O’Connor, Flannery

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) stunned readers with her morally driven stories peopled with grotesque characters. Even while stricken with lupus, she wrote every day, producing a body of work that included two novels and more than thirty short stories. She was also an avid book reviewer, penning more than 100 reviews for various publications.

Although she lived a somewhat sheltered life, O’Connor’s work depicted subtleties of human behavior with razor precision. Her dark humor wasn’t appreciated by all — its religious overtones (she was a devout Catholic) were highly provocative. Today, her work is still much discussed because of its detail, symbolism and imagery. Her work is categorized as “Southern Gothic,” and relies heavily on regional themes. O’Connor famously said: “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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Flannery O’Connor Quotes

“I am a writer because writing is the thing I do best.”

“I write to discover what I know.”

“The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience.”

“Not-writing is a good deal worse than writing.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

“Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“I’m not afraid the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.”

“When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”

“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always 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.”

“The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to live.”

“There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself.” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

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

“The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence.”

“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.” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

“Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.” (Wise Blood, 1952)

“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”

“The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode.”

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”

“Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do. Bad manners are better than no manners at all, and because we are losing our customary manners, we are probably overly conscious of them; this seems to be a condition that produces writers.”

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

“To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

“At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.”

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

“I have found, in short, from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil. I have also found that what I write is read by an audience which puts little stock either in grace or the devil. You discover your audience at the same time and in the same way that you discover your subject, but it is an added blow.” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”

“Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

“The truth doesn’t change according to our ability to stomach it.”

“Conviction without experience makes for harshness.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“Art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.”

“I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“I preach there are all types of truth, your truth and somebody else’s. But behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there’s no truth.” (Wise Blood, 1952)

“It is better to be young in your failures than old in your successes.”

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.”

“It seems that the fiction writer has a revolting attachment to the poor, for even when he writes about the rich, he is more concerned with what they lack than with what they have.”

“Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“I love a lot of people, understand none of them…” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

“All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” (A Good Man is Hard to Find: And Other Stories, 1955)

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

“Grace changes us and change is painful.”

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” (Collected Stories, 1971)

“People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them.”

“I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

“If you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you.”

“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 or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”(Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

“The Catholic novelist in the South will see many distorted images of Christ, but he will certainly feel that a distorted image of Christ is better than no image at all. I think he will feel a good deal more kinship with backwoods prophets and shouting fundamentalists than he will with those politer elements for whom the supernatural is an embarrassment and for whom religion has become a department of sociology or culture or personality development.”

“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”

“Most of us have learned to be dispassionate about evil, to look it in the face and find, as often as not, our own grinning reflections with which we do not argue, but good is another matter. Few have stared at that long enough to accept that its face too is grotesque, that in us the good is something under construction. The modes of evil usually receive worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with a cliche or a smoothing down that will soften their real look.”

“I don’t think literature would be possible in a determined world. We might go through the motions but the heart would be out of it. Nobody could then ‘smile darkly and ignore the howls.’ Even if there were no Church to teach me this, writing two novels would do it. I think the more you write, the less inclined you will be to rely on theories like determinism. Mystery isn’t something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge.” (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, 1978)

 

 

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