Of course, after all this talk about my dissertation, that I’d mention something about Flannery O’Connor, other than her chili recipe.
So, here’s what I found out in my research on her:
1) She never married because the guys she grew up with were too damn intimidated by her being smart and not pretending she wasn’t and the few guys she did fall in love with decided she was more “a friend” than anything else. What with being diagnosed with lupus at age 25 (which is hereditary and killed her father), she realized that a) it would be unjust to be a wife and mother, only to leave husband widowed and child motherless, and b) with a death sentence over her head, she dedicated her few years to the writer’s life, to get those stories out there before the lupus takes her (which it did, at age 39).
2) The best friend in the world was the one person who fell in love with her… but, since O’Connor was straight (and the friend was as lesbian as one could get), that friendship remained *only* a friendship.
3) The story “The Artificial Nigger” *is* O’Connor’s version of the Divine Comedy, including a Beatrice (except that Beatrice is a big black woman who most likely is a prostitute) and a vision of God the Son (except that God the Son is a Negro lawn ornament, found in certain conservative — read *bigoted* — Southern towns). And Vergil and Dante are conflated into one person, but split between two people: Vergil/Dante the Older — Mr. Head — and Vergil/Dante the Younger — the grandson Nelson.
4) The story “A View of the Woods” is beautifully explained as the difference between Lockean version of property and Thomistic version of property (not my idea — I read it in an article by John Roos — really good article, definitely in my dissertation research).
5) Only one person I’ve read so far actually realizes what the God in Parker’s Back truly is — it’s not the OT God of Wrath but the Pantocrator, in full, tesselated, Byzantine mosaics. O’Connor (a Catholic) puts a Byzantine icon of Christ Pantocrator (which is Orthodox) on a former Southern Fundamentalist-turned-pagan who has the tattoo done to impress his Pentacostal-Gnostic wife. It’s a Christian conversion story in the broadest sense of the term Christian, and in having the Pantocrater, there’s that sense of East (Byzantium) and West (America) meeting in ways unexpected and strange. Much coolness. And O’Connor wrote this story on her deathbed. Good god, what she could’ve written if the lupus hadn’t taken her…