Flattery for Flannery
Celebrating the life and work of Flannery O’Connor
Last week marked the 87th birthday of one of Georgia's most beloved writers who spent much of her life just down the road in Milledgeville.
Born on March 25, 1925, Flannery O'Connor would go on to pen two novels, 32 short stories, a collection of letters and several works of prose before her death in 1964 at the age of 39.
Although O'Connor was born in Savannah, her family relocated to Milledgeville when she was 13 and resided for a time with relatives in the mansion at 311 West Greene Street. Later, she would attend Georgia College and State University.
O'Connor's most famous local home was Andalusia, the 19th-century farm where she took up residence in 1951. Over the majority of the remaining 13 years of her life, she wrote there while the disease that eventually killed her, the autoimmune disorder lupus, ran its course.
Middle Georgia figures prominently in her writing. Her novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away, and much of her short fiction are set in the South.
“To call yourself a Georgia writer is certainly to declare a limitation, but one which, like all limitations, is a gateway to reality. It is a great blessing, perhaps the greatest blessing a writer can have, to find at home what others have to go elsewhere seeking,” she told the Georgia Writer's Association in 1962.
However, she did not like to consider herself a regional writer, which she said in 1959 was “the first thing you think of avoiding.” Rather, she described her connection to the area as something that was inevitable.
“The South impresses its image on the Southern writer from the moment he is able to distinguish one sound from another. He takes it in through his ears and hears it again in his own voice, and by the time he is able to use his imagination for fiction, he finds that his senses respond irrevocably to a certain reality,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University in 1963.
Fans of O'Connor can visit the room where she wrote. Andalusia has been open for self-guided public tours since 2004.
“It's a beautiful place, but it's also more than just a place where an author penned her fiction. It very clearly inspired so much of it. For fans of O'Connor, it's a pilgrimage,” said Craig Amason, executive director of the Andalusia Foundation.
O'Connor was a lifelong bird enthusiast and an especial fan of peacocks. She famously kept about 50 peafowl on the farm in addition to chickens, ducks, geese, swans, guinea hens and pheasants.
One peacock and two peahen still reside at Andalusia so that visitors can see first-hand the birds that she enthusiastically described in letters, poems and an essay entitled “The King of the Birds.”
“She understood them very well and was just fascinated by them, and they are fascinating birds,” Amason said.
While Andalusia is a special place for readers of O'Connor, it would also make a good getaway for anyone interested in enjoying the countryside. In addition to the farmhouse, the site includes an interpretive nature trail, a pond and 544 acres of land.
“Even if people don't appreciate Flannery O'Connor or know who she is, they shouldn't just write this place off. They should visit.” Amason said. “You can sit out on the front porch and soak it all in. It's a great place to just sort of get away from it all too.”
Printed in the Aril 5th, 2012 edition.