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Happy Birthday Flannery O’Connor

Born 88 years ago today, she still cracks me up:

Letter dated Oct 20, 1955: “The enclosed should help you. I don’t want it back. I am the one on the left; the one on the right is the Muse. This is a copy of a self-portrait I painted three years ago. Nobody admires my painting much but me. Of course this is not exactly the way I look but it’s the way I feel. It’s better looked at from a distance.”

Letter dated Oct 30, 1955: “I first sent Harper’s Bazaar my self portrait and can you imagine, they said: this is not exactly what we want, a little stiff, couldn’t you send us a snapshot? I also sent it to Harpercourt Brace to use on the jacket of my book. They said: this is a little odd, we don’t think it would increase the sale of the stories.”

Letter dated June 19, 1963: “In the self portrait that is not a peacock. That’s a pheasant cock. I used to raise pheasants but they got too much for me as they require attention and have to be caged. The peacocks take care of themselves. But I like very much the look of the pheasant cock. He has horns and a face like the devil. The self-portrait was made ten years ago, after a very acute siege of lupus. I was taking cortisone which gives you what they call a moon-face and my hair had fallen out to a large extent from the high fever, so I looked pretty much like the portrait. When I painted it I didn’t look either at myself in the mirror or at the bird. I knew what we both looked like.”

Flannery O’Connor: Self-Portrait

Letter dated Oct 20, 1955: “The enclosed should help you. I don’t want it back. I am the one on the left; the one on the right is the Muse. This is a copy of a self-portrait I painted three years ago. Nobody admires my painting much but me. Of course this is not exactly the way I look but it’s the way I feel. It’s better looked at from a distance.”

Letter dated Oct 30, 1955: “I first sent Harper’s Bazaar my self portrait and can you imagine, they said: this is not exactly what we want, a little stiff, couldn’t you send us a snapshot? I also sent it to Harpercourt Brace to use on the jacket of my book. They said: this is a little odd, we don’t think it would increase the sale of the stories.”

Letter dated June 19, 1963: “In the self portrait that is not a peacock. That’s a pheasant cock. I used to raise pheasants but they got too much for me as they require attention and have to be caged. The peacocks take care of themselves. But I like very much the look of the pheasant cock. He has horns and a face like the devil. The self-portrait was made ten years ago, after a very acute siege of lupus. I was taking cortisone which gives you what they call a moon-face and my hair had fallen out to a large extent from the high fever, so I looked pretty much like the portrait. When I painted it I didn’t look either at myself in the mirror or at the bird. I knew what we both looked like.”

On Lame Christian Fiction

Flannery O’Connor writes in Mystery and Manners, page 163:

“Ever since there have been such things as novels, the world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process as possible. His feeling about this may have been made more definite by one of those Manichean-type theologies which sees the natural world as unworthy of penetration. But the real novelist, the one with an instinct for what he is about, knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly, that he must penetrate the natural human world as it is.”

Fictional Reality

“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.”

—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969) pp. 77–78.

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