Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Quote of the Day (Flannery O’Connor, With a Scene in a Southern Barn)

“It was a large two-story barn, cool and dark inside. The boy pointed up the ladder that led into the loft and said, ‘It’s too bad we can’t go up there.’

“ ‘Why can’t we?’ she asked.

“ ‘Yer leg,’ he said reverently.

“The girl gave him a contemptuous look and putting both hands on the ladder, she climbed it while he stood below, apparently awestruck. She pulled herself expertly through the opening and then looked down at him and said, ‘Well, come on if you’re coming,’ and he began to climb the ladder, awkwardly bringing the suitcase with him.

“ ‘We won’t need the Bible,’ she observed.

“ ‘You never can tell,’ he said, panting. After he had got into the loft, he was a few seconds catching his breath. She had sat down in a pile of straw. A wide sheath of sunlight, filled with dust particles, slanted over her. She lay back against a bale, her face turned away, looking out the front opening of the barn where hay was thrown from a wagon into the loft. The two pink-speckled hillsides lay back against a dark ridge of woods. The sky was cloudless and cold blue.”—American short-story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), “Good Country People,” originally published in Harper’s Bazaar, June 1955, republished in her short-story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955)

As last week’s PBS documentary Flannery made clear, stories such as “Good Country People” were inspired in part by O’Connor’s life on her family’s 550-acre dairy farm in Milledgeville, GA, where she also raised peacocks and chickens.

I have not had the chance to visit that farm, but on the two occasions when I was in Savannah, I made it a point to see her birthplace on Lafayette Square. This childhood home was just across from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. That building was not just a weekly but daily presence in her life, as the young girl could view its steeple and hear the tolling of its bells from her room. Anyone trying to understand the strong feelings about God expressed with oblique but unusual force in her fiction and more conventionally if pungently in her letters would do well to go to this neighborhood.

For any writer, O’Connor’s life is an inspiration, proof of the power of forsaking self-pity, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles (in her case, the lupus that hobbled and eventually killed her at age 39), through iron commitment to work.

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