Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mystery and Manners~Occasional Quotes, Part I

Reading Flannery O'Connor is, in a way, like reading Caryll Houselander. I see something I would like to quote, and then a few lines below, I see something else, and then a third thing but that one is so good that I can't seem to find a stopping place, and would eventually end up quoting 90% of the book. She's so funny, and she just goes right to heart of whatever matter she happens to be talking about at the time. I also love the way she just spits it out--no namby-pamby mincing of words for her.

I have been re-reading Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose for my book club. For anyone who isn't familiar with this book, it is a posthumously published collection of Miss O'Connor's essays, lectures and articles. I'm about to give in to my overwhelming urge to quote her, but I'm going to restrain myself and only share a few--for the moment. I'm sure there will be more as I go along.

These from The Grotesque in Southern Fiction:
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.
I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart. And it seems her heart had not been lifted up by anything of mine she had read. I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up. 
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. (This really makes me think of A Good Man is Hard to Find.)
 And from The Regional Writer:
Mencken called the South the Bible Belt, in scorn and thus in incredible innocence.
Prophets have already been heard to say that in twenty years there'll be no such thing as Southern literature. It will be ironical indeed if the Southern writer has discovered he can live in the South and the Southern audience has become aware of its literature just in time to discover that being Southern is relatively meaningless, and that soon there is going to be precious little difference in the end-product whether you are a writer from Georgia or a writer from Hollywood, California. 
I think, sadly, that the prophets were rightly prophetic in this case. Out of curiosity  I googled "Southern literature" to see what I could find and came across this list of Best Southern Literature. I wonder what Flannery O'Connor would have to say about this list. I would love to hear what she thought about The Notebook. Save us.

I'm sure there will be more shortly.

UPDATE: In his comment below, Craig mentioned hearing Flannery O'Connor in her own voice, and that really is an added treat. If you haven't ever heard her voice, you can hear it here.

THEN there's this.



  1. Oh, she is great. I am reading these quotes and trying to imagine her tone of voice. I'm enjoying myself.

    I expect that you have read her collected letters (The Habit of Being)? When I read them I remember it seemed I was earmarking nearly every page. What a lady.

  2. I'm adding a link to her voice.

    When I read her letters for the first time, I had the great pleasure of reading a book that had been read and underlined by a good friend, which is almost like reading two good books.


  3. I couldn't remember how much of M&M I had read, but maybe it was more than I thought, since I recognize a couple of these. Or maybe they just get quoted a lot. Anyway, they're great. I've been wanting to re-read Habit of Being and figured I would end up quoting *lot* if I do.

    I'm afraid you're right about those prophets. That is definitely an objectively disordered list. Off topic, but: I notice Tennessee Williams appears there a couple of times. I watched part of Streetcar--the last 45 minutes or more--the other night and was confirmed in my impression from a previous viewing that it's really not so great. Though maybe if I read it, or saw it acted without Marlon Brando's bizarre mannerisms and Vivian Leigh's excesses (and bad accent).

  4. All those quotes are in the first few essays, not counting the one about the peacocks.

    I never did like Tennessee Williams.


  5. I've seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Streetcar performed on stage, and while neither of them is fantastic they were both among the best 20th-century drama I've seen. Streetcar was one of the optional texts for A-level English Literature the year I took it. The film version was just irritating.

  6. I was thinking after watching it the other night that I ought to read it. Also I think there's at least one other movie version.