This post is a little bit different in format from my previous posts. While it is literary related, it is also a bit of a hybrid post, in that it is part travel post. Firstly, I feel like I should let you know that a life-long dream of mine is to embark upon a multitude of literary road trips, and visit the homes of authors that I admire. While I’ve been dreaming about doing this for years, I finally got started this past summer with a visit to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, in Savannah, GA. I’m going to give an overview of O’Connor, and then tell you about my visit to her childhood home and share some of my pictures. Later this week, I will also share discussions of some of her works.For those of you who are not familiar, Flannery O’Connor is a writer of the American South, who often wrote in a sub-genre of the Southern Gothic, Southern Grotesque. Of this she has said “I have found 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 be called realistic.” Her work featured regional themes, Roman Catholic themes, the aforementioned grotesque, and themes of morality. It’s worth noting that her childhood home is across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. She could view it from her window, and not only was her fiction heavily influenced by her faith but she wrote a number of essays about her faith as well, and her prayer book was published posthumously.
Born in Savannah in 1925, Flannery began her education in the Savannah parochial schools. In 1938 the family moved to Milledgeville, Georgia and Flannery continued her eduacation at the Peabody Laboratory School, and later she attended Georgia State College for Women. During her time there became a prolific cartoonist and also started writing, submitting both her cartoons and various works to the school news paper. After she graduated with a degree in social sciences, she was accepted at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, initially for Journalism. However,once she was there, she realized her proclivity for fiction and studied with the likes of Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Austin Warren and Andrew Lytle.
Born Mary Flannery O’Connor, she described herself as a “pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex.” However, young Flannery was no stranger to fame. When she was five years old an eccentric pet garnered her national attention. She has said of this experience; “When I was five I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”
In 1951, Flannery was diagnosed with Lupus and returned to Georgia. Her father had previously died of the same disease in 1941, when O’Connor was only 15 years old. Following her diagnosis, Flannery settled in at her mother’s farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, GA. In Milledgeville, under the scrupulous care of her mother, Regina Cline, Flannery began her writing career in earnest. During this time she completed more than two dozen short stories and two novels, WiseBlood and TheViolentBearitAway. She was also known for her fondness of peafowl. She raised around 100 peafowl during her convalescence at Andalusia. After her diagnosis, Flannery was expected to live only five more years, she managed to cling on for thirteen before she died at the age of 39, on August 3rd, 1964. She was awarded the national book award for fiction posthumously, for her Compliled Stories. Flannery is still widely lauded for her short fiction in particular, and her collections of short stories are widely revered by scholars and readers.
The Flannery O’Connor childhood home has been restored to the depression era, and contains many items that were owned/used by the O’Connor family. Including some of young Flannery’s annotated books, her bedroom furniture, pictures, and an interesting contraption known as a “kiddie coop.” The home is painstakingly preserved, and open to the public for tours. The home is a comprehensive portrait of Flannery’s early years and serves as a physical reminder of her literary legacy. As I previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to visit this past summer when my boyfriend and I were visiting Savannah. I’ll be completely honest, at the time of our visit I had only the foggiest recollection of fudging my way through Wise Blood in my final year of undergrad. When we returned home, I checked out most of her fiction from the library, re-visited my old copy of Wise Blood, checked out a DVD about her life from the library, and purchased a few of her other works. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed Wise Blood. It has a dry, subtle quiet humor about it that I missed entirely as I read it hastily as a class assignment. I also really loved reading her short fiction, and I’m currently working my way through Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, which is a collection of her lectures, articles and essays that were published after her death by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. This collection has served to endear her to me in a way that I hadn’t expected, and I’m coming to think of her as my person patron saint.
To wrap up, if you are a fan of Flannery O’Connor or Southern Literature, I highly recommend visiting her childhood home. Her home in Milledgeville is also preserved, and although I didn’t venture to see it on this past trip, I’m hoping to make it down there in the next year or two. Visiting Flannery O’Connor’s Childhood Home was my favorite part of our already wonderful trip to Savannah. I thoroughly enjoyed gaining an intimate perspective on the life of an esteemed author, and my reading ventures following the trip.