Friday, July 25, 2014

Flannery O’Connor and the Little Flower

On my most recent visit to Andalusia I noticed for the first time a small image of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), the “Little Flower,” hanging next to a doorway in the back of the house. As is typical, the saint is portrayed in her Carmelite habit holding two items. The first is a crucifix, which indicates her intimacy with Christ’s suffering through her own struggle with tuberculosis. This ended in her death when she was just twenty-four. The second is a bouquet of roses, which refers to the saint’s promise to provide a shower of roses—miracles, favors—from heaven. Such miracles began to be reported even before Thérèse was buried.

Given her own serious health struggles, Flannery O’Connor surely identified with this suffering saint whose spirituality Thérèse called the “little way.” St. Thérèse believed that everyone is able to grow in the spiritual life by focusing on God’s transforming love. Her famous image for this spiritual program is an elevator to God that allows the believer to avoid an arduous climb up the steep stairs to heaven. This simple plan belies the saint’s subtle intellect, another trait that she shared with O’Connor. Thérèse’s theological incisiveness is evident in her letters and especially her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, published posthumously. She was named a Doctor or official theologian of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

Curious about the life of Thérèse O’Connor read Etienne Robo’s biography Two Portraits of St. Therese of Lisieux (1955) and found a kindred spirit in its pages. The book describes the sanctity of Thérèse but also explores her character defects. It is notable that O’Connor marked a passage in the book that describes the airbrushing of photos of the saint by members of her religious community shortly after her death. These ostensibly improved images became the basis for portraits, icons, and statues. Robo argues that a similar airbrushing of Thérèse’s life often downplayed her “strong and inflexible, strict and stern” side.

O’Connor recorded her reaction to this book in a letter that she wrote to her spiritual director, Fr. McCown: “I have just read a very funny book by a priest named Fr. Robo—on St. Theresa of Lisieux…. He has managed (by some not entirely crooked means) to get hold of a photograph of her that the Carmelites have not ‘touched up’ which shows her to be a round-faced, determined, rather comical-looking girl. He does away with all the roses, little flowers, and other icing. The book has greatly increased my devotion to her.”

Robo’s biography suggests that in heaven Thérèse might have smiled at the prettiness her fellow nuns inflicted upon her in the touched-up images because for them “her real face was not presentable.” This prettified version of the saint is the one familiar to the vast majority of Catholics throughout the world. O’Connor must have been amused by Robo’s insight, especially when she realized that the image of Thérèse at Andalusia was based on an airbrushed version of the real woman.

Indeed O’Connor herself might smile now at the attempts of many admirers to prettify and even sanctify her, to forget, for example, her biting wit, which regularly features in letters to many friends. What O’Connor discovered in her reading about Thérèse was not only the sanctity of the French nun and the significance of her theological vision, but also her humanness—flaws, shortcomings, blemishes and all.

--(Fr.) George Piggford, C.S.C.
Associate Professor of English, Stonehill College, Easton, MA 

Our guest blogger was among 24 scholars attending "Reconsidering Flannery O'Connor" a Summer Institute funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and held at Georgia College in July 2014. For more information about the institute, please visit

Friday, July 11, 2014

In Flannery’s House

“Many of my ardent admirers would be roundly shocked and disturbed if they realized that everything I believe is thoroughly moral, thoroughly Catholic, and that it is these beliefs that give my work its chief characteristics.” ~Flannery O’Connor

When my first novel, A Hunger in the Heart, was published in 2013, I’d been a writer for many years, and a huge admirer of Flannery O’Connor.  And then a couple of weeks ago, on the morning of June 26, fellow author Charles Mc Nair and I entered Flannery’s house to talk about the perspectives in our own work.  Charles took on Southern Fiction, fiction in general, and magical realism in his novels: Land O Goshen and Pickett’s Charge.  My talk concerned Catholic Fiction, Catholic Imagination, and the influence of Flannery O’Connor on my writing. My aim was to also launch a second book, my new short story collection, Birds of a Feather—to launch it in a place that is clearly sacred to many, including those present for our event, some who traveled long distances to be there.

As for myself, I felt at home at once, almost kin. Kin because Flannery O’Connor and I share two legacies: Southern born and bred, and Catholic born and bred.  From what is read in her work and in her many letters, it can be pretty well assumed that these two mindsets influenced her so much that they were all-encompassing.  She could not write without communicating them, or her convictions about them. And neither can I. 

For writers concerned with sin and salvation, the South is ripe for fiction. Most all native Southerners, the greatest percent Protestant, know the Bible, can quote the Bible, and try to live by the Bible. And most of them admit they are sinners in need of being saved.  I don’t think you’ll find that anywhere else to such a degree. Like O'Connor, I know who I am as a writer, and I don't try to be different from that. I’ve never lived, or wanted to live, anywhere but the South. And I've never wanted to be anything but a Catholic, despite that all the men in my family--my father, grandfather, and four uncles, were Southern and Protestant. Nearly all of those men married Southern women who were Catholics, then they, themselves, converted to Catholicism near the end of their lives. So I believe I understand--and I know I try to address—-all readers, whatever their faith, or lack of it. 

