One delight found when exploring Mary Flannery O’Connor’s life and craft is the discovery of her generosity toward correspondents— researchers, instructors, or unwashed readers like me. This quality conjoined with her persistent bravery and laugh-out-loud, squint-eyed humor sustains fascination even beyond the hammered genius of her storytelling. The people found in Milledgeville, those who surround her legacy, honor and perpetuate her charity, devotion, and wit.
For the second plague year, O’Connor’s storytelling sustained us. We read her weekly. At first weakly, then with a better understanding about the persistence of her treatment of grace. We plied open JSTOR and other sources of criticism and her occasional writings. We YouTubed lectures, read Gooch, Ellie, and others. Most instructive were her responses to those who corresponded with her unannounced. Usually patient, sometimes less so, she explained in pages of detail the whats and whys of her process. “Mary-Cathy” and I would talk for three hours weekly about what we found in her writing and criticism about her art.
For weeks I had been thinking about the incongruous treatment of grace and simony in O’Connor’s “The River” and James Joyce’s “Grace.” For weeks too, I spoke about it perseveratively. I don’t remember who first suggested that we should try to look at her manuscripts. In reading her stories, we thought her manuscripts, marginalia, and revisions would give us a peek into her process.
Nancy Davis Bray is the long-tenured Associate Director for Special Collections at Georgia College & State University. We contacted Nancy thinking she might grant or deny us access and that, were we permitted to view any of the collection, our treatment would be procedural and perfunctory. But Milledgeville is in Georgia, and Nancy Davis Bray is Nancy. There were forms to complete, yes, but they are streamlined and exist to establish expectations. The procedures are sensible and painless rather than authoritarian. Nancy must have chuckled or tutted at my overly ambitious and fanciful list of manuscripts for review. She and her crew had done this before. She guided us through obstacles we would have collided against blindly–parking, directions through the brick gate and around the campus landmarks, navigation bending around a library’s construction maze. If you are ever are offered directions by the curator of a collection, accept the offer. They will be — encyclopedic.
I’ll share the details of our visit with a series of short posts over the coming days. Here is the current schedule:
The Classroom of Dr. Marshall Bruce Gentry (visited on September 27)
Nancy Davis Bray’s “Stacks” at Georgia College & State University (September 28)
The Final Resting Place of FO’C and “THE River” (September 28)
The Groundbreaking for The Andalusia Interpretive Center (September 29)
On Andalusia’s Hallowed Grounds (September 29)
About Your Visit to Milledgeville
We owe heartfelt thanks to the curators of the Flannery O’Connor Collection, The Ina Dillard Russell Library, Georgia College & State University, and the estate of Mrs. Regina C. O’Connor for access and assistance in viewing items from the collection during our visit.