Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Letters of Flannery O’Connor: the Habit of Being

Recently a friend and I wondered together what will happen to the study of history—be it literary or social—with no letters to document what we think of the world. She and I are were letter writers. So it’s probably not much of a stretch for us to bemoan the loss of letters that were a reflection of the times (John and Abigail Adams, etc.) or a commentary on writing.

This conversation sent me right to a fat book sitting on my shelf: the letters of writer Flannery O’Connor. Although there isn’t a lot of mulling on world events, or even local goings-on here, reading about O’Connor’s writing and her editing and submission process makes me think how the more things change, the more they remain the same. (As my grandmother used to say.)

Also noteworthy, Flannery O’Connor was a poor speller, and she knew it. Even if we save our emails forever, there’s not much chance the spelling won’t have beeen corrected. Reading some of this writer’s (and there truly weren’t many) funny, Southern, exaggerated spellings just made her seem like she was somebody you knew well, writing to a friend. And that friend could be you.

So I offer up a few tidbits, written between 1948 up to her death in 1964, back and forth with her agent, publisher, friends, strangers. Straight from O’Connor’s letters:

After submitting her manuscript to a publisher:
“I had a note…asking how the book was coming. This seems to be a question that extends itself over the years.”

Later, upon her publisher re-issuing the novel, asking if there are revisions she’d like to make:
“I can’t even make myself read the thing again. I am just going to say NO there ain’t any. You can’t rewrite something you wrote ten years ago. And there will be no introduction, as I can’t even read the book, I sure can’t write an introduction.”

Remarking on a student’s letter saying she would appreciate it if Miss O’Connor would explain what enlightenment she should get out of the stories assigned by her professor, as she couldn’t read them:
“This is the kind of letter that leaves me beyond exasperation. I finally wrote her a note and said that my expectation of anyone’s getting enlightenment out of them was mighty limited and I’d be glad if she could just enjoy them and not make problems in algebra out of them.”

Of course, the student showed the letter to her professor.
“Apparently they had a big argument about it…I had this same trouble in Texas. Every story is a frog in a bottle to them. I suppose it has to be that way…”

With the absence of TV and internet in my house this week, I’ve been filling my time with reading. I highly recommend this giving up of technology for a few days, though in the interest of full disclosure, I do have an emergency iPhone. I have been checking occasional emails and Facebook posts.

But mostly I’ve been reading and writing. And loving it.


Patricia said...

Gusty, I appreciate your posting. I think for me, the act of writing a letter makes me think so much more about audience and thus voice than I might do with a quick email or perhaps Facebook - (I can't speak here with authority since I am not a member of Facebook).

Writing a letter also helps me create a narrative to perserve, perhaps understand, and make special the events of my daily life in my own mind as well as sharing them with another.

Here's to Flannery! I will get the book. Thank you!


Augusta Scattergood said...

Here I am 3 years later, just seeing this comment! And agreeing with every word. :)
Better late than never in responding to a letter, an email, or even a blogpost!