Posts Tagged ‘Flannery O’Connor’

The teenage Flannery O’Connor: “I have so much to do that it scares me.”

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017
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Flannery O’Connor with Robie Macauley and Arthur Koestler in Iowa, 1947. (Photo: Cmacauley/Creative Commons)

Image, a journal headed by the estimable Gregory Wolfe, has a scoop in its fall issue: the never-before-published college journal kept by writer Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). According to Mark Bosco: “Four years ago my colleague Elizabeth Coffman and I embarked on a feature-length documentary about O’Connor’s life and work, and so we found ourselves at Emory University, where O’Connor’s archive had recently found a home. We already had over thirty hours of recorded interviews … It was time to see – and to touch – the physical objects of her life and photograph them for use in our documentary. We found in a box a Sterling notebook, standard issue for students in those days, inscribed ‘Higher Mathematics I.’ On perusing it we discovered an earlier attempt at a journal when O’Connor was just eighteen years old and already at Georgia State College for Women. She wrote her first dated entry during her Christmas Break, on December 29, 1943, and her last is marked February 6, 1944 – in all, a mere thirty pages. Reading it, you see O’Connor trying out the journal form as a way to examine her thoughts.”

It’s not online, so here is a short excerpt from “Higher Mathematics: An Introduction.” (And you can get a copy of the issue here.)

From the January 19, 1944 page in the journal:

I begin to wonder – what next? I have always wondered, but this wondering is different. This wondering sees me on the threshold of something or near it. I realize for the first time that all these knots must be untied – all this tangle unstrung – and me got out of the middle of it.”

I don’t like to write about things that make me lonesome. Yet they are so big – to me now. I hate to think of saying “goodbye” – the actual mechanics of the thing grieve me more than the loss. The way the rest will do – what they may say. If I should begin to feel sorry for myself – however erroneously – I could easily move myself to a liquid-eyed condition, and that would be disastrous. I have such an affection for myself. It is second only to the one I have for Regina [her mother]. No one else approaches it. I realize that joyfully just now. If I loved anyone as much or more than myself and he were to leave, I would be too unhappy to want myself to advance; as it is, I look forward to many profitable hours. I have so much to do that it scares me.

She was already beginning to experience the symptoms of lupus, which she mistook for arthritis. She was diagnosed with the disease, which had killed her father, in 1952, and lived for another dozen years – five more than expected. She died at 39.

A novelist? “He knows no obligations of honor.”

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
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Joseph and Marguerite Frank, chuckling in their apartment. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Another sunny autumn day in Palo Alto.  And yes, California’s reputation for non-seasons notwithstanding, there were buckets of crisp red and orange and yellow leaves everywhere.

I spent the late afternoon chatting at a Stanford cafe with Marguerite and Joe Frank, the preeminent Dostoevsky scholar of our era, and the author of a big, thick, multi-volume biography.

Joe was in a wheelchair, wearing a black baseball cap that had “Crime and Punishment” embroidered in white Roman type across the front – a souvenir from a film crew. The longtime Paris denizen told me the cap was a good way to ferret out the Americans in France; they react to the title. Meanwhile, Marguerite advised me where to find Romanesque architecture in southern France next month.

Conversation inevitably turned Slavic.  Joe recalled Czesław Miłosz‘s visit to campus, some years ago.  The Polish poet thought highly of the Dostoevsky scholar – and said so in his address.  Miłosz taught Dostoevsky at Berkeley for years, but why is a little of a mystery.  Robert Hass told me a decade ago:  “Some of us asked him if he’d read Flannery O’Connor, and he said no. Had he read so-and-so? ‘No.’ And finally he said, ‘You know, I don’t agree with the novel.’ That’s a different way of thinking.”

It wasn’t the only different way of thinking on the subject of Dostoevsky.  I was reminded me of something I found this morning, while doing some reading for my upcoming talk on Miłosz at the British Academy.  From the Paris Review interview with the poet and Robert Faggen:

 

Without honor?

INTERVIEWER

Since then you have been uninterested in writing novels. You seem to have a quarrel with the genre. Why?

MILOSZ

It’s an impure form. I taught Dostoyevsky at Berkeley for twenty years. A born novelist, he would sacrifice everything; he knows no obligations of honor. He would put anything in a novel. Dostoyevsky created a character in The Idiot, General Ivolgin, who is a liar and tells stories—how he lost his leg in a war, how he buried his leg, and then what he inscribed on the tombstone. The inscription is taken from the tomb of Dostoyevsky’s mother. There you have a true novelist. I couldn’t do that.