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"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."
March 9, 2012 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Flannery O'Connor reads A Good Man is Hard to Find aloud at Vanderbilt University in 1959.

Mary Flannery O'Connor wrote two collections of short stories - A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge - and two full-length novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away). A devout Catholic in the deep and Protestant South, she also contributed regular essays and book reviews to the local diocesan newspapers. She wrote in what has come to be called the Southern Gothic tradition: grotesque and supremely flawed characters are nevertheless touched by moments of grace in a bleak and 'Christ-haunted' landscape.

O'Connor was diagnosed with Lupus in her 20s and lived many years longer than the doctors thought she would. She lived with her mother on the family farm near Milledgeville, Georgia, where she spent her time raising peacocks and other game birds, resting between lecture tours and voluminously corresponding with friends, colleagues and fans of her work. A single-volume collection of more than 800 of these letters, The Habit of Being, was published in 1988.

Flannery O'Connor died in 1964. Her mother, Regina, died in 1997.
posted by jquinby (36 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
Many years ago, teaching at a girl's college, one student, referred to that work as "A Hard Man is Good to Find...the class ended in hysterics.
posted by Postroad at 12:26 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


One time my wife and I were on a trip out West and decided to get even further away from the city lights and find some good quality dark to enjoy the stars. Eventually, once we were out in the country a bit, I pulled off down some side road, parked the car in a semi-abanoned industrial park, and got out.

After a few minutes of standing on this basically abandoned road watching the stars, my wife (who is very much a city girl) turns to me and says "Can we go? I'm afraid The Misfit's going to get us out here."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:32 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reading this in high school all I could think of was how unpleasant all of the characters were. It made figuring out who the "bad guy" was somewhat difficult, needless to say. Reading it again decades later didn't change that feeling one bit.
posted by tommasz at 12:46 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

Thanks for the post, jquinby. If I were publishing an anthology of literature and had to represent twentieth-century American in fifty pages, I would include "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", "The Artificial Nigger", and "A View of the the Woods", and let it go at that. This in spite of the fact that O'Connor's world view repels me.
posted by steambadger at 12:48 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's reference to this recording and a discussion of the literal "voice" of Flannery O'Connor in "Listening to Flannery O'Connor" by Dean Flower in Hudson Review 58:4 (January 2011), but as far as I know, it is not online.
posted by Jahaza at 12:49 PM on March 9, 2012


Well, not online for free, it's on Highbeam.
posted by Jahaza at 12:51 PM on March 9, 2012


We just read this story on Saturday. Our good buddy Phil recommended it saying "It's great! The scene with that guy taking off across the field carrying her wooden leg is just priceless!"
Trixie read it, sighed, looked at me and said "I don't know why Phil wanted us to read that story." I read it, saw nothing about a wooden leg and, indeed, not much funny about the story at all. When we told Phil he said "Huh. I wonder what story I was thinking about."
I've forgiven him because it was a good story, though dark. I stopped by the hospital on my lunch break today and gave him "Meely LaBauve" to read over the weekend while he waits for his heart to settle, and told him if he remembers the name of the wooden leg story to give me a call.
posted by Floydd at 1:03 PM on March 9, 2012


Thank you for this great link. I took a Short Stories english class during my 2nd or 3rd year of university and it was by far one of my favourite classes.

I always struggled with reading long books, but short stories by people like Flannery O'Connor, James Joyce, Chinua Achebe, Raymond Carver etc...truly resonated with me.
posted by livinglearning at 1:04 PM on March 9, 2012


(The wooden leg story would be "Good Country People")
posted by jquinby at 1:12 PM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


As a followup to "A Good Man is Hard to Find", highly recommend Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" .. equally creepy and similar, often anthologized. There's a audio recording online but $, still worthwhile, or try this.
posted by stbalbach at 1:13 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The Artificial Nigger"

Never understood that story.
posted by stbalbach at 1:15 PM on March 9, 2012


steambadger: “This in spite of the fact that O'Connor's world view repels me.”

That's odd – what about her world view repels you? I guess maybe the Catholicism.

stbalbach: “Never understood that story.”

I don't get it completely, either – there's little in Flannery O'Connor I really understand – but there are some very good things in it. It seems to indicate, for one thing, that racism is "artificial," that is, unnatural – and must be taught. That moment when the boy and his uncle are on the train and he sees a black man for the first time and is utterly unable to recognize him as "a nigger" without explicit coaching from his uncle rings loud and strong with truth and is one of the more memorable moments in fiction for me.
posted by koeselitz at 1:28 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


ObKilldozer
posted by whuppy at 1:30 PM on March 9, 2012


Flannery O'Connor. My test case for "Can you recognize genius in someone whose opinions you utterly cannot imagine sharing?"
posted by homerica at 1:34 PM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


homerica: “Flannery O'Connor. My test case for ‘Can you recognize genius in someone whose opinions you utterly cannot imagine sharing?’”

Weird. Everyone seems to think this, but I can't think of why Flannery O'Connor's opinions are so terrible and impossible to share. Can someone explain this to me?
posted by koeselitz at 1:36 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really love the hell out of this story.
posted by Artw at 1:42 PM on March 9, 2012


This is great. The huge laughter after the grandmother says they should broaden the children's world by taking them to East Tennessee is awesome!

Her reading is not the greatest, it's a bit rushed, but god, I love Flannery O'Connor and I love this story and I'm thrilled to listen to this.
posted by OmieWise at 2:03 PM on March 9, 2012


Huh, I see it was an extra on the Criterion Collection version of Wise Blood. That's an excellent movie, but I saw it before the Criterion Collection DVD was released.
posted by OmieWise at 2:05 PM on March 9, 2012


Floydd: “I read it, saw nothing about a wooden leg and, indeed, not much funny about the story at all.”

