Friday, April 26, 2013

Under the Big Top

Lest visitors to Andalusia today get the impression that the brothers Ringling have taken up residence, let me assure you that the circus tent pitched behind the main house (which takes up practically our entire parking area), is for the reception we're hosting this evening for the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.  Their Spring Ramble and annual meeting are being held in Milledgeville this year and we're honored that they've chosen to have the Friday evening buffet in this bucolic setting.  With an anticipated 450 visitors, it promises to be the largest event ever held at Andalusia.  Prior to these shindigs, there will be an awards ceremony in the Legislative Chambers of the Old Capitol Building at Georgia Military College at which the Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation will be receiving an award for the restoration of the Hill House.  Accepting the award for the Foundation will be our Executive Director, Craig Amason.
- Mark

Friday, April 19, 2013

No Georgia Kafka?

Flannery O'Connor claimed that she hadn't even heard of, much less, read Franz Kafka until she went to graduate school at the University of Iowa.  "When I went to Iowa I had never heard of Faulkner, Kafka, Joyce, much less read them." (Collected Works p. 950).  Perhaps Flannery was trying to point out the deficiency of her literary education, but the truth of the matter is that O'Connor did read Joyce and Faulkner with enthusiasm while she was at GSCW (and some of her earliest stories show their influence).  I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she hadn't read Kafka, too, before she got to Iowa.  One can certainly find literary parallels in her work and that of the great Czech author.  Caroline Gordon certainly did.  In a blurb on the dust jacket to the first edition of Wise Blood, Gordon compares the novel favorably to the absurdest fables of Kafka: "Her picture of the modern world is literally terrifying.  Kafka is almost the only one of our contemporaries who has achieved such effects." Flannery was not flattered. She claimed she wasn't able to get through The Trial and The Castle.  She once told a class at GSCW that she was "distressed" that others thought she shared the intellectual pessimism of an existentialist like Kafka.  (see Brad Gooch Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor - p. 204).  In a more pointed remark to her friend Ashley Brown she exasperatedly exclaimed, "I'm no Georgia Kafka." (Collected Works p. 911).  I beg to differ.  As is often the case with O'Connor, it is the writers she says she hates (e.g. Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers) that have influenced her more than she is willing to admit.
- Mark

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thank you, Mark

Readers of this blog know that our Visitors Services Manager, Mark Jurgensen, is the person responsible for posting here, and he comes up with all the content.  However, I thought I would take advantage of the time while Mark is away on a short vacation (he published a post yesterday before he left) to express my appreciation for all he does at Andalusia.  After a few months of volunteering for the Foundation, Mark began his employment here in October, 2009.  I cannot express how grateful I was and am to the Foundation Board of Directors for making the move to hire Mark as a part-time staff member.  A fairly new reader of Flannery O'Connor when he was hired, Mark completely immersed himself into the author's world, carefully studying her fiction and extensively exploring criticism of her work.  He spent months going over materials I provided for him, and he read the most recent biography of O'Connor by Brad Gooch twice.  He memorized the docent script I provided and soon began to enhance it with his own insights, always taking great care to be accurate and respectful about O'Connor's life and literature.  Within a short time, Mark began giving almost all the tours to our visitors, and though he doesn't like me to say this, he actually gives a better tour than I do.  He also does a marvelous job of managing our gift shop, ensuring that it is well stocked and letting me know when inventories are running low.

In addition to embracing the job as our primary docent, Mark volunteered to assume a crucial chore at Andalusia: taking care of the peafowl.  He cleans out the aviary EVERY DAY that he works.  He makes sure the birds have plenty of food and water, and thankfully, he reminds me to do the same when he is going to be away.  He buys treats for them, and they are so relaxed around Mark that the birds will eat spinach leaves right out of his hand.  Another of Mark's responsibilities that is vital to our success at Andalusia is maintaining the Foundation's donor database, from which we generate mailing lists for annual appeal letters and the Friends of Andalusia newsletter.  If I were to describe all the many ways that Mark has contributed to the Foundation's success at Andalusia, this post would not be in keeping with the succinct and readable entries his readers have come to expect.  The icing on the cake is the fact that Mark's wife, Judy, is always so generous as a volunteer and makes some of the best refreshments you'll find at any reception, anywhere! 

From proofing written materials to moving furniture, from answering inquiries from around the world to sweeping the front porch, Mark never complains about the all-encompassing line in most job descriptions, "related duties as required."  Forgive me for treading on your blog turf, Mark, but I just want everyone to know how grateful I am for your hard work and dedication to Flannery O'Connor and the Foundation's mission at Andalusia.

--Craig Amason, Executive Director

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hold the Icing

Having recently finished Heather King's fine book on St. Therese of Lisieux, I wondered what Flannery thought of the "Little Flower."  Given O'Connor's aversion to the cloying and the sentimental, I wouldn't have been at all surprised if she dismissed Therese simply because most biographies of the saint, who died in 1897 at the age of 24, are unbearably saccharine.   Fortunately, there are exceptions, such as a book on Therese that Flannery had the good fortune to read in 1956.  In a letter to her spiritual director and confessor, Fr. John McCown, she writes "I have just read a very funny book by a priest named Fr. Robo - on St. Theresa Lisieux [sic].  It's called Two Portraits of St. Theresa.  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." (The Habit of Being p. 135).  Thanks to the work of people like Fr. Robo and more recent studies by folks such as Heather King, we now have a truer picture of the saint, so different from the idealized statues one sees of her in many Catholic churches.
- Mark

Friday, April 5, 2013

Duck Duds

I don't know if Flannery O'Connor ever had a duck named "Donald," but she kept a small flock of them and, following in her seamstress mother's footsteps, even made clothes for them.  Yes, Flannery was a rare - some might say odd - bird, indeed!  In a home economics class she was taking at Peabody High School, the students were assigned a sewing project.  While most of her classmates went to work right away designing aprons and the like, Flannery procrastinated.  During class time she sat off to the side appearing to be not the least bit interested in what the others were doing.  Finally, the day came when the students were to present and display the various garments they made during the quarter.  According to a fellow student who was there, "On the appointed day Flannery arrived with her pet duckling, and a whole outfit of underwear and clothes, beautifully sewn to fit the duck!  The class in great glee all gathered round and helped dress the duck.  Flannery successfully passed the course."  (see Brad Gooch's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor pp. 77-78)
- Mark