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

No comments: