Friday, October 25, 2013

Only God is an Atheist

Wish I could take credit for that great title, but I got it from a blog I read this week.  The author of that particular post, A.G. Harmon, borrowed it from Flannery O'Connor who, in an entry in her soon-to-be-released prayer journal writes, "No one can be an atheist who does not know all things.  Only God is an atheist.  The devil is the greatest believer & he has his reasons."  Pretty insightful for a 22 year-old.  So as not to paraphrase Mr. Harmon, I will simply encourage you to read his interesting blog post of Oct. 22-23.  There sure is a lot of buzz being generated by this journal that O'Connor kept when she was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, and it's not just on the web either.  On Wednesday, I received the November issue of The Atlantic.  Leafing through it, I came across a feature article by James Parker titled "The Passion of Flannery O'Connor."  It's generous of the good folks at The Atlantic to make this article available on-line.  Unlike some journals, The Atlantic has historically given O'Connor the credit she is due.  For more stories by and about her in The Atlantic, go to
- Mark

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stump the Chump

Last week a visitor asked me if I knew how the Clines (Regina O'Connor's family) made their fortune.  Hmmm.  Now that one stumped me.  I told this person that I thought her grandfather had established a business of some sort in Milledgeville, but beyond that I wasn't sure.  Not to worry; I told him I would look up the answer and get back to him as soon as I could.  In the mean time, more visitors came, I got tied up in the gift shop and, before I had a chance to turn to the ever-reliable Brad Gooch to answer our visitor's question, he had left.  So if you happen to be reading this blog, sir, here is the answer you were looking for.  After emigrating from County Tipperary (Ireland) in 1824, Flannery's great-grandfather Hugh Donnelly Treanor built a prosperous grist mill on the Oconee River in Milledgeville.  The family's good luck continued when one of his daughters, Kate, married Peter J. Cline, a successful dry-goods store owner in town.  When she died, he married Kate's sister, Margaret.  According to Brad Gooch, "Peter's wealth sufficiently trumped his oddity as a small-town Irish Catholic to allow him to buy an antebellum mansion in Milledgeville soon after the Civil War, to be unanimously elected its mayor in 1889, and to have his every movement covered in the local paper." (Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 22).
- Mark

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ready Reference

In our office Craig and I have a set of books close at hand that we can turn to quickly to answer visitors' questions or to provide us with ideas for blog and Facebook posts.  Among the titles on our "ready reference" shelf are Jean Cash's and Brad Gooch's biographies; At Home with Flannery O'Connor (Craig Amason and Bruce Gentry, eds.); and, of course, The Habit of Being (filled with post-it notes to mark interesting passages in the letters).  There is one other book we have that is required reading for the serious O'Connor scholar: Flannery O'Connor: The Contemporary Reviews.  This valuable resource edited by R. Neil Scott and Irwin H. Streight contains all the reviews of O'Connor's fiction that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals during her lifetime.  It is interesting to see how some of these very early reviewers either totally misunderstood Flannery or - more rarely - "got it."  Even when her work was panned, sometimes the reviewers were quite insightful.  A case in point comes from my hometown newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, in this 1960 review of The Violent Bear it Away:  "For this reviewer [William H. Blocklage], this book evokes the same emotional response that certain modern music does.  Author and composer alike offer little else than dissonance, though most artfully contrived.  The brilliance engages the mind, but the heart does not get its due." (Flannery O'Connor: The Contemporary Reviews, R. Neil Scott and Irwin H. Streight, eds., p. 106)  Whether one agrees with the review is really beside the point.  Rather, it recalls a day when every city newspaper worth its salt had a book section and serious fiction was covered because enough people were reading it to justify publishing reviews.  Sadly, that day appears to have passed us by.
- Mark

Friday, October 4, 2013

To Bless, Not to Condemn

St. Francis of Assisi
This past week a visitor asked me what Flannery O'Connor would have thought of the new pope.  Good question.  My initial response was that I think overall she would approve since Francis seems to be cut out of the same cloth as John XXIII, a pope O'Connor regarded highly.  Since today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the saint whose name Jorge Mario Bergoglio took when he was elected pope, I thought I might explore the question further.  Before continuing, it is important to remember that we live in a very different day and time than when John XXIII was elected pope in October, 1958.   Therefore, what Flannery would have thought of any pope today is pure conjecture.  Nevertheless, there are some parallels that suggest she would have given Francis the thumbs up.  Like John, Francis is reaching out to those who, in the past, have been marginalized and disenfranchised by the church.  In Francis's vision none are excluded - not even unbelievers.  All are loved and accepted by God.  All have a place at the table.  When John XXIII assumed the the chair of St. Peter, the windows of the church were literally thrown open to the world.  One could cite many examples, but one that touched O'Connor personally was the pope's acceptance of Teilhard de Chardin, an author whose works were previously banned by the Vatican.  When asked about Teilhard, Pope John remarked, "I am here to bless, not to condemn."  As refreshing as this was, O'Connor was not happy with all the changes that were occurring in the church as a result of the Second Vatican Council that John convened in 1959.  She was not enthused about the move from Latin to the vernacular in the mass.  In fact, she thought some of the trial liturgies were hideous.  Nevertheless, as a loyal daughter of the church, Flannery accepted the change.  She died before the Council adjourned so it is hard to say without reservation how she would have sized up the papacy of John XXIII.  It's even harder to guess what her opinion would be of Francis, whose papacy is just in its infancy.
- Mark