Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dumb Ox

Today, on the Church's calendar, we celebrate the feast day St. Thomas Aquinas, Flannery O'Connor's favorite saint. By the time she finished college Flannery possessed an impressive knowledge of the thirteenth century saint fondly dubbed "the dumb ox." Later, as an adult, she would read portions of Aquinas's magnum opus, The Summa Theologica, before retiring for the night. In a letter to Betty Hester she quipped, "I read it [the Summa] for about twenty minutes every night before I go to bed. If my mother were to come in during this process and say, 'Turn off the light. It's late,' I with lifted finger and broad bland beatific expression, would reply, 'On the contrary, I answer that the light, being external and limitless cannot be turned off. Shut your eyes.'" (FOC to Betty Hester, August 9, 1955, CW, 945) O'Connor's devotion to St. Thomas also found its way into her fiction most memorably in the short stories, "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" (where there are numerous allusions to Aquinas) and "The Comforts of Home" where the main character, Thomas, chases a "nimpermaniac," Star Drake, from his room by "holding the chair in front of him like an animal trainer driving out a dangerous cat." (CW p.574). According to legend, St. Thomas once chased away a prostitute with a red-hot poker. Regarding this incident, Flannery remarked, "It would be fashionable today to be in sympathy with the woman, but I am in sympathy with St. Thomas." (FOC to Betty Hester, August 9, 1955, CW, 946.)
- Mark

Friday, January 21, 2011

Monastic Meditations

It's a clear, crisp morning here in Milledgeville. Quite a contrast to the drizzly, gray days earlier in the week when my wife, Judy, and I attended a four day Flannery O'Connor retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit near Conyers, Georgia. The retreat, led by Victor Kramer, professor emeritus at Georgia State, focused on how O'Connor's fiction allows contemporary readers to perceive the presence of God's grace in their lives and in the world. With charm and wit, Prof. Kramer demonstrated how O'Connor's characters are offered the freedom to accept or reject God's gifts. There are some who do (e.g. Harry/Bevel in The River) and others who don't (e.g. Tom T. Shiftlet in The Life You Save May Be Your Own). Yet, even in the bleakest of her stories where the characters reject grace, there still remains a glimmer of hope for redemption. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Victor Kramer, I would encourage you to do so. He is absolutely delightful. It is highly appropriate that this retreat was held at the monastery since Flannery and her mother were good friends with some of the monks there, most notably Fr. Paul Bourne and the abbot at the time, Dom Augustine Moore (who also administered last rites to Flannery just before she died). The O'Connors visited the monastery many times between 1961 and 1964. As a sign of the affection Flannery had for the monks, she gave them several of her peacocks which remained at the monastery for about fifteen years until finally their noise created so much of a disturbance that they disappeared mysteriously one night.
- Mark

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arctic Andalusia

Despite a snow and ice storm that paralyzed much of the South early in the week, our intrepid director, Craig, braved the elements on Monday and opened the farm. With the exception of a lone pickup truck that drove through the property and left without stopping, we had no visitors on that day. I was not able to get to Milledgeville on Monday due to ice covering every paved surface between here and my home in Macon. On the heels of this storm we are now being blasted by unusually frigid temperatures. Yesterday morning it was as cold in middle Georgia as it was in Cincinnati. The peacocks seem to be more sluggish than usual as it seems to me they are trying to conserve as much body heat as possible. I'm doing the same and, for the second time this winter, am wearing long johns to work. The propane heaters in the house are running on high and are just barely able to keep up. If it gets as cold as it's supposed to tonight, I wouldn't be surprised to see a layer of ice covering the pond when I get here tomorrow morning.
- Mark

Friday, January 7, 2011

Collegiate Cartoons

To begin the new year have we got a real treat for you! Just two days ago, Georgia College released a book of cartoons by Flannery O'Connor when she was a student at the school in the 1940s. The aptly titled paperback, The Cartoons of Flannery O'Connor at Georgia College, is available in our gift shop for $16.99. Beginning in high school when she created a number of linoleum-cut prints for The Peabody Palladium, O'Connor was recognized as a talented cartoonist long before she was known as a writer. She went on from there to Georgia State College for Women where she provided illustrations for all the school's student publications - The Corinthian, The Spectrum, and The Collonade. Her highly original and humorous cartoons suggest that if O'Connor had decided to pursue a career as a cartoonist she might have become as famous as Hank Ketchum or Charles Schulz. Indeed, I believe that when she enrolled in the graduate school of journalism at the University of Iowa, she was hoping to one day draw a comic strip for a newspaper or magazine. American literature is certainly richer for her not taking this path, but one wonders what might have happened had she focused on developing her talent as a visual artist. In any case, we can be grateful to Georgia College for publishing this important volume.
- Mark