Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bits and snippets from the one and only...

...Flannery O’Connor:

“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.”

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles 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.”

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

“You would probably do just as well to get that plot business out of your head and start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive...Wouldn’t it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write rather than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you.”

“When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord, he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic believes any voice he may hear comes from the Devil unless it is in accordance with the teachings of the Church.”

“To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater. And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics. For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more; whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing the wrath of people who don’t believe anything much at all down on your head.”

“St. Cyril of Jerusalem said to the catechumens, ‘The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.’ No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.”

“One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”

“You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people’s sufferings and not your own.”

All of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, none of which is quoted above, can be found in her two volumes of short stories (A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, plus The Complete Stories, a combination of the first two plus several stories she wrote and submitted in lieu of a master’s thesis while attending the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop) and her two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away).

All of the bits and snippets quoted in this post are taken from two other sources, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor and The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor (Sally Fitzgerald, editor), which, if your local library does not carry, shame on them.

Flannery O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39. Had she lived, she would have turned 84 last month.

(1962 Photo By Associated Press)


  1. A wise woman, to be of such a tender age (relatively speaking). One would expect thoughts/words like that from an 84 year old, not one under 40.

  2. Fascinating. I echo Pat's thoughts, too.....Flannery sounds like someone much older.

    I'll be mulling over #4 and #7. The last two quotes seem to me to contradict each other in a way.

  3. I loved the quotations, but I haven't read anything by the author.

  4. Thank you RWP, I much enjotyed being reminded of her sometime acerbic view. I have always thought some of her quotes priceless and her work hard to read.

    Way to young for such a talent to leave...

  5. Wow, that's some powerful, thought provoking stuff. Thanks.

  6. i am upset with the mormon church because i can't be married to it like some nuns and priests of the catholic church are married to their church and as such can devote 110 % of their time like john stockten used to say he gave to the utah jazz, you are right. i go on a rampage for my church and sound like tinkling brass because i don't have their backing from their prophets...i have never been a bishop for my church, or on the high counsel, or spoke authoritatively for them as a whole and it has disappointed me...i do know some doctrine but just enough to make me dangerous, and i am sure my wife would be disappointed in what i have just said to you, if she knew...i hope you keep this comment because it did come from my heart which at times i wear on my shirt sheeve and doesn't loren christie write a wonderful blog?????

  7. I apologize for my delay in replying to your comments. Yard work called, and I was obliged to answer.

    Pat in Arkansas - I discovered Flannery when I was 34 and thought I was pretty wise myself. Now that I am exactly double that age, I agree with you.

    Jeannelle - I thought the same thing at first, that the last two quotations seemed to contradict each other. The difference, I suppose, is whether a person is more interested in alleviating others' suffering or accusing God of cruelty.

    Snowbrush - Welcome to my blog! I recommend starting with the short stories.

    Putz (#1) - Based on your second, lengthier comment, you are definitely not a lurker!

    Reamus - I don't think her work is hard to read as much as it is hard to swallow for some people.
    Or if it is hard, perhaps only in the sense of being disturbed by it.

    Rosezilla - Try reading her fiction! Also my next post....

    Putz (#2) - I didn't say any of those things, Flannery O'Connor did, but either she struck a nerve or you said, "I resemble that remark!" and, yes, I do enjoy reading Loren Christie's blog. I discovered her in the comments section of your own blog, which I hope is just on hiatus and not defunct. I do appreciate your sharing your heartfelt comments with me.

  8. Note to Rosezilla: Oops. I have added another post today. The one I pointed you to is scheduled to appear tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28. A thousand pardons for any confusion I caused you.

  9. I have never heard of her but the quotes... many of them I can relate to Church and God is not supposed to be a business or a job. Its supposed to be a calling.
    I also feel, that if people adhered to the basic 10 Commandments, we would not have so many problems in this world. There would not be divorce or violence or abuse or hunger.People would have a clearer sense between right and wrong and therefore psychological suffering would diminish. Society replaced God with social welfare, which has no soul because its a business. People become cold because they know there is a corporation doing their work for them. When it doesn't or can't, those in need have no where to go.