Flannery O’Connor

1925 - 1964





Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, the only child of a Catholic family. The spiritual heritage of her family and the region profoundly shaped O'Connor's writing. 

O'Connor's father, Edward F. O'Connor, was a realtor owner who died in 1941, when Flannery was fifteen. She attended the
Peabody High School and enrolled in the Georgia State College for Women. At school she edited the college magazine and graduated in 1945 with an A.B. O'Connor then continued her studies at the University of Iowa, where she attended writer's workshops conducted by Paul Engle.

In 1946, at the age of 21, she published her first short story, “The Geranium.”  In the following year she received the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Literature. Following her graduation, she lived for seven months at Yaddo,
Saratoga Springs, N.Y., an estate left by the Trask family for writers, painters and musicians. O'Connor published four chapters of Wise Blood in Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review, and Partisan Review in 1948 and 1949. The complete novel appeared 1952. (It was made into a movie in 1979.)

O'Connor absorbed such thinkers as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-195), George Santayana (1863-1952), and Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). During her time in New York she befriended Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, two other literary Roman Catholics. She lived and wrote in their house in Ridgefield, Connecticut until illness redirected her life in 1951.

In 1950 O'Connor had suffered her first attack from disseminated lupus, the debilitating blood disease that had killed her father. In 1951 she returned to Milledgeville where she lived with her mother on her dairy farm. In spite of the illness, O'Connor continued to write and occasionally she lectured about creative writing in colleges. "I write every day for at least two hours," she said in an interview in 1952, "and I spend the rest of my time largely in the society of ducks."  As the fruit of these labors, O'Connor's second novel, The Violent Bear It Away appeared in 1960, and also explored darkly grotesque, religious and violent characters.  O'Connor once explained that "I can write about Protestant believers better than Catholic believers - because they express their belief in diverse kinds of dramatic action which is obvious enough for me to catch. I can't write about anything subtle."


Lupus kept O’Connor in relative ill health; from around 1955 she was forced to use crutches.  An abdominal operation reactivated the lupus and O'Connor died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39. Her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published posthumously in 1965. O'Connor's letters, published as The Habit of Being (1979), reveal her conscious craftsmanship in writing and the role of Roman Catholicism in her life.



Selected Works

Historical Background



Wise Blood (novel, 1952)

A Good Man Is Hard To Find  (collection of short stories, 1955)  
The Violent Bear It Away (novel, 1960)  
Everything That Rises Must Converge (collection of short stories, 1965).  
Mystery and Manners  (nonfiction prose, eds. Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, 1969).  
 The Habit of Being   (collection of O’Connor’s letters, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, 1979)

O’Connor lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s and through America’s involvement with WW II.  In her lifetime many rural communities first received electricity and running hot water. Her life touched on the social revolution of the 1960s, and most particularly, the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which radiated outward from the South. Her contemporaries among Southern writers included Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Walker Percy.


Literary Criticism


Flannery O'Connor belonged to the Southern Gothic tradition that focused on the decaying South and its damned people. O'Connor's body of work was small, consisting of only thirty-one stories, two novels, some prose, speeches and letters. O'Connor's short stories have been considered her finest work. With A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (1955) she came to be regarded as a master of the form.

O'Connor’s writing, often labeled grotesque and violent, is nevertheless "Christian."  On first perusal of her works, the horrific deaths, the empty, cruel, narcissistic characters and the unresolved endings might seem at variance with an expression of deep religious faith.  However, Miss O'Connor in referring to a short story, said, "About this I can only say that there are perhaps other ways than my own in which this story could be read, but none other by which it could have been written. Belief, in my own case anyway, is the engine that makes perception operate."  This engine of belief, generating painfully sharp perceptions of flawed human nature, is present in all her works. Moreover, the extreme use of violence served her vision of a greater spiritual reality. In a letter written to Winifred McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor writes, "There is a moment in every great story in which the presence of grace can be felt as it waits to be accepted or rejected, even though the reader may not recognize this moment."  In an essay in which she discusses "A Good Man is Hard to Find", O’Connor says: "The heroine of the story, the Grandmother, is in the most significant position life offers the Christian. She is facing death."  Critic Carter W. Martin notes, "Most of [O’Connor’s] short stories are constructed in such a way as to dramatize the sinfulness and the need for grace... [they] delineate two different kinds of grace normally received by the characters, ‘prevenient’ grace- which moves the will spontaneously, making it incline to God--and ‘illuminating’ grace, by which God enlightens men to bring them nearer to eternal life." 

Commenting on the racism embedded in Southern writing and culture, novelist Alice Walker adds further analysis of O’Connor’s body of work:  the “essential O'Connor is not about race at all, which is why it is so refreshing, coming, as it does, out of such a racial culture. If it can be said to be ‘about’ anything, then it is ‘about’ prophets and prophecy, ‘about’ revelation, and ‘about’ the impact of supernatural grace on human beings who don't have a chance of spiritual growth without it..”


See Also


The Eternal Crossroads: The Art of Flannery O'Connor by L.V. Driskell and J.T. Brittain (1971).

Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque,  Gilbert H. Muller. (Athens, GA, University of Georgia Press), 1972.

Flannery O'Connor's Characters by Laurence Enjolras (1998).

Flannery O'Connor: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide, ed. by Harold Bloom (1999).

Flannery O'Connor: A Life by Jean W. Cash (2002).

Online Critical Articles:  http://www.ipl.org/div/litcrit/bin/litcrit.out.pl?au=o'c-239





Younger:  http://www.stpauls.it/letture/0408let/images/0408l121.jpg
Older:   http://www.fantasticfictionimages.co.uk/images/0/2160.jpg



Selected Works


Historical Background


Literary Criticism