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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes to ashes

Flannery O' Connor meant a great deal to me as a young woman, and probably some day I will have to go back to her. The only book of hers I've reread in the past decade is her wondrous book of essays, Mystery and Manners. Here are some quotes from it in honor of Ash Wednesday.

The Regional Writer: When Walker Percy won the National Book Award, newsmen asked him why there were so many good Southern writers and he said, ‘Because we lost the War.’ He didn’t mean by that simply that a lost war makes good subject matter. What he was saying was that we have had our Fall. We have gone into the modern world with an inburnt knowledge of human limitations and with a sense of mystery...

On Her Own Work: I have found, in short, from the reading of my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.

The Grotesque in Southern Fiction: There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted and lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his senses tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.

The Regional Writer: The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.

Click on her name below if you can't get enough of Miss Flannery of Milledgeville.


  1. It's getting to be time for me to do some re-reading too. I had my hand on "Everthing that Rises Must Converge" the other day, in fact, but something else made it off the bookshelf first. I love that quote about her own work! But more so, what she says to us about redemption and its cost. I wonder what year she wrote that, and whether it holds true anymore in fiction at all. I do think it still holds true for readers, but that doesn't mean that writers are giving it to them -- and eventually, the desire (or even awareness of it as a storytelling option) may be lost for readers too. I've been thinking about this in terms of television drama as I watch the much-talked about new series, House of Cards, about political behavior in Washington. Many awful acts of betrayal, lying, violence, and using others -- and worse -- and few instances or opportunities for redemption, but we shall see.

  2. She has wonderful, pithy things to say, doesn't she? I can't find my book now... Or I'd check and see if they have original publications and dates for the essays. My books have legs and scuttle off.

    Did you read Elie's NYT article about fiction and faith? And D. G. Myers and lots of others wrote responses...

    I'm not versed in television, but that sounds believable as how things would be portrayed these days.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.