A Millgrimage to Milledgeville: A Groundbreaking at Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusia, September 29, 2021

Among the invitations extended to Cathy and me when we visited Milledgeville was an opportunity to attend the groundbreaking for the Andalusia Interpretative Center. The Center would be planted on the farm where Flannery O’Connor lived, wrote, and raised fowl from 1951 until “the red wolf” of Lupus took her in 1964. We were pleased to receive the invitation. It was another happy coincidence afforded by the timing of our visit. We planned on visiting the hermitage and reliquary farm that morning, so the timing could not be happier. We thought we might get to observe some of the bright lights of the Flannery Scholarly Constellation.

On Andalusia’s Hallowed Ground

At 10 o’clock on a bright Georgia morning, we were pleased to observe Louise Flourencourt, trustee and proximate family to the great Flannery. Few other shooting stars flashed past the groundbreaking. We had already been honored to meet Dr. Bruce Gentry, an expert in FO’C’s body of work. We had also enjoyed the good offices of Nancy Davis Bray, curator of GCSU’s Special Collections. They serve the community of O’Connor devotees every day, and enough wisdom and good grace brushed off those two alone to make the journey worthwhile. It was disappointing that academics from across the country didn’t stream or even trickle into Milledgeville for the groundbreaking like the House of David beating a path toward Bethlemen for the great Augustinian Census.

America doesn’t honor American writers as other countries honor writers. In Montréal, Dublin, Soule, and Trieste, the celebration of the writing of James Joyce for a Bloomsday festival stretches the seams of a week. “The Joyce Industry” rewards authors, researchers, and professors for the exercise of their passion every June. It’s not that there is no appetite for the celebration of literature in America. There are globally renowned Bloomsday celebrations on Broadway and in Philadelphia, but there is no grand national event honoring Faulkner, Dickinson, Melville, Hemingway, or Whitman either. That O’Connor, among the most respected of American authors, can’t draw a decent mob for two hours on a flawless Fall day is sad if not shocking. It’s not the product at fault; it’s the marketing.

Mary Flannery isn’t the problem either. The Center is a modest venture, planned at $3.4million. If the posterboard notice propped against the wall of the “Shipley’s” cabin on the Andalusian grounds is correct, the small O’Connor homestead cost $2 million to renovate. The Andalusia groundbreaking competed on that day with the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Georgia College and State University’s $22.1 million Integrated Science Complex. The amount spent on the Andalusia Interpretative Center isn’t the problem either. The problem might be that more attendees wielded shovels than books. I have found no YouTube video of the event. This is the heritage of a prophetess without honor on her own farm.

Perhaps all ceremonial shoveling is designed to inspire construction teams. The day’s speeches addressed the project but did not delve into the exhibits that would draw an audience to the finished Center. There was no more than nominal mention of the artist herself, though many of her best stories sprung from this land. The architect could have interested the audience by showing how this design best serves Flannery. He might lure back readers, not for the next ribbon-cutting, but to stroll, read, and interact–had the architect spoke, had many readers been present. Discussion of the stories played out on Andalusia’s pastures or about Flannery’s character would have moved readers too. Afterward, in Regina’s house, a docent said that all hands mustered that morning, not knowing how many people would wander up from the meadow after the shovel turning. We were inside the house and at the peafowl pen for an hour and more after the ceremony. Only one other party of three people ventured up the gravel drive.

Imagine how Miss O’Connor would have sung out that famous laugh over the event. How would she describe ten gold shovels scratching a handful of mortal soil each? Imagine how she would have tickled Caroline, Sally, Hester, and all with the story of hardhats held without a clue as to which end was fore and which end aft. It would have made a story, no doubt a morality play with a belly laugh.

Flannery’s heritage suffers a disadvantage. She travels spacetime toward us from another era. This world misunderstands her with even more determination than did her contemporaries. Today, she is a moralist in a world almost purely secular, and she a grotesque like her own fictional inventions. Flannery understood the business of being published, ACTH and transfusions were expensive then too, but if the legacy is to survive, it will take more than business.

Read, donate, share.

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: Special Collections- September 28, 2021

The second floor of the Ina Dillard Russell Library is a lively place. Classgoers speak aloud to a zooming diaspora. Study groups hawk their ideas in voices that drift up and out over the academic bazaar. Enthusiasm bests collegiality here. The lone scholar is a peculiar sight. She may cover herself with a whiteboard of words circled, arrowed, and webbed. I came from a time and place when the best libraries were famously monkish. “Shhh!” was a greeting. Collections hired librarians for encyclopedic memories and withering scowls.

From the circulation desk, the researcher follows an escort through the long arcade. Go left at the glass wall. Then through the locked metal doors. There the collection’s security becomes obvious. A battery of networked PCs sentinels stands watch against online incursions against the collection and copyright infringement. Through another steel door, find the inner sanctum. Laptops are allowed into the researchers’ fishbowl. Selfies with the documents are verboten, but review the bound catalog, select the document that tweaks your curiosity, and your fascination rekindles like when it first flickered.

