The New Yorker arrives with relentless regularity even though our subscription expired in July. This week, there are excerpts from a diary Flannery O’Connor kept in when she was in her twenties, recently accepted to the Iowa Workshop. My first reaction was indignation. Clearly these were the private struggles of a young, truly spiritual woman and NOT MEANT TO BE READ by anyone else. Why are they here? And why did they use such an unflattering photo? Poor Flannery.
I’ve always been a huge fan of O’Connor’s peculiarly revealing, wry intelligence. She simply presents characters in perfectly chosen detail and dialog and lets the reader draw her own conclusions. She’s like no one else. Also, she kept over 100 peacocks as well as other fowl. If you’ve ever heard a peacock, you know that she was a lover of cacophony.
I devoured her stories, her novels, and the huge volume of her letters. I remember in one she was talking about a story in which she used her aunt as a character, and was worried about what her aunt would think. When she finally saw the aunt, the aunt said (paraphrasing here), “I read your book. Didn’t think much of it.”
But of course, scruples aside, I had to read the diaries. I mean, how could I not? And here is a passage:
“Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly-seeming thing. I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God. It is natural that I should not imagine this. If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-&-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over sixty-five. But I do not mean to be clever on 2nd thought I do mean to be clever & want to be considered so.”
This gives you an idea of the style she developed and that I relish, the woman who said: “I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.”