Friday, February 22, 2013

Farewell Well

Big news here at the farm! After decades of relying on well water, yesterday we were finally able to tap into the municipal system.  This is the first time that Andalusia has been on city water in the history of the farm.  And what a boon it is going to be for us.  No longer do we have to worry about running out of water if we're hosting a big event like the bluegrass concert.  No longer do we have to fret about the quality of the water coming out of the tap, especially when we've had unusually high rainfalls as we have this winter.  Nor do we have to worry anymore about the well running dry during summer droughts. Of course, none of this would have happened were it not for the dogged persistence of Craig.  One can only imagine how happy the O'Connor family would be if they could have been on city water.  Of course, when they were living here that was not possible because Andalusia was way out in the country, far from the city proper.  So they had to depend on the well behind the main house.  Much later, they dug another well near the horse barn and this was the source of our water until yesterday.  However, should the city's water service ever get disrupted we have the capacity to temporarily switch back to well water.  Ahhh.....the comforts (and conveniences) of home!
- Mark

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You're So Vain!

On this Valentine's Day, I would like to answer a question we are asked fairly often: "Was there a significant other in Flannery's life?"  The answer is a qualified yes.  While O'Connor didn't date in high school or college, there was a man who entered her life shortly after she moved to Andalusia.  His name was Erik Langkjaer, a regional textbook salesman for the Harcourt Brace Co. (the same firm that published O'Connor).  He was introduced to her by a professor at Georgia College one spring afternoon in late April 1953.  The son of a Danish diplomat and lawyer, he was handsome, sophisticated, and funny.  Langkjaer and Flannery hit it off immediately.  He would take her for car rides through Baldwin County and the two would talk about things that few others in Milledgeville knew about or much cared about.  He was drawn to her quirky style and off-beat sense of humor.  She had never before met a man she could open up to the way she could to Langkjaer.  In fact, the usually laconic Flannery once told him in a letter that she felt like she could talk to him for a million years.  Unfortunately, while she may have had romantic feelings towards him, they were not reciprocated.  This was especially noticeable after he returned to Denmark in 1954.  Flannery would write to him, and it would be weeks before she would hear back. She once pleaded with him just to send a postcard so she would have an excuse to write him.  Eventually, she received a letter from him stating that he had met another woman and they were intending to get married.  Flannery was devastated.  However, instead of wallowing in her grief she threw herself into her art, writing one of her best short stories, "Good Country People."  Shortly after this story came out, Langkjaer wrote Flannery and said that  he recognized himself in the character of the nefarious Bible salesman, Manley Pointer.  Flannery responded with the epistolary equivalent of Carly Simon's You're So Vain, telling him in essence not to flatter himself so.  While they never saw one another again, Flannery and Erik (who is still living) continued to stay in touch,  though their letters became more infrequent as the years went by.  So far was he off Flannery's radar by 1962 that she even managed to misspell his name as "Eric" in a stray reference.  For more details on this one-sided love affair, please consult chapter 7 ("The Bible Salesman") in Brad Gooch's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor.
- Mark

Friday, February 8, 2013

Whispers of Faith

In her essay "The Fiction Writer and his Country," Flannery O'Connor describes how she approaches writing to an increasingly secular audience: “The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” (Mystery and Manners, pp. 33-34)  And shout she did with some of the most startling prose of the mid-twentieth century.  But that was then and this is now.  Is it still necessary for the "novelist with Christian concerns" to shout in order to be heard?  Not at all, according to Gregory Wolfe in an excellent article published last month in the Wall Street Journal.  Wolfe, who is editor of  Image, notes that O'Connor was writing in a different cultural context from the authors of today. Her approach "made sense in the context of her time, when the old Judeo-Christian narrative was locked in a struggle with the new secular narratives of Marx, Freud and Darwin. However, we live in a postmodern world, where any grand narrative is suspect, where institutions are seen as oppressive." Citing the writings of Christopher Behan, Doris Betts, and Alice McDermott, Mr. Wolfe asserts that "the faith found in literature [today] is more whispered than shouted. Perhaps a new Flannery O'Connor will rise, but meanwhile we might try listening more closely to the still, small voice that is all around us."
- Mark

Friday, February 1, 2013

Flannery's Super Bowl Pick

Yes, friends, it's that time of year again when Flannery O'Connor picks the winner of the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy.  As in the past, in making her prediction Flannery factors in many intangibles, some of which have nothing to do with the game on the field.  Going against the odds-makers in Las Vegas and the prognosticators at ESPN, Flannery is going with the Baltimore Ravens.  Why?  Well, let's consider the name of the team.  The Ravens are so named for a poem penned by Baltimore's most famous writer, Edgar Allan Poe.  He was also one of Flannery's favorite authors and the one, it could be argued, who influenced her more than any other.  Let us also consider the city the Ravens represent.  Baltimore, indeed all of Maryland, was settled by Catholics and to this day is a stronghold of Catholicism in this country.  After all, when Flannery was at St. Vincent's Academy preparing for confirmation, it wasn't the San Francisco Catechism she was studying.  When one looks at the lineups of the 49ers and the Ravens, the players on Baltimore's team could easily have stepped out of an O'Connor story.  They are, in the words of O'Connor scholar Sarah Gordon, "strange, forbidding, and bizarre."  Don't think so?  Put yourself in the shoes of 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick as you look across the line of scrimmage at the icy glare of Ray Lewis, who would like nothing better than to rip your head off.  Finally, the Ravens play a brand of football that is similar to O'Connor's writing style - gritty, tough, hard-edged, and close to the bone. In that respect the Ravens are a throw-back to the way football was played when Flannery was alive.  They are more like the Bears and  Packers of old than the razzle-dazzle teams of today.  Given all these considerations, Flannery takes the Ravens by a field goal, 27-24.
- Mark