Friday, June 24, 2011

Good-bye, Dr. Leland

Tomorrow morning, Andalusia will be losing a good friend when Dr. Dorothy Leland leaves to begin her tenure as chancellor of the University of California - Merced. During her seven years at the helm of Georgia College, Dr. Leland has been a strong supporter of the work of the Flannery O'Connor - Andalusia Foundation, not to mention a voice of wisdom and reason on our Board of Directors. Unlike some college presidents for whom being on a board such as ours would simply be an honorary position, Dr. Leland took an active role as one of the Foundation's directors. She worked tirelessly to strengthen ties between the university and Andalusia, and was a strong proponent of O'Connor studies and research at the school. Emblematic of this commitment was the publication by Georgia College this year of a book of Flannery O'Connor's cartoons. The January release of this book marked the first time since 1979 that there has been a full-length monograph of original work by O'Connor. Without Dr. Leland's leadership, this book may never have seen the light of day. And so, as she leaves us, we wish her well and thank her for all she has done for us. We say to her, as Flannery herself might have, "when in Merced do as you done in Milledgeville."
- Mark

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Lord Flannery O'Connor"

Just before Memorial Day I posted a blog entry about Flannery O'Connor's father that focused on his distinguished military service. With Father's Day coming up this Sunday, I thought I would say a bit more about Edward O'Connor and the close relationship he had with his daughter. When one looks at photographs of Flannery O'Connor, one is immediately struck by her physical resemblance to her father. In the photo on the right, taken when Mary Flannery was seven years old on her First Communion, she is the spitting image of Edward O'Connor. Wearing a white dress trimmed in lace, with her short brown hair combed to the side, she peers into the camera with her father's clear-eyed gaze. The affinity Flannery had for her father was more than skin-deep. Edward O'Connor adored his daughter and, according to Brad Gooch, his pride in her "could amount to infatuation." (Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 27). He participated in her world of childhood fantasy and would send her notes signed, "King of Siam." He enjoyed playing made-up games with little Flannery in which she she dubbed herself "Lord Flannery O'Connor." At the breakfast table, the elder O'Connor would sometimes find little poems or drawings from his daughter hiding under a plate or tucked in his napkin. He would then carefully put these little tokens of affection into his billfold and show them off to colleagues during the day. One cannot overstate the importance of Edward O'Connor in Flannery's life, and it is my hope that future biographers will amplify the relationship between Flannery and her father, whom she affectionately called "Ed."
- Mark

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

One of Flannery O'Connor's treasured friendships was with Louise Abbot, a housewife and aspiring writer who met O'Connor for the first time in the spring of 1957. Abbot, her lawyer-husband, and their small children lived in Louisville, Georgia, a small town just 60 miles outside of Milledgeville. O'Connor's and Abbot's friendship began when Abbot wrote a letter of introduction. Since she had already published a piece in Mademoiselle magazine, Abbot mulled over representing herself as a journalist in order to set up an initial meeting with the famous author. Fortunately, she decided not to follow through with this ruse and just be herself. Flannery wrote back that she would be delighted to meet Abbot, grateful that she did not pose as a journalist because, as Flannery confessed, she was "deathly afraid of the tribe." (The Habit of Being p. 205). And so on a wet Thursday afternoon in April, Louise Abbot drove up the long red clay driveway leading to Andalusia. Abbot was surprised to find Flannery standing on the porch dressed in blue jeans, an untucked plaid shirt, and loafers. Abbot was immediately struck by this down-home lack of pretension, not to mention O'Connor's "very expressive" blue eyes (Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 291). Abbot also picked up on some tension between Flannery and her mother, but other than that, the two new friends enjoyed their time together chatting in the high-backed rocking chairs on the front porch. They talked about religion (Abbot came from a family of reformed Presbyterians and was surprised to learn O'Connor was Catholic), writing, and their common girlhoods in 1930s Savannah. As Abbot was getting ready to leave that day, Flannery invited her to "come back as often as you can." (Gooch, p. 292)

Louise Abbot is a lovely lady who still lives in Louisville, Georgia. She graciously allowed the young cinematographer, Rob Yates, to interview her earlier this spring. We are fortunate to have this fascinating footage on our website. To view the clip, follow this link
- Mark

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pondering the Pond

For most of the past week temperatures in middle Georgia have been hovering in the triple digit range. On Wednesday, we tied a record for the day set in 1953 of 100 degrees. It's hard to imagine how people survived such heat in those days before air conditioning. Remarkably, there is no mention of the heat wave in O'Connor's letters from 1953 (though the entries from that year in The Habit of Being are relatively few). What I did come across that indirectly relates to all of this are two letters the author wrote to her friends Robert and Sally Fitzgerald where she talks about her mother's decision to construct a pond for the cattle, the one visitors to Andalusia see today. In the first letter (undated: Summer 1953, p. 59-60), Flannery mentions that her mother decided to build a pond for the "cows to lie down in and cool off in the summertime." She goes on to say that the government requirements are such that the pond "has to go down two feet straight to keep from breeding mosquitoes but she don't want it that way for fear the cows will break their legs getting in." It seems Regina O'Connor was quite a worrier. In the second letter (undated: 1953, p. 61) Flannery mentions that the the pond is finished, but her mother "says she's not going to have but four feet of water in it because if anybody drowns she wants to be able to go in and get them out without draining it. Practical."
- Mark