The Problem with Flannery

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I’m in the throes of writing a biography of Flannery O’Connor. Since I’ve been working on this project, I’ve talked to a good many people who feel that they are supposed to like (or at least appreciate) Flannery O, but they just don’t see what there is to like or appreciate. Just the other day I was talking to a guy (I won’t tell you his name, but I will tell you he’s planning to build a spaceship in the fall) who said something to this effect: “I’ve read Flannery O’Connor, and I just don’t get it. People are always saying how great she is, but her stories are so dark, I can’t see any hope or grace in them.” People like that are the audience I picture as I write this book: intelligent, well-read people who just aren’t feeling the love for Flannery. I’m out to win some of them over.

I suspect there are a good many of you among the readership of this august website. So, would you do me a favor? In the comments to this post, would you ask some specific questions about Flannery O or her work? Or try to articulate what you don’t get about her? I want to know: What’s your problem with Flannery?

By the way, I’m not offering to address your remarks today in this forum. I’m covered up with book-writing. But your questions and remarks will help shape this little biography of Flannery O’Connor. Thanks in advance for your willingness to take part.

Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


89 Comments

  1. Brian

    I agree with Andy…I mean, Spaceship Guy! I’ve read several of O’Connor’s works, including some short stories and Wise Blood. I went into it knowing about her, and knowing about why she’s apparently an important Southern and Christian writer. And yet, I just couldn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t find the redemption. So a great biography which would help us folks would be great!

  2. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Do you know the poem “The Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti? The experience of reading O’Connor almost parallels that story line for me.

    The first taste of her fruit awakens horrific memories of damnable old longings. I recoil almost out of reflex… in fear of being mastered by familiar dark things again. But the second taste of her work seems to work a bit like an inoculation. Distance grows, my eyes clear, and I start to remember what is true. I remember that evil is not my master any more, because I am new. At that point, I can begin to look diagnostically at her work.

    I might have told you this before, but halfway through _Wise Blood_, I took the book back to the library and threw it on the return table like it was poison. It touched such a dark part of my consciousness, I was horrified. Flipping through those pages was like trying to walk casually through a prison where I had been tortured for years.

    At the last minute, I picked it back up off the table and stuffed it into my bag. It took finishing it … that second taste of the fruit … to realize the brilliance of what she was doing… to remember that evil had been emasculated in my life and could bind me no longer.

    I have wondered if people who have some sort of tactile darkness in their past are affected differently by authors like her. If you have experienced some sort of intense evil in reality, especially at a life stage when you were vulnerable, revisiting similar sensations can feel like you’re walking in the mines of Mordor. You can read terrified that you’re going to dig too deep and wake the Balrog.

    Perhaps there is a time to go there, and a time to simply heal away from those memories? Maybe she is like a powerful sort of chemo that needs to burn and kill as it heals and gives life? I certainly haven’t found her the sort of truth to be trifled with.

  3. Caleb Land

    I love Flannery O’Conner. I think that most people who don’t get her should read one of her novels, like Wise Blood, that helped me to understand and appreciate her short stories better.

    I will be interested to hear how you handle her use of the grotesque and her use of sex. She definitely wouldn’t make it into the “Safe for the Whole Family” Christian bookstore, but she sure is good.

  4. Laura Peterson

    Hi Jonathan,
    I should start by saying that the only O’Connor works I can recall to memory are “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Wise Blood.” I’ve read “Good Man” a few times, each time hoping that I remembered it incorrectly and I would end up thinking something at the end other than [SPOILER ALERT] “Well, they all died. Bummer. I wonder what’s on TV.” I can see the religious undertones and I get that something bigger than just the plot is going on, but it seems to be just out of reach for me. Maybe it’s a kind of specific literary intelligence that I’m missing. I felt the same about “Wise Blood,” but the other problem I had with that novel is the same thing I run into when I try to read Faulkner – the narration is just nuts. I spend too much time thinking “what the heck is going on here?” that it distracts me from really sinking in to the story. The gorilla suit is what really threw me. How/where on earth does that fit? Or, is it not supposed to fit? I don’t get it.

    I don’t think my problems with Flannery will keep me from reading this biography, though! I’ve always wondered how a Southern lady in the 1950s came to write stories about serial killers and crazy preachers who blind themselves with lime. There’s gotta be an interesting backstory there.

  5. JenniferT

    Have you read this book on O’Connor’s writings, Jonathan? It’s by a former teacher and mentor of mine: http://www.amazon.com/Flannery-OConnor-Christ-Haunted-South-Ralph/dp/0802821170

    I did not like O’Connor on first read, but he helped me see how each of her stories includes a turn – a shock of redemption that comes in a way we don’t expect. Like the grandmother turning to the murderer and saying, “You’re one of my own children” just before she’s shot in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Grace is not pretty in her stories. I’m looking forward to seeing how you deal with these things in your book!

  6. Jess

    BuckBuck! It’s the mines of Moria, not Mordor. I know you know, I’m just reminding you.
    😉

  7. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    🙂 Laura, thanks.

    Something just hit me while I was teaching beginning consonants to the toddler…

    Remember how in “The Goblin Market” Lizzie has to go back into the darkness and get smacked around by the fruit (without drinking of it herself) so that she can bring it back to heal her sister? Maybe that’s the role you are playing here, Jonathan? Walking into the mess to bring back something that is going to be medicinal?

