Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor

After reading Mystery and Manners I went on to read the rather large colume of the letters or correspondence of Flannery O’Connor.

The last letter was written a few days before her death at age 37 from lupus (her father died of the same disease.) When I read that last letter, I felt like I had lost a dear friend.

Flannery’s letters are funny, familiar, professional, and sometimes, very spirited – especially when the matter had to do with writing fiction and art. She writes from her country home, where she lived with her mother, Regina, outside of Atlanta, GA. (I am writing while on the road and don’t have specific references with me.) She refers to the peacocks or peafowl that she raised for years; the cows and other farm animals her mother raised; the farm worker families who came and went, the political situation of her times, the coming Vatican Council II, her friends, her pilgrimage to Europe, and sometimes about the disease that took her life so early.

I have some quotes from her letters saved on my laptop and I want to share some of them here. Again, if you are a writer of any kind, get a copy of this book, and read a few pages a day. Have a highlighter near by; you’ll probably find many of her sayings you’ll wnat to remember:

“Fiction is the concrete expression of mystery – mystery that is lived. Catholics believe that all creation is good and that evil is the wrong use of good and that without Grace we use it [good] wrong most of the time. It is almost impossible to write about supernatural grace in fiction. We almost have to approach it negatively. As to natural Grace, we have to take that the way it comes – through nature. In any case, it [Grace] operates surrounded by evil. “ 

 The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it. I didn’t make this up. I got it from St. Thomas [Aquinas] (via Maritain) who shows that art is wholly concerned with the good of that which is made; it has no utilitarian end. If you manage to use it successfully for social, religious or other purposes, it is because you made it art first.    

“It is what is invisible that God sees and that the Christian must look for. Because he knows the consequences of sin, he knows how deep you have to go to find love. “ 

 “… I am to give a talk on the dizzying subject – ‘What is a Wholesome Novel?’  I intend to tell them that the reason they find nothing but obscenity in modern fiction is because that is all they know how to recognize.”

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