Flannery O'Connor

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Flannery O'Connor
Flannery-O'Connor 1947.jpg
Born Mary Flannery O'Connor
(1925-03-25)March 25, 1925
Savannah, Georgia, US
Died August 3, 1964(1964-08-03) (aged 39)
Milledgeville, Georgia, US
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • essayist
Period 1946–64
Genre Southern Gothic
Literary movement Christian Realism
Notable works

Mary Flannery O'Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was an American writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, she wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. Her writing also reflected her Roman Catholic faith and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics. Her posthumously compiled Complete Stories won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and has been the subject of enduring praise.

Early life and education[edit]

O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah, Georgia

O'Connor was born on March 25, 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, the only child of Edward Francis O'Connor, a real estate agent, and Regina Cline.[1] As an adult, she remembered herself as a "pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex."[2]

When she was six, living in a house still standing (now preserved as the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home), she experienced her first brush with celebrity status. The Pathé News people filmed "Little Mary O'Connor" with her trained chicken[3] and showed the film around the country. She said: "When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax."[4]

O'Connor and her family moved to Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1940 to live on Andalusia Farm,[5] which is now a museum dedicated to O'Connor's work.[6] In 1937, her father was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus; it led to his eventual death on February 1, 1941,[7] and O'Connor and her mother continued to live in Milledgeville.[8]

O'Connor attended Peabody High School, where she worked as the school newspaper's art editor and from which she graduated in 1942.[9] She entered Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College & State University) in an accelerated three-year program and graduated in June 1945 with a social sciences degree. While at Georgia College, she produced a significant amount of cartoon work for the student newspaper.[10][11]

O'Connor with Arthur Koestler (left) and Robie Macauley on a visit to the Amana Colonies in 1947

In 1946, she was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she first went to study journalism. While there, she got to know several important writers and critics who lectured or taught in the program, among them Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Robie Macauley, Austin Warren and Andrew Lytle.[citation needed] Lytle, for many years editor of the Sewanee Review, was one of the earliest admirers of her fiction. He later published several of her stories in the Sewanee Review, as well as critical essays on her work. Workshop director Paul Engle was the first to read and comment on the initial drafts of what would become Wise Blood. She received an M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1947.[12] During the summer of 1948, O'Connor continued to work on Wise Blood at Yaddo, an artists' community in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she also completed several short stories.[13]

In 1949, O'Connor met and eventually accepted an invitation to stay with Robert Fitzgerald (a well-known translator of the classics) and his wife, Sally, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.[14]


Regarding her emphasis of the grotesque, O'Connor said: "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."[15] Her texts usually take place in the South[16] and revolve around morally flawed characters, while the issue of race often appears in the background. Most of her works feature disturbing elements, though she did not like to be characterized as cynical. "I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic," she wrote.[17] "The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. ...When I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror."[17]

O'Connor's two novels are Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960). She also published two books of short stories: A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (published posthumously in 1965).

Many of O'Connor's short stories have been published in major anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories.[18]

She felt deeply informed by the sacramental and by the Thomist notion that the created world is charged with God. Yet she would not write apologetic fiction of the kind prevalent in the Catholic literature of the time, explaining that a writer's meaning must be evident in his or her fiction without didacticism. She wrote ironic, subtly allegorical fiction about deceptively backward Southern characters, usually fundamentalist Protestants, who undergo transformations of character that, to her thinking, brought them closer to the Catholic mind. The transformation is often accomplished through pain, violence, and ludicrous behavior in the pursuit of the holy. However grotesque the setting, she tried to portray her characters as open to the touch of divine grace. This ruled out a sentimental understanding of the stories' violence, as of her own illness. She wrote: "Grace changes us and the change is painful."[19] She also had a deeply sardonic sense of humor, often based in the disparity between her characters' limited perceptions and the awesome fate awaiting them. Another source of humor is frequently found in the attempt of well-meaning liberals to cope with the rural South on their own terms. O'Connor used such characters' inability to come to terms with race, poverty, and fundamentalism, other than in sentimental illusions, as an example of the failure of the secular world in the twentieth century.

However, several stories reveal that O'Connor was familiar with some of the most sensitive contemporary issues that her liberal and fundamentalist characters might encounter. She addressed the Holocaust in her story "The Displaced Person" and racial integration in "Everything That Rises Must Converge." Her fiction often included references to the problem of race in the South; occasionally, racial issues come to the forefront, as in "The Artificial Nigger," "Everything that Rises Must Converge," and "Judgment Day," her last short story and a drastically rewritten version of her first published story, "The Geranium."