  8. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Yes, Jennifer, I know Ralph Wood’s book. It’s fantastic–intimidatingly so. I was just telling somebody this morning that I’m trying to stop picturing Ralph Wood reading this book and picture Andy Osenga reading it instead. Osenga is intimidating in his own way, of course, but I can handle it a little better. I didn’t know Ralph Wood was a teacher and mentor of yours.

    BuckBuck, I’ve never read The Goblin Market. But rather than going into the darkness and getting smacked around by fruit, I think a more apt comparison is Brer Rabbit getting flung in the briar patch–“I was born and bred in the briar patch, Brer Fox!”

  9. Fellow Traveler

    Hey Jonathan. I think I’ve voiced my thoughts on Flannery before, but since somebody else brought up the “moment of grace” from “A Good Man,” I’ll take a portion of an essay I once wrote about that story and put it here for discussion. I took O’Connor’s moment and compared it with (interestingly enough), Wentworth’s offered moment of redemption in Williams’ _Descent Into Hell_. In my conclusion, I summarized what I saw as the flaws in O’Connor’s portrayal of the grandmother’s final choice:

    ***

    In my opinion, the most significant flaw in her character’s “moment of grace” is that she has not made it believable as a moment of grace. Clearly, she intends it to be one, but the nature of the moment and the circumstances surrounding it make it very difficult for the reader to accept it as such. Here we have a cold-blooded killer, a self-proclaimed sadist who takes pleasure in murdering the innocent, and yet apparently we are expected to accept his excuses and view him as an object of pity. O’Connor’s ultimate point–that all men are made in the image of God and are therefore related regardless of how good or evil they are–might have been made much more effectively in a different context. For example, instead of having the Misfit murder the grandmother, she could have had him take her hostage instead. Then, gradually, as the grandmother had a chance to observe and become more familiar with him, she could begin to feel pity for him. Then, one day, the thought of him as being like one of her children might occur to her as she watches some movement or mannerism of his that reminds her of her son. A subtler approach like this would at least mitigate the feeling that we are being forced to sympathize with the Misfit. As it is, O’Connor has given us only a part of the truth here. Yes, the Misfit is made in the image of God, but he is also an evil man. The grandmother’s statement, “…[Y]ou’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children,” is simplistic because it focuses only on her and the Misfit’s shared humanity and disregards the equal truth of his sin nature.

    Moreover, O’Connor places such a high significance on the grandmother’s last words that she even implies that her murder was a necessary good because it gave her the change of nature that led her to speak them. This is a tenuous point in itself, but O’Connor carries it to unacceptable extremes by having _the Misfit himself_ pronounce it. By having him state that the grandmother “would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every day of her life,” she is giving him an authoritative status that he does not deserve. It seems that we are meant to accept his words as profound and appropriate when he as the murderer is the last man qualified to utter them. This increases the reader’s feeling that the evil of the Misfit’s action is irrelevant. Not only, then, is the grandmother’s last statement much less significant than O’Connor would have us think, but the entire moral of the story ultimately rings hollow because of this undue elevation of the villain. There is no reason for the grandmother or us to feel this sudden out-pouring of pity for her murderer, and consequently, there is no reason why we should view her words as a necessary choice for the salvation of her soul.

    ***

    (By the way, you’re my favorite Rabbit Roomer. Just for the record. :-P)

  10. Abbye West-Pates

    Flannery Feedback: I began reading her for Hutchmoot last year, actually – first time picking up her books. So, I was reading all her short stories.

    I found that the stories just kind of ended. I saw the sad human condition in them, as well as the good in human (like the Polish hired-hand in the story of which I can’t remember the name). Maybe if I understood more about Flannery, I’d understand more of why she wrote this way.

    Also, I have trouble understanding the stories without outside help, commentary, etc. Then again, I partially believe that we’re often too busy deciding “what to get out of it” (like we do in worship gatherings…. “church”) when maybe we should just read it an let it sit there.

    Hope this is helpful.

  11. Michael Kloss

    I am looking forward to the Bio.

    I have read half of the “Complete Stories,” that is reviewed on this site. For the last few years Flannery has gotten really popular in my circles and people love asking me what I think, knowing I am a literary fellow. I always swallow hard and say, “you know, I just don’t get it. I prefer Dubliners or Sam Shepard’s “great Dream of heaven.”

    The individual looks at me like they don’t get it. I read the stories and it reminds me of overhearing the conversations of grown ups when I was a kid and just not understanding what the grown ups were getting at. Like there was a subtext or context that escaped me completely.

  12. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Funny you should mention eisegesis, BuckBuck. I had coffee with Russ Ramsey this morning and I was actually going to ask him what eisegesis meant (then he got on the subject of his hair and the moment was gone). If I had only taken that opportunity, I would know what your most recent comment means.

  13. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    It’s just a fancy word for pushing your own meaning into a text when you are interpreting something. A lot of times it is contrasted with “exegesis.” From what I understand, the crux is whether you are trying to dominate a text or honestly listen to it.

  14. SarahJane

    I have read a few O’Connor books, including Wise Blood, “A Good Man,” and other short stories. I have also enjoyed pieces of her essays in Mystery and Manners, this being, in some ways my favorite – she is so straightforward but the writing here is beautiful. My husband loves her work and therefore encouraged me to read them, and I believe we read aloud a collection of her short stories.

