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Mary Flannery O'Connor

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Mary Flannery O'Connor

When the list of potential authors for our research projects was released, I originally wanted to select a writer that I was somewhat familiar with but wanted to learn more about. My first choice was Jane Austen because I absolutely adore Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility. I love Austen's sense of humor, the way in which she presents her characters and forces them to interact, and the detail with which she describes every aspect of her stories. However, one of my classmates did not see that I had already chosen her and she began working on her project using the same author. Since I had not, yet, started to work on my paper, I agreed to allow her to continue while I began to search for an alternative.

The difficulty in selecting another author was finding someone with whom I could muster an equal amount of enthusiasm as I had with Austen. Not having sufficient familiarity with any of the others, I began to perform Internet searches on the other authors to gain some insight to their styles and subject matter. (I feel that I can share with you my absolute exclusion of any poets - which I'm sure doesn't surprise you in the least.) When I came across some articles about Mary Flannery O'Connor, I felt as though I hit the jackpot. While I'm not Catholic, my family is certainly from a long line of devout Southern Baptists whose beliefs are equally as rigid as those of Flannery O'Connor's family. I felt as though I might be able to relate to some of her stories, and I began to read.

An only child, Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925. Her parents, Edward and Regina O'Connor, were strict Catholics. Her father attended Catholic schools as a child, and went to St. Mary's College in Maryland. After serving in World War I, Edward became an active participant in the American Legion, and pursued real estate as a means through which to support his family. He was well respected in their Georgia community and frequently delivered speeches at local community events. Edward was diagnosed with lupus in 1938, and died from the disease in 1941 at the age of 45 (Simpson, Kindle location 90). Flannery O'Connor was 15 years old when her father passed away.

Little is known about her mother, but accounts from friends and relatives indicate that, as a child, Flannery O'Connor had a close relationship with her mother, Regina, in spite of her mother's overprotectiveness (Simpson, Kindle location 102).

Very few details regarding Flannery O'Connor's life prior to her teen years can be located. However, we know that Mary spent her elementary school years attending parochial schools. Flannery O'Connor also achieved her first brush with fame when she was six years old. Multiple sources suggest that young Flannery O'Connor taught her pet chicken to walk backwards, and the paparazzi were so taken with the story that they rushed to her family farm to film her. According to enotes.com, Flannery O'Connor shared the following sentiments regarding her early notoriety: "That was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It's all been downhill from there" (enotes.com).

Perhaps one of the most interesting tidbits about Flannery O'Connor was that she was an avid cartoonist during her teen and early adult years. As the editor of her high school newspaper, her cartoons and essays were often found in the publication. Her focus on writing and cartooning, her avoidance of piano and dancing lessons (the popular pastimes for girls at the time), and her lack of interest in boys was interpreted, by some, as latent homosexuality (Simpson, Kindle location 144).

Her college years were not much different from her high school years. Flannery O'Connor continued to work on school publications, pursue cartooning, and focus on her studies. Although many thought Flannery O'Connor an awkward young lady, her friend Betty Boyd Love remembers her with these words:

Completely aside from her formidable talent, Flannery O'Connor was a genuinely unusual individual, and I was fond of her. She knew who she was, and what she was, and was neither over-pleased nor disturbed by either.... There are critics who would have you believe that she was a misfit, a bit of a freak herself. Not so! Physically, she was always a bit awkward. But she radiated a glow of good humor, compassion, and intelligence that made her very attractive (Simpson, Kindle location 184).

Flannery O'Connor's writing career officially launched when she was accepted to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop in the fall of 1945. Her first published work, "The Geranium", appeared in the magazine Accent during her first year at the university (Simpson, Kindle location 201). It is said that the earliest of her published works lacked the element of the Southern flair that is now her literary signature.

Over the next few years, Flannery O'Connor moved from Iowa, to New York, and to Connecticut. Throughout her travels, her dedication to Catholicism was reinforced. She found that her tolerance for the loose morals exhibited by many in the post-war era was tested. She tried to live according to the standards of her faith and remained true to her beliefs in spite of the behavior of those who surrounded her.

Not long after Flannery O'Connor's 26th birthday, she arranged for a visit to her Georgia home. During her travels, she became extremely ill and was immediately brought to the hospital upon her arrival. After several weeks' worth of tests, the doctor shared with Flannery O'Connor's mother, Regina, that she suffered from the same debilitating disease that claimed her father's life. Her mother did not share the diagnosis with Mary, but she told a couple of Mary's close friends so that they would know what to expect as the disease progressed. Flannery O'Connor, although she suspected lupus, didn't find out for sure until her friend, against Regina's wishes, told her nearly two years later (Simpson, Kindle location 302).

They Mayo Clinic reports that common symptoms of lupus include fatigue, fever, joint pain, stiffness, swelling, rashes, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, confusion, and memory loss (Mayo Clinic). Flannery O'Connor witnessed her father's decline as a result of this disease and knew how it would impact her life. It wasn't long before she required crutches to help her walk. She also began to limit her writing to the morning hours because of the immense fatigue she was experiencing (Simpson, Kindle location 310). In spite of these limitations, Flannery O'Connor continued to write and provide

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