Fragments exist of an unfinished novel tentatively titled Why Do the Heathen Rage? that draws from several of her short stories, including "Why Do the Heathen Rage?," "The Enduring Chill," and "The Partridge Festival."

Illness and death[edit]

Andalusia Farm, where O'Connor lived from 1952 to 1964

By the summer of 1952, O'Connor was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus),[20] like her father,[7] and subsequently returned to her ancestral farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Georgia.[21] O'Connor lived for twelve years after her diagnosis, seven years longer than expected. Despite the debilitating effects of the steroid drugs used to treat O'Connor's lupus, she nonetheless remained very active by maintaining a daily writing schedule and making appearances at lectures to read her works.[21]

At Andalusia, she raised and nurtured some 100 peafowl. Fascinated by birds of all kinds, she raised ducks, ostrich, emus, toucans, and any sort of exotic bird she could obtain, while incorporating images of peacocks into her books. She described her peacocks in an essay entitled "The King of the Birds." Despite her secluded life, her writing reveals an uncanny grasp of the nuances of human behavior. O'Connor gave many lectures on faith and literature, traveling quite far despite her frail health.

O'Connor completed more than two dozen short stories and two novels while struggling with lupus. She died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39 in Baldwin County Hospital.[21] Her death was caused by complications from a new attack of lupus following surgery for a fibroma.[21] She was buried in Milledgeville, Georgia,[22] at Memory Hill Cemetery.[21][23]


Throughout her life, O'Connor maintained a wide correspondence,[24] including with writers Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop,[25] English professor Samuel Ashley Brown,[25] and playwright Maryat Lee.[26] After her death, a selection of her letters, edited by her friend Sally Fitzgerald, was published as The Habit of Being.[27][25] Much of O'Connor's best-known writing on religion, writing, and the South is contained in these and other letters.[citation needed]

In 1955, Betty Hester, an Atlanta file clerk, wrote O'Connor a letter expressing admiration for her work.[27] Hester's letter drew O'Connor's attention,[28] and they corresponded frequently.[27] For The Habit of Being, Hester provided Fitzgerald with all the letters she received from O'Connor but requested that her identity be kept private; she was identified only as "A."[17] The complete collection of the unedited letters between O'Connor and Hester was unveiled by Emory University in May 2007; the letters were given to the university in 1987 with the stipulation that they not be released to the public for 20 years.[27][16]


O'Connor was a devout Catholic despite living in the Protestant South. From 1956 through 1964, she wrote more than one hundred book reviews for two Catholic diocesan newspapers in Georgia: The Bulletin, and The Southern Cross.[29] According to fellow reviewer Joey Zuber, the wide range of books she chose to review demonstrated that she was profoundly intellectual.[30][page needed] Her reviews consistently confronted theological and ethical themes in books written by the most serious and demanding theologians of her time.[31] Professor of English Carter Martin, an authority on O'Connor's writings, notes simply that her "book reviews are at one with her religious life."[31]

A prayer journal O'Connor had kept during her time at the University of Iowa was published in 2013.[32] It included prayers and ruminations on faith, writing, and O'Connor's relationship with God.[33][32][34]

Legacy, awards, and tributes[edit]



Short story collections[edit]

Other works[edit]

  • Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969)
  • The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor (1979)
  • The Presence of Grace: and Other Book Reviews (1983)
  • Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (1988)
  • Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons (2012)
  • A Prayer Journal (2013)


