for O'Connor (sacrilige! heresy!), although I do have a soft spot for anybody who could live with a flock of peacocks.

I think of her as sort of a Catholic reincarnation of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Now, back in my dark and moody college days, I did like Hawthorne.

But, having read (quickly) a couple of anthologies of O'Connor's works last year, I find them long on the human condition, and short on presentation of God's remedy for that condition. But, hey, she was writing stories, not Gospel Tracts.

Smithin Wells

Derringdo: Thanks again. I'm headed to my Amazon wish list to store both suggestions.


Flannery O'Connor believed that faith was a matter of life and death. And that is what she wrote about. She wrote primarily about pride. About people afflicted with it, blinded with it to the point at which they could not see God's grace unless it hit it in the face. It was, in the end, a broader metaphor for the culture as she saw it, one which was so post-Christian that, as she said, she had been convinced in the necessity of distortion and the groteque to get people to see.

If you want to understand O'Connor, read the story of the Gerasene demoniac. After he is exorcised, the people of his village seeing him healed and whole, ask Jesus, not to heal them, but to leave. It is those people who are the protagonatists of O'Connor's fiction.

Here is a piece I wrote about O'Connnor.

It is worth noting that in order to understand O'Connor, it might be helpful to absorb her own intro to her first collection of stories, as she sent them off to Sally Fitzgerald: "Nine stories about Original Sin, with my compliments."

Smithin Wells

Amy: Thank you. I'm also going to read your piece. I've read Walker Percy, but no one had prompted me toward the virtues of O'Connor.

Maclin Horton

Smithin, I regard O'Connor quite highly, but it's true that her range is pretty narrow. Look to her for depth, not breadth. If you find that you don't really enjoy her writing that much, reading a few of the short stories will suffice to clue you in as to what she's up to. One of my personal favorites is "Good Country People." This is one of the comeuppance stories that derringdo refers. Another fine story which does not follow that pattern is "The River."

And I'd second derringdo's recommendation of the letters, even if you don't take to the fiction. The collection is called The Habit of Being.

Smithin Wells

Maclin: Thank you.


Smithin Wells: My favorite of O'Connor's stories is "The Displaced Person." Read this for a first-rate depiction of the nature of sin and grace.

The letters are awesome, but "The Habit of Being" is pretty long. If you want a selected sample of some good ones, try the Library of America collection of O'Connor's writings. This one volume contains both her novels, all her short stories (I think) and some occasional prose in addition to the letters. Most public libraries should have a copy.

"Mystery and Manners" is a collection of her occasional prose - not too long and worth the read.


Smithin, I second the suggestion to read "Mystery and Manners," a book I have reread several times over my lifetime --it is wonderful. The letters, too contain many gems. "I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this produces hives, in others literature, in me both."

As a Catholic she was astonishing to me. Born on the Feast of the Annunciation, she suffered greatly, and died at 39, from lupus. She read a page of Aquinas a day, and knew Guardini, all the great saints and theologians, etc. Her "Memoir of Mary Ann," a nonfiction intro to a book that some nuns wrote about a girl disfigured by, I think, cancer, is ons of the most amazing things ever written on the difficulty of writing about goodness (as in: Milton made Satan so *interesting in Paradise Lost; it is much harder to write about the good!").

Many of her stories end with a "purgatorial" moment, when the grace of the kingdom comes smashing - sometimes violently - into a complacent life.

She had a very, very dry and ironic sense of humor, though sometimes it was more straightforward: "Eveybody who has read *Wise Blood* thinks I am a hillbilly nihilist, whereas I would like to create the impression that I am a hillbilly Thomist." When asked if college writing classes stifled writers, she answered that they did not stifle enough of 'em. And she was the one who, when at a dinner in learned company, heard the comment that the Eucharist was a nice symbol, and replied bluntly, "If it's a symbol, then I say the hell with it," which she said was the best defense she could give at the time to the Real Presence (I believe she was around 20 years old). And one of my favorites: "The truth does not change with our ability to stomach it emotionally."

She was a very traditional Catholic. One more quote: "Dogma can in no way limit a limitless God....For me dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction."

Her letters and essays shed A LOT of light on her stories.


I'm just going to say it because this has bugged me the last number of years.

Incredibly shallow but has anyone else observed O'Conner may have had a fat-hating fetish? In my limited exposure to her work, I don't recall her writing so dispairagingly towards skinny, single women.

Maybe I'm just too sensative about my "mothered" hips and strech-marks.



Off the top of my head, the two skinny convent school girls in "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" get ripped pretty good, as do the tenant girl in "The Comforts of Home" and the wife in "Parker's Back." The saintly heroine in "Temple" was plump. I don't see it.

It was a different time as well, before lipo-suction, aerobics classes and Adkins. I think she wrote about what she saw. I doubt it was such a big deal (culturally) to be fat then.

Kevin Jones

Sounds like the movie could be very interesting, especially since it looks like a modern-day Western. I've tried to find a few reviews for information, is the R rating for any "porny" scenes?

Old Zhou

The blurbs say it got the "R" for "language, violence and sexuality."

This review might give you some clues.

john c

Smithin: Here what you learned today. Flannery O'Connor is never too far the center here.


Here's the review by Roger Ebert.


To understand Flannery’s stories you should first read The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor. Her stories may be dark but her letters are full of humor, and insight. Here is a sampling, the first of which Mary referred to in an earlier post.
I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, A Charmed Life.) She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his new wife Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

Well toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist which I, being a Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. The evening went on and on. Mrs. Broadwater said that when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the "most portable" person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one.

I then said, in a very shaky voice, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.

The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor Viking, 1979, pp. 124-25
I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic....I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.
What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.
The American south is Christ haunted but no longer Christ centered.
Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.


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