Seriously? Not much funny? Not even in the "east Tennessee" comment near the beginning? Not even in that awesome comment of the Misfit's that steambadger quoted, "She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life?" This is one of the funniest stories I've ever read.
posted by koeselitz at 2:08 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite story by my favorite author! Thanks!
posted by rough at 2:11 PM on March 9, 2012


"A Good Man Is Hard To Find" is one of my favorite short stories. I have her short story collection in the other room. I need to pick it up and read it again.

I love that there is no 'good guy' in the story. Much like life, the world is full of color- very few things are black and white. This story illustrated that. A movie that illustrates the same view, in my mind, is Black Robe.
posted by Nadie_AZ at 2:27 PM on March 9, 2012


That's odd – what about her world view repels you? I guess maybe the Catholicism.

Eh. Yes and no. Basically, it's the soteriology.

"Repels" was probably the wrong word. If I get a wild hair, I'll write more later.
posted by steambadger at 2:41 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Could be worse, you could be a Lovecraft fan.
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on March 9, 2012


If I get a wild hair, I'll write more later.

Please do - it's clear from her letters (I've been reading The Habit of Being for Lent) that it's the sort of discussion she would have relished.
posted by jquinby at 3:08 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Years ago, when it was my turn to choose a book in my book club, I excitedly choose A Good Man is Hard to Find. No one liked it.

I left the book club.
posted by Vaike at 4:07 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Floydd: “I read it, saw nothing about a wooden leg"

A Good Man is Hard to Find is also the name of the published collection of stories beginning with the one she reads in the link. The wooden leg one another story in the collection. Here's how it was written.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:14 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oooh, so neat to hear her voice. I have always been a big fan of her short stories, but, admittedly, just not this short story. It gives me the heebie jeebies too much and because of that, is my least favourite story of hers.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:26 PM on March 9, 2012


As a Catholic girl growing up in a mostly-Baptist town in rural Georgia, I always loved and appreciated Flannery O'Connor's stories.

My sister went to grad school in Milledgeville, and a few years ago I went there with my parents for her graduation. We took an afternoon to visit the O'Connor house and to go find Flannery's grave, which is in Memory Hill Cemetery. I was pleased that, even though the cemetery was empty and some of the graves were overgrown, her grave was covered in pennies, flowers, crucifixes, and notes. She's definitely Milledgeville's favorite daughter, even if she never entirely fit in there.
posted by zoetrope at 5:41 PM on March 9, 2012


I was struck by "Good Man" when i read it a few years ago. Later, i think i read that O'Connor meant the ending to be a sort of epiphany, the grandmother sees some good in the Misfit. My reading of it was totally different. To me the grandmother was deluding herself. It's interesting that the story worked powerfully for me even though it was not what O'Connor intended.

"Everything that Rises..." has an amazing ending. The last sentence is a stunner.
posted by storybored at 6:40 PM on March 9, 2012


You can also read "A Good Man is hard to Find" online, while you listen.
posted by jkafka at 7:09 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My sister went to grad school in Milledgeville, and a few years ago I went there with my parents for her graduation. We took an afternoon to visit the O'Connor house and to go find Flannery's grave, which is in Memory Hill Cemetery. I was pleased that, even though the cemetery was empty and some of the graves were overgrown, her grave was covered in pennies, flowers, crucifixes, and notes. She's definitely Milledgeville's favorite daughter, even if she never entirely fit in there.

I went to Georgia College for a time as well! O'Connor was a big part of their Lit curriculum. I've visited her grave--mostly because wandering around Memory Hill is one of the few interesting things to do in M'ville--and I've been to Andalusia, her farm. That's a really beautiful piece of land she had.

I really like her story "Revelation." Having spent a good portion of my life surrounded by obnoxious, preachy Southerners, I could appreciate the wish to hurl books at their heads.
posted by Maaik at 7:40 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Awesome, thanks! One of my favorite authors -- I love her entire oeuvre. Here is her 'people' page at the NYT, with some web resources.

For those interested in her Catholicism/soteriology in relation to her literary output, I highly recommend Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own.
posted by trip and a half at 7:55 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


"She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

There are times, people, and places that lend themselves to my muttering this quote under my breath. Unfortunately, most people overhearing don't know what to make of it. Those that do get it are usually instant friends.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:22 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is one of the funniest stories I've ever read.

Yeah, I really don't have much of a sense of humor.
It was pretty funny when they killed the baby, though.
Thanks for the heads up on "Good Country People" jquinby, I'll read it tonight.
posted by Floydd at 10:45 AM on March 10, 2012


The wooden leg one another story in the collection. Here's how it was written.

In a recent biography, another layer of meaning was added to this particular story:

O’Connor dated [Erik] Langkjaer, a sales representative for her publisher, until Langkjaer interrupted their courtship to move back to Europe, implying that he would return, not revealing in his letters his meeting and eventual engagement to a woman there.

O’Connor wrote “Good Country People” before Langkjaer revealed his engagement, but Gooch interprets the story as “a red flag from the imagination.” “Developments in her relationship with Erik played a part in its creation, too, even if they were only dimly understood by her. By the beginning of 1955, Flannery knew that Erik was extending his leave of absence. And ‘Good Country People’ contains many coded references to him…”

posted by jquinby at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2012


A (belated) thank you. I'd never heard O'Connor's actual voice and I'm utterly charmed to hear how much she sounds like my late grandmother .
posted by tyllwin at 9:29 AM on March 12, 2012


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