  1. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 3; O'Connor 1979, p. 233: "My papa was a real-estate man" (letter to Elizabeth Fenwick Way, August 4, 1957); Gooch 2009, p. 29.
  2. ^ Gooch 2009, p. 30; Bailey, Blake, "Between the House and the Chicken Yard", Virginia Quarterly Review (Spring 2009): 202–205, archived from the original on June 26, 2016 .
  3. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (1932). Do You Reverse? (Motion picture). Pathé. 
  4. ^ O'Connor & Magee 1987, p. 38.
  5. ^ "Flannery O'Connor". Andalusia Farm. Archived from the original on April 17, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Andalusia Farm – Home of Flannery O'Connor". Andalusia Farm. Retrieved March 4, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Giannone 2012, p. 23.
  8. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 3.
  9. ^ Gooch 2009, p. 76.
  10. ^ Wild, Peter (July 5, 2011). "A Fresh Look at Flannery O'Connor: You May know Her Prose, but Have You Seen Her Cartoons?". Books blog. The Guardian. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016. 
  11. ^ Heintjes, Tom (June 27, 2014). "Flannery O'Connor, Cartoonist". Hogan's Alley. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016. 
  12. ^ Fitzgerald 1965, p. xii.
  13. ^ Gooch 2009, pp. 146–52.
  14. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 4.
  15. ^ O'Connor 1969, p. 40.
  16. ^ a b Enniss, Steve (May 12, 2007). "Flannery O'Connor's Private Life Revealed in Letters". National Public Radio (Interview). Interview with Jacki Lyden. Archived from the original on May 9, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016. 
  17. ^ a b c O'Connor 1979, p. 90.
  18. ^ Farmer, David (1981). Flannery O'Connor: A Descriptive Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing. 
  19. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 307.
  20. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 40 (letter to Sally Fitzgerald, undated, summer 1952)
  21. ^ a b c d e Gordon, Sarah (December 8, 2015) [Originally published July 10, 2002]. "Flannery O'Connor". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council. Archived from the original on March 14, 2016. Retrieved May 13, 2016. 
  22. ^ Fitzgerald 1965, p. viii.
  23. ^ "Flannery O'Connor". Find a Grave. Archived from the original on December 11, 2015. Retrieved May 24, 2016. 
  24. ^ O'Connor 1979, pp. xiixiv, xvi, xvii.
  25. ^ a b c O'Connor 1979 passim.
  26. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 193: "There are no other letters among Flannery's like those to Maryat Lee, none so playful and so often slambang."
  27. ^ a b c d Young, Alec T. (Autumn 2007). "Flannery's Friend: Emory Unseals Letters from O'Connor to Longtime Correspondent Betty Hester". Emory Magazine. Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Retrieved May 15, 2016. 
  28. ^ O'Connor 1979, p. 90: "You were very kind to write me and the measure of my appreciation must be to ask you to write me again. I would like to know who this is who understands my stories."
  29. ^ O'Connor 2008, p. 3.
  30. ^ Martin 1968.
  31. ^ a b O'Connor 2008, p. 4.
  32. ^ a b Robinson, Marilynne (November 15, 2013). "The Believer: Flannery O'Connor's 'Prayer Journal'". Sunday Book Review. The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  33. ^ Cep, Casey N. (November 12, 2013). "Inheritance and Invention: Flannery O'Connor's Prayer Journal". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on May 14, 2016. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  34. ^ O'Connor, Flannery (September 16, 2013). "My Dear God: A Young Writer's Prayers". Journals. The New Yorker. Archived from the original on November 24, 2015. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  35. ^ "National Book Awards—1972". National Book Foundation. Archived from the original on April 23, 2016. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  36. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (November 19, 2009). "Voters Choose Flannery O'Connor in National Book Award Poll". ArtsBeat (blog). The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  37. ^ "Stamp Announcement 15-28: Flannery O'Connor Stamp". United States Postal Service. May 28, 2015. Archived from the original on October 28, 2015. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  38. ^ Downes, Lawrence (June 4, 2015). "A Good Stamp Is Hard to Find". Opinion. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 7, 2015. 
  39. ^ "A Stamp of Good Fortune: Redesigning the Flannery O'Connor Postage". Work in Progress. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. July 2015. Archived from the original on April 8, 2016. [T]he soft focus portrait and oversized, decorative peacock feathers . . . do little to support the composition or speak to O'Connor as a literary force. And why do away with her signature cat-eye sunglasses? A 'soft focus' Flannery is at odds with her belief that, 'modern writers must often tell "perverse" stories to "shock" a morally blind world . . . It requires considerable courage not to turn away from the story-teller.' 
  40. ^ "Complete List of Flannery O'Connor Award Winners". University of Georgia Press. Archived from the original on August 11, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  41. ^ Lebos, Jessica Leign (December 31, 2014). "Southern Gothic: Flannery O'Connor Little Free Libraries". Community. Connect Savannah. Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  42. ^ a b "About". FlanneryOConnorHome.org. 2015. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]



Cultural impact[edit]

Scholarly guides[edit]

External links[edit]

Library resources[edit]