    I think Laura described well what I feel when I am reading one of her stories. I end up befuddled. It’s as though I am standing in a museum and gazing at a momentous piece of abstract art and I recognize that there is a poetic beauty hidden from my sight, but I end up striving to grasp the beauty while getting lost in the confusion of the strokes. I love what Laura said about feeling that bigger picture is “just out of reach” and I too end up wondering if I’m lacking some “specific literary intelligence” that helps me to see the dark grace and redemption. Somehow my husband does have that ability to pierce through the confusion and see the redemption, which has helped me to appreciate her writing in my life, but I don’t think I would have arrived there independently, and I still don’t think I would arrive there independently now if I were to pick up another of her stories.
    I want to like her work because of the beauty I can sense underlying it, which surprises me each time, because usually if I don’t understand something on the first read, I rarely spend any energy wishing I understood it. I look forward to reading a good biography of her, perhaps it will help me to understand and appreciate even better.

  15. EmmaJ

    I would like to be thought of as a well-read person, even a person who can appreciate a complex tale. I don’t require happy endings. And if the kingdom of heaven requires an element of violence for a more poignant proclamation, I’m okay with that.

    Ordinarily I am afraid to be thought naive if I admit this, but since Jonathan has opened the floor to those of us who have been cowering in the shadows, hesitant to admit our distaste or lack of understanding… I am one of the people who doesn’t get Flannery O’Connor.

    My interaction with the good Ms. O’Connor began and ended with “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (the story itself, not the compilation bearing that title). Maybe we just got off to a bad start because I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into when I cracked open a hefty anthology one afternoon, but I’ve never gotten over the bloody violence of it all. For a long time I couldn’t even fathom what the point had been. As of this moment, the only sense I can make of it is as a signpost declaring the reality of total depravity and the naivete of belief in any innate moral goodness in the heart of mankind. Maybe that’s it and maybe that’s not, but that’s all I gots in my pockets.

    Did I just get off on the wrong foot? Should I have started with something else? Should I give her another chance??? Feel free to attempt to sell me on this.

  16. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    EmmaJ, I’ll sell you on FO later. For now, let me make one small suggestion: try reading “Revelation.” It’s still classic Flannery O’Connor: a moment of violence turns out to be a moment of grace. But the violence isn’t so extreme, and the grace looks a little more like the grace we’re used to. If that doesn’t work, I’m hoping my book will.

  17. Greg

    Stoked to read this book in the future!
    I’m a huge fan of Mrs. O’ and in re-watching a few Werner Herzog films, I realized how similar they are. In reading her letters, of which there’s a bunch, she’s obviously against the idea of nostalgic, sentimental Christianity. (Herzog, though not a believer, is against those general ideas as well). But in each of these very different people is a similar approach to their craft: they leave the reader/viewer with having to make some kind of judgment in the end. There is much mystery, but it is how we respond to that mystery that is important for them.

    Anyways, not sure if this helps the conversation, but I’m just excited.

  18. Amiable Alleycat

    It’s weird cause I pretty much adore everything she ever wrote. O’Connor has really helped shape my viewpoints on art and storytelling. As far as redemption goes, if there is none to be found in her stories then apparently I’m not missing it. Still not sure what that says about my theology. “The Lame Shall Enter First” is a perfect example. It scared the crap out of me when I first read it and still haunts me almost daily. I think this is a good thing. Anyways, I’ve been hooked on Flannery since college.

  19. Peter Br

    Unlike our resident ducky friend, I didn’t have any sort of violent response to O’Connor’s work. I just read it like I read Dune — I kept going because I knew it was acclaimed and I was supposed to appreciate it, but I couldn’t understand how or why. Granted, I didn’t make it all the way through The Complete Stories; it just didn’t seem worth my time to continue reading mildly depressing tales about dead-end situations.

    If her stories *did* elicit more of a reaction, maybe I wouldn’t have dismissed her so quickly (after 5-10 pieces in the anthology, I put it down and just never got back to it). It’s kind of like Dune to me; I picked it up because it was critically acclaimed as greatness on the page, and I plodded through it for a while because I was supposed to give it a fair shake — but never got anywhere. Perhaps someone will fill in the missing pieces for me.

  20. Peter Br

    Oops. Apparently, writing half before lunch and half after lunch is a good way to repeat oneself. Either that, or I really don’t care for Frank Herbert.

    Moderator Man, feel free to splat that one if it grates too hard on your sensibilities.

  21. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    OK, I’m trying to stay out of this because I really do need to be doing other things, but Peter Br’s remarks bring up something that needs to be addressed.

    Peter did a very sensible thing: he picked up The Complete Stories and started reading (presumably from the front). The problem is that the first 6 stories in The Complete Stories are basically juvenilia. They were FO’s Master’s thesis when she was in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She was still learning to write and hadn’t found her voice yet. I think it was a big mistake for the publisher to put those stories at the beginning of the book. They should have been in an appendix at the back; they’re interesting in their way, but there was a reason they had never been published. There are people all over the place who say “I read 5 or 10 FO stories,” and what they mean is that they’ve read those first ones in the Complete Stories collection–the worst ones you could possibly read.

    So, any of you who are trying to introduce yourselves to FO by way of the Collected Stories: Start anywhere between “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (the 11th story) and the end. I’m not promising you’ll like those stories, but you will at least have experienced Flannery O’Connor at the height of her literary powers.

    One more thing: it’s probably smart to start with the stories rather than either of the novels. I like the novels a lot more than I used to, but I still think her particular genius lends itself to the short story more than the novel.

