Friday, February 7, 2014

Relentlessly Perfect


It’s no secret Thomas Merton was a big fan of Flannery O’Connor.  If the truth be told, he was a bigger admirer of her than she was of him.  In any case, when she died in 1964 Merton wrote a touching “prose elegy” that was published in Jubilee in November of that year, and later in his book of essays, Raids on the Unspeakable.  In concluding his tribute, Merton says “When I read Flannery I don’t think of Hemingway, or Katherine Anne Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles.  What more can be said of a writer?  I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man’s fall and his dishonor.”  The next year, after receiving the posthumously published Everything that Rises Must Converge, Merton made the following entry in his journal on April 23, 1965: “Yesterday Flannery O’Connor’s new book arrived and I am already well into it, grueling and powerful!  A relentlessly perfect writer, full of tragedy and irony.  But what a writer!  (Dancing in the Water of Life: The Journals of Thomas Merton – vol. 5, p. 233).  You get the impression that when O’Connor’s book arrived in the mail, the monk dropped what he was doing to read it.  He felt deeply connected to Flannery.  Note, for example, how he consistently refers to her by her first name.  According to Paul Elie, Merton thought of Flannery as the little sister he never got to know (The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, p. 366).  And he praised her more highly than just about anyone else.  However, according to Elie, the praise is almost beside the point.  It is “in the familiarity, the intimacy, with which he spoke about her.  They  had never met, never corresponded, but Merton felt, and then put into words, the power that her work has over others – its ability to make us feel, as we read her, that we know her, that she is one of us.” (Ibid. p. 366)
- Mark

4 comments:

R.T. said...

We ought not be surprised that Merton made the comparison: O'Connor and Sophocles. Let's remember who she lived with for a time (the Fitzgeralds) -- and her inspiration for the ending of Wise Blood (Fitzgerald's translation of Sophocles). It is also "fun" to speculate: What if O'Connor had taken a path similar to Merton's -- the life of the contemplative.

Andalusia, Home of Flannery O'Connor said...

R.T. - I doubt O'Connor would have taken the path of a contemplative. It was just not her thing. By nature and temperament, she was more drawn to verbal forms of prayer e.g. the Daily Office.

R.T. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R.T. said...

Postscript: Lorraine Murray's book, The Abbess of Anadalusia, has much to say about MFO and prayer.