Flannery O’Connor In Her Own Words

It’s the birthday of the world’s foremost Hillbilly Thomist, Flannery O’Connor. She’d have been 88 today had she not been taken from us, all untimely-like.

In honor of the occasion, here’s a recording of Miss O’Connor reading a somewhat-truncated version of her own essay, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction” — a piece that, when paired with “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” has made her more explicable to me than anything else I’ve read (other than her stories, themselves). If you’re interested in the essay’s full, undiluted effect, however, you must read it. This recorded version is oddly-like-yet-simultaneously-unlike the original essay, and cuts out rather suddenly. (It also leaves out my favorite paragraph.) Still, the charm of this particular gem is not so much its content as it is the opportunity to hear Miss O’Connor speaking in her charmingly soft, Southern way.

When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.

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Just enough to whet your appetite? Don’t worry; there’s more. Here’s one of the two available recordings of Miss O’Connor performing her famous short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”

“Yes’m, The Misfit said as if he agreed. “Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course,” he said, “they never shown me my papers. That’s why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you’ll have something to prove you ain’t been treated right. I call myself The Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

A whole host of HT’s: Erika Rudzis, whose Tweet first reminded me that it was Miss O’Connor’s birthday; BavaTuesdays, the source of the essay clip itself; OpenCulture, for putting everything together in one comprehensive post; and The Numinist, who was the first person to notify me of the recordings’ existence many years ago.

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Christina

    “Jesus *thown* everything off balance.” Thanks for bringing Flannery O’Connor into Holy Week. She is such a good companion. Have you read her letters? They bring her and her work to life.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat/ Joseph Susanka

      I have, Christina. And I whole-heartedly agree. “The Habit of Being” is wonderful — both because it helps bring greater clarity to her fictional works, and because it shows her as so unlike (in some ways) the characters that populate those works.