  22. Peter Br

    Acknowledged. I’ll see what happens (though I suppose I should have tried harder not to be “spoilered” by reading the rest of the comments).

    Thanks, JR.

  23. Shelley R.

    Great discussion, but back to part of the orginal question… “but her stories are so dark, I can’t see any hope or grace in them.” (from potential readers who don’t get FO-and I’m not claiming in any way that I do)

    I don’t think we’re necessarily supposed to. A world without Jesus incarnated and infused in our lives is simply bleak, tasteless, wretched, violent, evil. We yearn for grace, for truth whispered behind the scenes in order to dub a story “good” and forget how utterly blind we were before being made entirely into new creations. When I’ve read her stories, met her characters, it’s almost as if I’m recalling what being spiritually blind is like and that evil is a real force that actively keeps you captive. O’Conner herself recalled in a letter (found in Mystery and Manners ‘On Her Own Work’) “that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.”

    Strangely, that’s perhaps why I want to read more of her writing for when I do I’m reminded of how grateful I am that there is grace, hope, beauty, etc. So, in thinking about winning those well-read people over in your book invite them to not completely “understand” her–but to come alongside her writing, letting it be what it is–whatever that may be!

  24. Jen

    I’m still working out my feelings about Flannery, so I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my confusion. I remember reading her in high school when I thought tragic stories were a depressing waste of time. I hated “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” But “Revelation”… there’s a story that haunted me ever since.

    So last year, I checked out The Complete Stories from my library (mostly to read “Revelation” again and feel smart and literary ;)) and read the whole thing, front to back, in six weeks. It was hard and exhausting. I finally learned to at least appreciate “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and loved “Revelation” even more, but I still don’t think I “got” it. I really *want* to like her… her writing is brilliant and the characters are so interesting (in a sad, twisted way). Michael (#14) summed it up perfectly… I felt like a child trying to understand a grown up conversation. Maybe I should give Wise Blood a try and revisit the second half of the stories again someday. (thanks Caleb and Jonathan for those suggested starting places!)

    I’m not sure how well I articulated what I don’t get or why… probably because I’m still trying to understand why! My question, I suppose, is what in her life influenced the themes of her writing, or how did certain stories emerge from her personal story. Of course, the Southern setting and dialect is all where she grew up, but I’d like to better understand how her work fit in the greater culture of the times and how her faith made it stand out. Does that even make sense? 🙂

  25. Hannah

    I love O’Connor, and I’d definitely agree that “Revelaton” is a good place to start if you don’t find yourself liking her work right off the bat.

    This may seem like a strange recommendation, but it might also be worth trying the letters (or some of them – it’s a long book). They’re witty, and charitable in a cranky sort of way, and you generally get the feeling that O’Connor is actually enjoying life a lot more than you’d expect from her fiction.

    Also, though I’d hesitate to recommend starting with it, I found The Violent Bear It Away much more compelling than Wise Blood. Not sure if this was the five years or so that elapsed between my efforts to read Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, or the fact that The Violent Bear It Away has a more straightforward style (in my opinion). The Violent Bear It Away definitely has a lot of the traits that bother people in O’Connor – seemingly senseless violence, a sense of dark foreboding, and human beings who hate the Kingdom of God and are tearing themselves apart in the effort to avoid it. But there’s something about it that’s completely astonishing, and I think the motion toward grace is more evident in it than in some of the stories, even though it’s also filled with pain. For me, at least, the book is absolutely saturated with grace. I actually know someone who described Flannery O’Connor as the proximate cause of his coming back to faith, and I think The Violent Bear It Away was one of the key moments for that process.

  26. Peter Br

    I read that as The Violent Bear at least three times before I realized there was more to the title.

  27. Keith S

    I have a question… Wise Blood related.
    Was Hazel Motes a saved man? What is the point of his story and how can it relate to me? What good is there in his life and his story?

    I labored through the book (Because I like Buechner and also Eric Peters, and he likes Flannery) but I really did not enjoy the story at all.
    I also did not understand the point of “A Long Day’s Dying” by Buechner, but that’s a whole different conversation.
    I love “Son of Laughter”.
    What can I love by Ms. O’Connor?
    I mean really love- like I love Lewis’ books and AP’s music and fish and chips with a cold pint.

    Is that possible to get out of O’Connor- or am I just missing the point?

    Please help Mr. Rogers. (I also loved the Wilderking books)

  28. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    This might be a rabbit trail, but here’s something I always wonder when encountering authors like O’Connor…

    I think one of the most fascinating Bible passages is the Babel story. The thought of humanity suddenly being split, and people wandering around looking for others who understood them is so haunting. It’s such an awful sadness to desperately need someone who understands you.

    For several years, I’ve wondered if the Babel divide happened beyond just dialect. Were we separated not only in our surface tongues, but in the deeper tongues of our heart?

    Living in a city with a huge percentage of engineers has repeatedly shown me that I have a fundamentally different internal language than some folks. If I called together a room of 50% engineers and 50% artists, and then shared the exact same stimuli with all of them … a lot of us would draw similar conclusions to others who share the basic fabric of our psyche. (This is not hard and fast. Engineers can be some of the most artistic people in the world. I’m just using this as a loose example.)

