Friday, May 31, 2013

Guiding Angel

One of the more attractive items in our gift shop is a St. Raphael prayer card designed by one of Flannery's first cousins, Frances Florencourt.  This prayer was so important to Flannery that she recited it every day for many years (The Habit of Being, p. 590).  Furthermore, as disclosed in a letter to Betty Hester in 1956 (see The Habit of Being p. 132), O'Connor even borrowed imagery from it and put it in her short story, "The Displaced Person" ("the business of Mrs. Shortley  looking on the frontiers of her true country.").  The allusion is apropos since all of us are, like Mrs. Shortley, travelers journeying to our "true country." According to Catholic belief, Raphael is the patron saint of travelers (in addition to medical workers and matchmakers).  In the biblical book of Tobit (considered canonical by Catholics), the archangel Raphael appears in human form as Azarias, the traveling companion of Tobit's blind son, Tobias.  During the course of their journey, Azarias's protective beneficence is revealed in many ways, including the binding of a demon in the Egyptian desert.  Upon reaching their destination and Tobias's miraculous healing, Azarias reveals himself as "the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord." (Tobit 12:15)  Here, then, is the full text of this beautiful prayer to St. Raphael that meant so much to Flannery:
O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us: Raphael, Angel of happy meeting, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.  May all our movements be guided by your Light and transfigured by your joy.
Angel, guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze.  Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country.  Remember the weak, you who are strong, you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God.
- Mark

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tree Trimming

Regular visitors to Andalusia will notice that there is more sunlight flooding the front yard.  This is because last week we had a number of our venerable oak trees trimmed to insure their ongoing vitality.  The work - which took two days -  will not only benefit the trees, which we hope will be around for many more years, but also the front lawn. More light should encourage the grass to grow.  From an aesthetic standpoint, the work we had done makes the place look more open and airy, more like it was when the O'Connors were living at Andalusia.  Look some time at vintage photos of the farm and you will see what I mean.
- Mark

Friday, May 17, 2013

Carrying the Torch

From time to time in this blog I have cited some modern writers who I believe carry on Flannery O'Connor's legacy. Among those who have been influenced by her and could be considered her literary heirs are Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, and Cormac McCarthy.  This week Craig said that he saw an article online that makes the case for Marilynne Robinson.  That caught my attention because I am presently reading her first novel, Housekeeping.  Do a Google search sometime with Flannery O'Connor and Marilynne Robinson and you will find a slew of articles comparing and contrasting the two authors.  Unlike some of the writers mentioned above, however,  Marilynne Robinson acknowledges no indebtedness to O'Connor.  In fact, she has been critical of O'Connor for Flannery's less than serious approach to her subject matter.  Robinson claims "the influence of Flannery O'Connor has been particularly destructive" by leading readers not to expect "serious fiction to treat religious thought respectfully." (Robinson, "A World of Beautiful Souls")  While their style and approach may differ, Robinson's and O'Connor's thematic concerns are similar enough to invite comparison.  So what do you all think?  Does Marilynne Robinson follow in Flannery's footsteps?  Does she carry the O'Connor torch in the 21st century?  However one answers those questions, I do think Robinson's work, meager as it is in terms of quantity (3 novels in 33 years), will, like Flannery's, stand the test of time.
- Mark

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kierkegaard's Kin?

Last Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of one my all-time favorite guys, Soren Kierkegaard.  Considering the incalculable influence he has had on modern thought, it is surprising that scarcely a word about his bicentenary appeared in the press.  Thinkers as diverse as Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger were influenced by him, as were many modern and post-modern fiction writers.  Indeed, a work such as Wise Blood would have been impossible without Kierkegaard.  Though Flannery O'Connor disavowed any literary kinship to the great Dane, she did read him.  In fact, in a letter to Betty Hester (see The Habit of Being p. 273) it can be inferred that she even found Fear and Trembling intellectually stimulating.  While O'Connor may have wanted her audience to think that Thomas Aquinas was her literary and spiritual north star, the truth of the matter is others such as Kierkegaard were more important in her development as an artist.  It is curious how Flannery could deny his influence given the fact that she loved Dostoevsky, a writer whose novels are literary counterparts to the works of the philosopher, theologian, mystic (it's so hard to put a label on him!) from Copenhagen.  At the very least, both writers shared a common fate of not being understood in their lifetimes.  Flannery once quipped that she could wait a hundred years to be understood, and while she may not have had to wait that long, poor Kierkegaard did. 
- Mark

Friday, May 3, 2013

Waiting Room Dramas

This week I started Louise Erdrich's novel, The Round House.  Though I am only in the fourth chapter, I was struck by how reminiscent one of the book's opening scenes is to the doctor's waiting room in "Revelation."  Though in Erdrich's novel the scene is not as pivotal as it is in Flannery's story, there is a character in it who is every bit as judgmental and bigoted as Ruby Turpin.  To set the stage, 13-year-old Joe, whose mother has just been rushed to the hospital after being raped, is ushered into a hospital waiting room.  In there he sees a skinny pregnant woman and an older woman who is knitting the thumb of a mitten.  The pregnant woman looks up from her People magazine with Cher on the cover and speaks to Joe. 

"Don't you Indians have your own hospital over there?  Aren't you building a new one?
The emergency room's under construction, I told her.
Still, she said.
Still what?  I made my voice grating and sarcastic."
The skinny pregnant woman resumes her reading.  Before long she looks up and speaks to the knitting lady.
"Looked like that poor woman had a miscarriage or maybe - her voice went sly - a rape.
The woman's lip lifted up off her rabbit teeth as she looked at me.  Her ratty yellow hair quivered.  I looked right back, into her lashless hazel eyes.  Then I did something odd by instinct.  I went over and took the magazine out of her hands.  Still staring at her, I tore off the cover and dropped the rest of the magazine.  I ripped again.  Cher's identical eyebrows parted.  The lady who was knitting pursed her lips, counting stitches.  I gave the cover back and the woman accepted the pieces." (The Round House - pp. 8-9)

Though Joe's actions are not as violent or out of control as Mary Grace's, there are connections to the O'Connor story - intended or not.  Louise Erdrich is one of our most gifted writers and, while she has other aims in her fiction than O'Connor, I just wonder if maybe this isn't a little homage to Flannery that she tucked into the narrative.
- Mark