The stories in my collection, Birds of a Feather, are about the commonality each of us share as human beings: sin and its risk, and the presence of God’s mercy, waiting for us to realize it’s there, and then to act with it. It’s my opinion that this common identity is key to the Catholic writer and his or her imagination. 

Here’s what Flannery says about identity, from Mystery and Manners: 
“…An identity is not to be found on the surface; it is not accessible to the poll taker; it is not something that can become a cliché. It is not made from the mean average or from the typical, but from the hidden and often the most extreme. It is not made from what passes, but from those qualities that endure regardless of what passes, because they are related to the Truth. It lies very deep. In its entirety, it is known only to God, but of those who look for it, none gets so close as the artist.”

So, as a Southern writer, I have taken Flannery’s words to heart. My identity is wrapped in the wonderfully changeable, material world around me—the world I live in—but as a Catholic writer, my identity is also wrapped in the mystery of mercy and grace in the immaterial world that lies deeply behind this one—because that is the world that is unchangeable and enduring. 

Enjoy this article by Roxane Beauclair Salonen who attended our event at Andalusia Farm.

- Kaye Park Hinckley, Author


Kaye Park Hinckley writes Southern Fiction from a Catholic Perspective. Her debut novel, A Hunger in the Heart, about sin and salvation in a family, was published in April, 2013, by Tuscany Press. Her short stories have appeared in Dappled Things, the 2012 Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction anthology, and elsewhere. She and her husband live in Dothan, Alabama and have five children and nine grandchildren. Her website is and her blog site is Kaye's short collection, Birds of a Feather, will be published by Wiseblood Books on July 14, 2014. Both books are available on Amazon, from the publishers, or your favorite bookstore.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

(Re)Considering O'Connor

On July 4th Andalusia hosted a luncheon gathering for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)  Summer Institute.  "Reconsidering Flannery O'Connor" runs at Georgia College July 1-30 and is the second such Summer Institute. The first NEH O'Connor Institute was held at Georgia College in 2007 and was by all accounts a rave success. Well, NEH folks did tell co-organizer, O'Connor scholar,  and Andalusia board member Bruce Gentry that the 2007 effort was a model for how NEH Summer Institutes should be done. Post-facto activities of 2007 participants reveal impressive numbers that advance O'Connor studies: three books, 24 peer-reviewed articles, and 63 conference presentations. 

The 2014 NEH scholars come from 14 different states. They number 25 and are fiction writers and poets, theologians and political scientists, and those involved in teaching English, communications, gender studies, disability studies, race studies, and film. I am told there are a number of musicians in the group and I have heard tell of beer and banjos on the porch at Bell Hall, their residence in the heart of GCSU's campus core. I can imagine the synergies among this group of smart people as they discuss their varied portals to O'Connor and how their own disciplines are informed by her writing. Well, these folks had Andalusia all to themselves on Independence Day and I could just see the wheels turning in each scholar's head as I had the pleasure of showing them the farm. Of course the Main House was the main attraction: we screened the film version of 'The Displaced Person" (shot at Andalusia in the mid-1970s); they took in the exhibitions in the Back Parlor and Cline Room; and of course were very interested in soaking up the fabric of where Flannery lived and wrote. 

Outside the weather was delightful. We enjoyed a luncheon in the shade of the back yard, and there were tours of the Cow Barn and the Hill House and folks were even treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the materials we have been rescuing from the Equipment Shed. Plows and seeders anyone? GCSU's Melanie Devore (Biological and Environmental Science) led a group on a ramble on our mile loop trail along Tobler Creek and the peafowl got lots of attention. It was a lovely afternoon for me as I got to chat with fans and share Andalusia with folks who were demonstrably taken with everything Flannery. For the scholars, my hope is that they got an introduction that will lead to repeat visits and indeed just readin' and rockin' on the porch as they churn and turn ideas around about Flannery, her writing, Andalusia, and their respective areas of study. 

For more information about the institute, please visit 

- Elizabeth Wylie, Executive Director
The Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Place Like No Other

It is really exciting to work at a place that has so much energy. This energy comes from the history, the landscape, and most of all the passion from all the visitors. I find it absolutely amazing that these people from different places from all over the world can all be united by one person – Miss Flannery O’Connor. Getting to meet these diverse people with so much love for Flannery O’Connor and writing is so enjoyable, and they make me have an even greater appreciation of writing.

I can honestly say that I look forward to going to work each morning. I look forward to seeing the beautiful views of the pond and the fields and am in awe of the amount of history that can be packed into these 544 beautiful acres. It’s amazing to see the eager faces of people that come to Andalusia to learn more about such an influential author. It is truly a blessing to have a job that teaches me something new every time I go. Whether it is learning how to work a cash register or learning about this history of the town I grew up in, this job has educated me in ways no other job could. Andalusia is a place like no other and we are so blessed to have it in our town!

-Konner Smith, Visitors Services Assistant
The Flannery O'Connor Andalusia Foundation

On Saturdays, Konner (a 16 year old from Gray, GA) has joined Andalusia's staff as Visitor Services Assistant. Her position not only supplements staff on one of our busiest days, but contributes to job creation, skills acquisition, and mentoring for a teen in our community. We're happy to have her on board!