    I think this concept transfers on a micro level to art languages. There are some people who walk away inspired by the cheery verse of Helen Steiner Rice. Others are nourished by fantasy like Tolkien or Herbert. I have friends moved deeply by Max Lucado and Francine Rivers. Some take to technical apologetics, mystics, or writings on social justice. I am stirred by Wendell Berry, Manet, Bach, and Hubble photos. O’Connor seems to impact J.Rogers so powerfully, I can feel my computer screen rumble when he writes about her. I love that.

    What if God has provided different sorts of “prophets” (writers and translators) to communicate to the many soul languages of the world? What if part of the Great Commission is not just reaching the 10-40 window, but going inward, translating the gospel to the many hidden tribes of the heart?

  29. Janna

    Keith S, I think that LD’sD was one of Beuchner’s first works, before he came to faith. I haven’t read it, but he talks about it in one of his memoirs. Maybe if you read that, it would help clear things up for you. I hope I’m remembering that correctly.

    Jonathan, Do you think we could get Andy O to cover the CC song “Wise Blood” and make it a bonus track on Leonard? That would be awesome, right?

    Seriously, when it comes to Flannery, I think some people immediately love her even if they don’t get her because when they read, it is so familiar and spot on. We were living in MD when the movie “O Brother where art thou” came out, and so many of our friends hated it. I can’t help but think that was because they did not grow up in the real south, like we did. Maybe that’s not a valid comparison, but my initial reaction to FOC was immediate liking and lots and lots of questions. Looking forward to your book!

  30. EmmaJ

    Peter Br,
    The Violent Bear is a different story. That’s the one my former boss told about a Boy Scout camping trip that went awry. In the end, no one was seriously injured, but I think the tent was a total loss.

  31. EmmaJ

    By the way, how do all of you smart folks get italics into the text of your comments? When I try, all I get is an annoying bar to the left of my screen that offers me options I don’t want.

    I’m thinking of writing a novel in which this phenomenon is an essential plot device. In the end, the heroine is driven quite mad, I think.

  32. Nick and Susan

    Agreeing with wishing there was a ‘like’ button on the RR. When that option gets installed, can you give me an extra 4 hours a day so I can read all these magnifcent blog posts. I can’t keep up!

    Susan

  33. Ugly Biscuit

    UK just knocked off the number one team in the nation! And I know it was because all my friends on here were praying for me! Especially you Pete! Way to lend a helping hand my bro!

    Ain’t nuthin’ but a CAT thang Ba-by
    One transplant sucka going Cra-zay!

    Buck, beware of the Sleeping Cats!

  34. Ugly Biscuit

    WILL B. DONE

    Safely secured
    From all alarms.
    I will lean on Jesus,
    I will rest in His arms.
    I will pass up the milk
    On my way to the meat.
    I will stand on His word,
    I will sit at His feet.
    I will walk in His ways,
    I will run the race.
    I will hide in Him,
    I will seek His face.
    And lastly my will
    I’ll lay at His throne.
    And take up His will
    To call my own!

  35. Chris Slaten

    I have had some of the same problems that others have mentioned here and sometimes I still do. Learning about her life in the context of other Catholic writers from her time period from The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie and reading more more into her heart and philosophy in Mystery and Manners helped to give me a better frame of reference.

  36. Leanne

    I’ve tried to scroll the comments here and hope I’m not re-iterating what’s already been said, but this was my impression of Flannery (when I finally picked up a collection of short stories in preparation for Hutchmoot last year. I’d been meaning to read her for years, and it was a good motivator!) I found the stories to be disturbing and dark, as many have mentioned here. And yet, the more I read, the more I sensed an appealing kind of “exposure” or “unveiling” of the human condition in her writing. The pitiful, desperate need for grace and redemption. I feel like even though her writings aren’t real cheery, they act on the reader to see the stark needs of the human heart. And I thought her writing does that brilliantly, because it goes beyond looking at those needs of “humans in general” and forced me to acknowledge my own heart’s barrenness and need for grace.

  37. Danielle

    I am a fan of Flannery O’Connor, but i can understand why a lot of people have a hard time with her. For one, she’s not a lazy read. You have to work to pull out and understand the epiphanies and moments of grace. She has to be studied rather than read. And she is dark, perhaps, but that leads me into one of my biggest critiques of the church when it comes to the way we choose our literature. So many are afraid of the dark, afraid to look at the world with honesty for fear of being contaminated. But if we are afraid to acknowledge evil, then we cheapen the beauty of redemption. Without sin, where is our need of a savior? I think Flannery O’Connor set out to rectify this misperception in her works. The more vivid the darkness, the more radiant the light when it appears.

  38. Ugly Biscuit

    Yo Danielle, I am a word-nerd too! I just took a bath in a big tub of “Catchpenny” and I just ate a “Prestidigitator” for dinner!

    So I’ve decided we have to be friends. There, its done!

    By the way, your blog is visually stunning! Love the main pic!

  39. Jen

    Hannah: thanks for the suggestions! I’ll have to look for those. I do enjoy reading letters sometimes to get a sense of who the writer was, so maybe that will help. And I can give The Violent Bear It Away a try too. Maybe last year’s mission was to read her, and this year’s is to understand her. 🙂

    BuckBuck: that’s a great theory about the Tower of Babel! Makes sense to me. I’ve been around enough engineer types to understand (and wonder what it’s like to have that kind of brain!) and how amazing to think God has gifted people to speak different heart languages to share his grace. It doesn’t leave much room to be too critical of each other and how we express ourselves, does it?

