Introduction


Throughout her life, Flannery O’Connor was a prolific correspondent, and even more so after her illness forced her to move with her mother to Andalusia, the family farm near Milledgeville, Georgia. With her agent and publisher located in New York and friends and writing colleagues scattered around the country in Connecticut, Texas, Iowa, New Mexico, Tennessee, and North Carolina, the U.S. Mail became her communication lifeline. As she noted in a letter to her close friend Betty Boyd Love, “Mail is very eventful to me.”

The U.S. Mail and other communication systems in place in America during the 1950s were vastly different from those we use today. There were no telephone calling cards, no electronic mail, no hand-held portable telephones or palm pilots. Instead, virtually all distant communication was done by what many of us now refer to as “snail mail,” telegrams, and very expensive long distance, operator-assisted telephone service from “Ma Bell.” The principal mode of communication with friends, family, and colleagues entailed simply sitting down with paper and pen in hand and writing a letter, placing it in a stamped, addressed envelope, and walking to the curbside mailbox. The addressee often penned an immediate reply and sent it off in the next post.  

Flannery O’Connor Correspondence: 

Sally Fitzgerald labored to identify, collect, and consider much of the known O’Connor correspondence for inclusion in the compilation edited and published as The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor in 1979. This volume, which garnered very favorable reviews, encouraged many readers and scholars to reassess O’Connor's life and work. Whereas before many had viewed her simply as a reclusive, eccentric, southern writer who happened to be Catholic, the published letters forced the literary community to consider the breadth of her reading, her theological positions, the many friendships she maintained throughout her life, her intelligence, her sense of humor, and her knowledge of the writing of fiction.

           

While Sally Fitzgerald’s contribution was truly remarkable, there are still significant scholarly weaknesses in the methodology she employed. The problems include the criteria for the inclusion or exclusion of certain letters; Fitzgerald’s frequent use of ellipses to eliminate words, sentences, or whole paragraphs; and the apparent bias of both Fitzgerald and the author’s family in excluding portions of letters that might present O’Connor in an unfavorable light. Perhaps most significantly, the scholarly community has not had access to many of the original letters collected for the volume.

           

Flannery O’Connor once commented in an interview with Joel Wells that it might take another fifty or a hundred years until her work was fully understood and appreciated. Because many of her views and beliefs which would assist scholars in this understanding are certain to be found in letters still to be brought to light, O’Connor's prognostication may well prove to be right.

 

It is believed that Flannery O’Connor wrote to her mother almost every day while she lived in Iowa, New York, and Connecticut. Does this correspondence still exist? Is there additional correspondence to or from O’Connor and the Danish book salesman, Erik Langkjaer, for whom she had affection? What is discussed in the letters between Sally and Robert Fitzgerald and O’Connor? Where are the three years of correspondence between Flannery O’Connor and DeVane Harrold? One can only hope that such letters still exist and may someday find their place in an accessible archive.

 

This website is designed to help scholars fill in the gaps of O'Connor’s published correspondence. It may be viewed as a literary map, pointing out known collections of O’Connor correspondence in libraries and archives, so that scholars may compare the text of published letters with their originals and examine additional rarely cited correspondence.

 

Content of these Collections: 

As one examines the correspondence included in these collections, it is apparent that Flannery O’Connor was acutely aware of the literary world around her. She used letter-writing to gather information on what was going on in the literary community centered in New York. One can’t help noting that she was also very attentive to the business details of publishing, from opinions regarding translation rights to reprint run counts and royalty rates.

  

O’Connor was a keen observer of the local Milledgeville and middle Georgia community. While she was not an active member of the local social scene, she methodically and carefully watched and took everything in. She had a solid practical sense of who she was and used her self-deprecating humor to sidestep direct criticism, whether from the New York literary establishment or from local neighbors. Indeed, she seemed to enjoy hiding behind a facade of “Who? Little ole me?” We see an individual who knew that she was not socially charming, but in her correspondence easily controlled the exchange of personal information.

 

Concluding Remarks: 

There is a need for a multi-volume collection of O’Connor’s complete correspondence.  It would be an arduous and expensive task to undertake, with many obstacles. But it is certainly needed. In the meantime, if one follows this literary map that supplements The Habit of Being, one might be led from Harvard to the University of Texas, from the New York Public Library and nearby Princeton to Emory, Georgia State, and the University of Georgia, and from the substantial O’Connor Collection in the Russell Library of Georgia College & State University to the University of Tulsa, with stops at Tulane, the University of Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Duke, Cornell, and UNC-Chapel Hill.

 

We hope you enjoy the hunt!


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