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Who is Flannery O'Connor?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated May 23, 2024
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Flannery O'Connor is a writer from Georgia who lived from 1925 to 1964. She was known for her Southern Gothic-style fiction, which was reminiscent of Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. Though her career was short, ended by her untimely death from lupus, she is remembered today for her powerful literary works, including her masterful short stories and her two novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away.

Mary Flannery O'Connor, who went by her middle name, was an only child in a deeply religious Roman Catholic family. Her father died of lupus when she was in her teens. Flannery O'Connor attended college at what is now Georgia College & State University, and went on to obtain a master of fine arts in creative writing from the famous Iowa Writers Workshop. Robert Fitzgerald, a famous poet and translator, served as a friend and mentor to her; she stayed with him and his wife in their house for a period of time.

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor's first novel, was published in its entirety in 1952, though the first four chapters were serialized in magazines in the previous years. The novel is notable for its grim depiction of Christianity and the struggle for faith. The story's protagonist, Hazel Motes, willingly destroys his vision, blinding himself with lime, and fills his shoes with rocks and glass to suffer for his faith.

Hazel Motes and the other characters in the book, and in much of Flannery O'Connor's other work, are seen as "grotesques;" that is, they are bizarre, horrific, and unnerving. Flannery O'Connor disputed that characterization, however. She said that "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to called realistic."

During her lifetime, Flannery O'Connor devoted herself to her written work, and to raising birds at her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. She was never married, and was an invalid for much of her life due to her lupus. However, though Flannery O'Connor did not have the chance to experience much of the outside world, her works reveal a rich and layered imagination.

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Discussion Comments
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