    EmmaJ: it’s the magic of HTML! (I know a tiny amount of engineer/programming language :)) here’s a website that tells you how to do it. http://www.tizag.com/htmlT/htmlitalic.php
    Hope that helps!

  40. Dryad

    Danielle’s post illuminated my difficulties with Flannery O’Connor. To wit, she said: The more vivid the darkness, the more radiant the light when it appears.
    My problem is that, no matter how hard I try, I cannot find the light in her stories. I agree with all of Danielle’s points, except that through the vivid darkness, I do not see the light. I do not know if the problem is with me; I am usually able to discern Truth in books, but O’Connor has defied my efforts.

  41. Peter Br

    Heh… just pulled out my copy of Complete Stories and found my bookmark. Apparently, I had read exactly ten stories, which put the bookmark at A Good Man is Hard to Find.

    Emma: my apologies for not getting back to you earlier, but it appears that Jen has already revealed that particular mystery to you. Enjoy your newfound power; use it for good, and not for evil.

  42. Ugly Biscuit

    All kidding aside Pete, I have a book out there and its dying a slow death. Its rife with God’s love and encased in rhyme and sharp wit.

    It’s called, “Riggleberry Bloke and other silly whatknots.” Its for everyone with a pulse, much like Jesus and Pixar.

    If I sent you a copy would you or someone Rabbity please review it on this creative site?

    Yours truly,
    Mr. Dying a slow death cause nobody knows about me.

  43. Jen

    Peter Br: And by “evil” you mean italicizing random words that have no reason to be italicized, right? (Same applies for the bold tag!) 😛

  44. Peter Br

    Yes, Jen.

    That is exactly what I mean.

    Darn it, this blog engine doesn’t support many annoying tags.

  45. Jen

    EPIC WIN WONDERDUCK!

    (yeah, it doesn’t support the best/worst… I really wanted that to blink. The designers of this comment system were very wise.)

  46. Jonathan Rogers

    Well, Peter Br, I hope you get a chance to dig into Flannery O’s stories beyond your bookmark.

    Thanks, everybody, for your remarks about Flannery. They will help guide my approach as I finish up this book. Most helpful.

  47. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Ugly Biscuit,

    Have you considered simply posting a friend’s review as well as a sample chapter in an easily-accessible place on your blog? Since you are linking your URL to your name with every post, we could all just click and see what it’s all about there.

    I LOVE clicking on the different RR names when people post. It’s so much fun finding out what everyone is writing/thinking. There are tons of wonderful writers here, and it’s like a gold mine digging around in what folks are doing.

    Jonathan Rogers and S.D. Smith’s sites have me giggling every time I click. And there are also many hidden treasures among the quieter voices among us.

    ‘Just a thought. I think you might be new here, so I wasn’t sure you realized this was an option.

  48. Ugly Biscuit

    Yes you, Pete Peterson. My questions thrown out in your direction had started to pile up in the unread/unanswered corner of this wonderful Brown blog. And I was starting to think you didn’t like or have time for little crumbs of nothing like myself. (What with being incredibly famous and all!) In one comment, i was just curious about some of your favorite movies since you are a movie maven/lover. Harmless query i should think.
    And my other question is # 53. on this post.

    Just a brother in Christ trying to get help from another brother in Christ.

  49. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Sorry, UB. I don’t always read every comment. Posts like Jason’s last week were an exception because of the nature of the comments coming in.

    Favorite movies? That’s a broad question but I consider Magnolia, King of Kong, and Lonesome Dove among them.

    You’re welcome to send your book to us at orders@rabbitroom.com with the understanding that we are VERY particular about the things we review and we can’t make any sort of commitment. Don’t take that as any sort of judgment on your work, take it as an indication of how busy we are planning things like Hutchmoot, Rabbit Room podcasts, the new website, several new books, and trying to maintain a healthy personal life in the spaces between.

  50. Ugly Biscuit

    You can go to Youtube and type in Riggleberry Bloke and my vid pops up. Its me talking and making music with my mouth. Also my 4 week old daughter is in vid.

    I’m on iTunes as well.

    This message is for Pete Yesyou and the Buckster.

  51. Jonathan Rogers

    Hey, Ugly Biscuit, I don’t think you realize what a difficult position you’re putting Pete in. A large portion of the readers and commenters on the Rabbit Room have written books, poetry, and/or books of poetry. One of the things that makes this site so special is that all those creative people are talking and interacting and cracking each other up without insisting that their books get read or reviewed.

    You’re very welcome here, Ugly Biscuit. We want to hear what you have to say. But the culture of the Rabbit Room is that you get people’s attention by contributing to the conversation at hand. BuckBuck is right: a whole web of relationships has grown from people clicking on one another’s names when they have said something insightful or interesting. It’s a hard thing to have written a book and to feel that nobody knows who you are. The Rabbit Room is one place to let people know who you are, but here things develop more in the way that actual friendships develop. Which takes time.

    I know you were joking when you spoke of yourself as an insignificant crumb next to Pete’s fame, but again, it’s not a fair joke. I happen to know that Pete is covered up at the moment and can’t reply to every comment, even if he saw it (which he may or may not have).

    Anyway, Ugly Biscuit, welcome to the Rabbit Room, and we look forward to hearing more of what you have to say on the topics that are raised here.

  52. Ugly Biscuit

    JR…..I in no way would try to rub anyone the wrong way or overstep my boundaries. I don’t know many people like me. And i found some here on the RR. I am not 21 either, that is to say, just starting out. Different people according to God’s will, suffer differently. Mine have been forever! 14 years of waiting. I don’t always, with what I’ve shouldered and survived, have the luxury of waiting another year to become fast friends. If you knew me, if you met me you would see what, (by the grace of God. 1 Cor 15:10) I can do, what gifts that i had been given. Yet here i sit, waist-deep in the waiting asking for a modicum of help.

    You would be surprised at how many christians in high places have turned their backs on me or promised a reading gig and then reneged at the last second.
    Its been hard and i was just asking for help.

    It would be different if i didn’t have a book or something along those lines. I’m just saying read it, tell someone about it, these aren’t massive favors do you think?

    Forgive me if I have offended anyone.

    Thanks for your comments and your rabbit-ears.

  53. Jess

    Ugly Biscuit–you’re doing good. You’ve been waiting on God for fourteen years. God will make a way–you don’t have to make one for yourself. Be patient; God’ll work it out for you. You don’t have to try and try and try and try. Just rest for now, and trust God to work it out. You’ve done it for fourteen years; you can do it longer still with God’s strength!
    🙂
    Right now, in this post, we’re talking about Flannery O’Connor and Jonathan Rogers. Your time will come. I understand that “a hope deferred maketh the heart sick,” but you’ve got God on your side to help you out. Keep on plugging, keep on waiting, keep on praying!
    🙂

  54. Fellow Traveler

    Jon, let me see if I can help here: You’re feeling (understandably) rather frustrated that nothing has materialized and not many people know about your book. It also sounds like some people have treated you unfairly.

    But at the same time, you’re making Pete and Jonathan feel bad by trying to push them to make time for you when they are having enough difficulty juggling the tasks of their daily lives. It’s not like they don’t care about you, and it’s not like they are intentionally ignoring you. As BuckBuck said, we’d love to read about your book if you discussed it on the blog everyone can click to through your name. In the meanwhile, some of the things you’ve said here come off as guilt-tripping. I’m not saying that this is what you were trying to do, just saying that’s how they appear to someone looking on.

    We sincerely wish you nothing but the best, and we hope you’ll stick around.

  55. Ashley Elizabeth

    Buck Buck and J. Rodgers-
    True story. I read through the comments on Sat and spent some time trying to fit the definitions of “eisegesis” and “exegesis” into my head. After some time, I filed it away into the “probably never going to write those words in a speech so I don’t need to know them” file.

    Fast forward 24 hours when I start reading Pope Benedict’s new book. First 4 pages? He uses “exegesis” at least 10 times.

    You never know when the Rabbit Room will sneak into your life and make a home there.

  56. Loren

    Finally! I couldn’t load the Rabbit Room all day yesterday, and hadn’t had time to write the day before….

    I would probably consider myself a Flannery O’Connor illiterate, even though I love literature, my undergrad degree was secondary-education English, and I taught American literature for a couple years. I know I have read (and perhaps taught) more than one O’Connor story, but the only one I remember well was “Good Country People” (and even that I had to search for to find the right title).

    I’m not sure where to lay the blame for this ignorance; I think it’s partly my personality and partly how it was taught. My main lit prof in college was a godly, elderly gentleman who was passionate about literature; he was a dear, and he knew vast oceans beyond anything I’ll probably ever know, but he didn’t communicate it very clearly. He would hand out pages of notes to “learn” before a test and then expect us to write detailed essays that related more to the notes than class discussion. O’Connor was a prime example. I didn’t like the story (“Good Country People”) which probably had to do with my personality–all I got out of it was the vulgarity of the “Christian’s” behavior. I knew head-knowledge-wise that O’Connor was a Christian, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t do well on the essay question that related to the story–I think it had something to do with the symbolism. All I have a vivid memory of was my prof afterward asking how I could have missed the symbolism of the two hills seen out a barn window. Of COURSE they were a symbol of breasts and fertility (or something like that). I was boggled. (And it wasn’t like symbolism was new to me; I usually drank it up!)

    And that, I’m afraid, is about all I got from Flannery O’Connor. I seem to remember reading “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” too, but I don’t remember anything more than that…. I look forward to being enlightened in a better way!

  57. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Ugly Bisquit,

    I can empathize with your pain. It’s so awful to feel called strongly to something, but then to face one closed door after another. I have never written a book, but I have pursued some other loves without success. Those can be dark, lonely nights of the soul that raise searing questions.

    Have you ever seen the movie Amadeus? It’s not historically accurate, but this was still my favorite film when I was a child. I bet I watched it 25 times.

    I couldn’t get over the horror of watching one man wanting to create so badly while NOT having the world open to him… as this little bratty wretch simply received the gift with zero effort. It didn’t fit the math of what I had been taught about how God worked. It didn’t seem fair; and yet it seemed similar to the Prodigal son story somehow. I couldn’t look away from it.

    It’s ironic that what happened in Salieri’s heart nearly happened in mine a few decades later. I won’t go into details, but there was a time when I felt so rejected and misunderstood by God that I became angry at Him. “Why did you GIVE me this bottomless passion AND a sense of calling if You didn’t want to bless it?” I cried out to Him.

    I worked harder. I tried harder. I tried to stay optimistic. I cried out again. “I’m doing everything I physically can to give my gift back to You, but the doors keep shutting.”

    When I read what you wrote to Pete, I remembered crying out something very similar to God at one point. I now see how God’s refusal to let me break into the “system” through my effort (or the efforts of others) was one of His deepest, most tangible manifestations of love in my life. Me fueling my own success would have been a poison to my soul, and so God protected me from it. I hope He always will.

    By writing this, I’m not trying to say that what was true of my heart is true of yours. You likely have totally different struggles altogether. My hope is that by sharing my weaknesses with you, there might be some comfort somehow.

    God loves you, and He has a purpose for you. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if when you get to the bottom of the pain you are experiencing right now, if that is the very soil God chooses to use to grow the most abundant creative fruit of all. He is such a master of making beauty from the ashes.

    I want to write something more about “trying,” and God’s abundance, and being loved. But it will take me at least a day or two to really process what I want to say there…

    Praying for you, friend. Don’t lose heart. Keep updating that blog. 🙂

  58. Ugly Biscuit

    Okay, REALLY thanks for sharing part of your clandestine life with me. My soul is now sweeter and my health is that much better having ingested but a soupcon of your teeming kindness.

    I will place upon my blog, more of what you suggest.

    Again, thanks.

  59. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Ashley Elizabeth!

    I love talking about gesis! (Say that out loud.)

    No kidding, I think it’s worth your time to check it out. It’s one of the most important concepts a reader can understand.

    So often folks push their own desires into what they are reading, trying to force a piece to say something it doesn’t. It’s hard to be humble enough to truly listen.

    Want my useless opinion of the day? I’m convinced that women with PMS essentially have eisegesis issues. Understanding this could save most husbands 12 fights a year.

    Joe says: “Wow, hun. Are those jeans new?”

    Eisegesis PMS Jill says: “Are you trying to tell me they make my butt look big? Are you? Are you? Well, I’m sorry. If you would get home from work a little earlier and help out with the housework sometimes, maybe I could get a decent chance to work out once in a while. Just because I’m old. Just because I wear mom jeans… I heard you say “jeans” like “mom jeans”… I know what you meant. (Jill runs crying from the room.)”

    Exegesis Jill says: “Yes. They are new. Why do you ask?”

    That’s the basic concept. Man, I really hope my favorite lit prof from college never reads Rabbit Room.

  60. Ugly Biscuit

    Buck, one thing i really like about you! I see this same quality in me.

    And that is, you will utter anything that’s on your mind. Like already i’ve heard you say, “Testicles and PMS” all within a one week span! You go with those red drapes!

  61. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    The Deut passage references that part of the anatomy, so I felt it was necessary for the point I was making about that verse. Not trying to push a boundary there. I didn’t think about PMS being a shocker… my apologies if those examples came across as crude or coarse. I do struggle with speaking too bluntly sometimes.

  62. EmmaJ

    So, I thought maybe it was time to give Flannery another chance, thanks to all this thoughtful discussion and stuff. Yesterday I used my Half Price Books 50% off coupon on a copy of The Habit of Being. I thought that reading her letters might be a good way to gain insight into her processes of creativity and thought. Or matters of general household maintenance and polite correspondence. That’s what I found when I flipped open the book, but I suspect there must be more to this hefty volume than matters of decor and etiquette.

  63. Manders

    Honestly, I didn’t get Flannery, either, until I read The Violent Bear It Away in college. My goodness. It’s dark, but the end is a blaze of fire. Hard, though, in that Southern Gothic kind of way.

  64. onemasta

    For a melancholic like myself, reading Flannery O’Connor was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand I could relate to her storytelling and it grabbed my attention, yet on the other hand it depressed me greatly, and left me with a morbid feeling for days. Genius? Most definitely! Yet I need some positive to offset the negative.

  65. Dan R.

    If I can contribute to the Rabbit Trail started up in 35 by BuckBuck…
    I was thinking about this while reading the first part of John 13 the other day, and it occurred to me that approaching it from this viewpoint gives an interesting take on this passage. In particular: “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean,” “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” and “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet,”. If Jesus’ washing symbolized the washing we receive in salvation through him, and if we are supposed to imitate his actions in washing one another’s feet, does anyone else see a connection to what was referred to as “translating the gospel to the many hidden tribes of the heart?”
    Just something to think about. Sorry if this is too much of a distraction from the main point of the thread.

  66. Dustin S.

    I realize this is probably way too late for it to be of any use, but for what it’s worth, I’ll share…

    I hadn’t read anything of Flannery O’Connor’s prior to this year. Upon getting a copy of the Complete Stories this past spring, I instantly loved it (though, as many of the other comments note, it isn’t always the easiest reading). I’ve since picked up Mystery and Manners, a collection of her essays and lectures on the topic of writing, among other things. I was blown away by her first essay, The King of Birds, which, if I’m reading between the lines correctly, is one instance where O’Connor attempts to provide her own answers to your question about difficulties readers have.

    She gives several subtle examples of negative reactions people have to the peacocks she raised, which I take to be a representation of her form of literature. I kept waiting, as I read it, for an Annie Dillard-like discussion that would tie the symbolism to her writing. But, of course, that isn’t her style.

    Anyways, I’m sure your biography is complete by now. But, if nothing else, I wanted to point others to this fantastic and lesser-known essay of O’Connor’s. It’s one I’m sure I’ll never forget.

  67. Jen

    Dustin: I was thinking about Flannery O and this post recently, so I appreciate the recommendation. 🙂 I was thinking about revisiting one of the original short story collections soon (instead of the massive complete stories… Maybe it’ll be easier in small doses.) This sounds like a good companion read. Thanks!

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