Unlike those “librarians” of my epoch, Nancy Davis Bray and her team are scowl-free. I have visited a reading room at the New York 42nd Street Library. There is a reason why the Stone Lions sit outside, 42nd Street was more welcoming than among the stacks. There a pile of the requested works were trundled in, dumped, and thumped on a table. The attendant was subway polite, littering a nicety in exit, back across the threshold. Not so at the “Ina.” Nancy’s welcome was shocking before we ever met her. Permissions, pathfinding, parking permit. Later there would be introductions and Milledgeville advice (“the cemetery closes at six”). Best of all was a richness of anecdotes she was willing to share. The curator of the Collections at the Ina is gracious with her time and her memories of the Flannery Community as well as with the materials under her care. She is Beatrice, and we are guided to Paradiso.

The purpose of my visit was to investigate the manuscripts of stories that might be compared to others by Faulkner, whose writing O’Connor found so moving. I signed a commitment to include an acknowledgment of the debt incurred to the Foundation and asked to see the copies of available manuscripts for FO’C’s stories “The Turkey,” “The River,” and “A Circle in the Fire.” The few pages of “The Turkey” had a limited number of corrections. I might have expected this since the early versions of the story were written while Flannery was still at The Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Many more pages and even iterative versions of pages surfaced from “A Circle in the Fire.” A few wording improvements, reference corrections, some changes from pronouns to nouns. No changes were more significant than could be accomplished with three or four words. These might have included final drafts and penultimates. Only a bit of a manuscript of “The River” was available, but this was (not to stack one manuscript on another) a ‘”revelation.” In this very early version, Boy Bevel’s father is more than numbed by a morning-after weakness. He is foul-tempered and potentially brutish. Mrs. Conin, not yet known by that name, is more avaricious and somewhat unpleasant too. 

Meanwhile, my fellow pilgrim plowed through Mary Flannery’s early sketches and linographs. She was especially interested in Flannery’s childhood drawing of a girl and her turkey. Here she floated above the fowl like an inversion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Edward O’Connor carried that sketch in his wallet like a lucky penny. Nancy broke away from her duties to find that beautiful childhood memory was put in the hands of the person who would best adore it.

The day done, and with directions from Nancy Davis Bray (“the graves are to the left and against the fence”), we stood before the graves of Edward Francis, Regina Cline, and Mary Flannery O’Connor.

I gratefully acknowledge the assistance and permission of the Georgia College & State University, The Flannery O’Connor Collection, The Estate of Mary Flannery O’Connor, and The Flannery O’Connor Foundation. Particular thanks are due to the curator of the collection, Nancy Davis Bray, and her entire team.

A Final Note

Before our visit, I wrote an essay contrasting O’Connor’s “The River” and James Joyce’s story “Grace.” The required acknowledgment of the Foundation and GCSU offices will accompany its publication. I don’t know, however, if I will continue to write criticism about O’Connor’s work in the future. The rules applied to control O’Connor’s works are inscrutable given my layperson’s understanding of copyright law. I regret this, believing more exposure could draw young and international readers to O’Connor’s in greater numbers.

 

James Joyce Reading Circle Usage by Nation during September

James Joyce Reading Circle Usage by Nation during September
Activity on the website was less than usual during the month. Few new posts were created. Usage related to Flannery O’Connor is heavily weighted toward US usage. Haiku were added to half the Giacomo Joyce cantos in September. This will be completed in October. This is also probably of interest mostly to those reading the site in English. 
 
Belgium 1%
Cameroon 1%
Brazil 0% (usage but less than 1% of total)
Canada 1%
China 1%
India 1%
Ireland . 24%
Isreal 0%
Italy 4%
Mexico 0%
Netherlands 1%
Philippines 0%
Russia 0%
Spain 3%
Switzerland 1%
UK 1%
US 36%

(D) about “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”- October 6, the Anniversary of Parnell’s Death

Edwardian Dublin was an occupied city under imposed and foreign institutions. Eight hundred years previously, Stirruped Strongbow took the Dark City. Beyond the Pale, Norman strongholds pockmarked the fortifiable positions. Eventually, most Normans succumbed to Ireland’s charm, but one result was the dilution of old Irish ways. The new masters denuded forests. Farms turned to pastures for invaders’ livestock. Norman and English law plowed under Brehon Law over the next 500 years. An English pope turned Rome against Celtic Catholicism. Education was outlawed, and Irish marriage weakened under economic pressure and protestant prudery. Irish language and culture were outlawed. Even family names were made unfamiliar, and all this resulted from inviting a Stranger into a family dispute. Conquest was born of a betrayal as unnatural as Cain’s murder of Abel. Betrayal in Ireland became a way of survival, institutionalized by the “soupers” who sold Protestantism in exchange for a bowl of famine porridge. Meanwhile, the Castle made snitchery a route to the middle class, and Catholic clergy were sometimes more interested in preserving permission to exist from the conquerors than in shepherding a flock.

A Dublin municipal election could be held in October but probably only after the death of an officeholder. Generally, the short interval between October and January would simply delay the election for sixty days until the customary date in January (Hodgart 115). This fictitious October election does occur after the death of an incumbent. It was eleven years since Parnell’s passing, allowing emotions to soothe and betrayals to fade into memory. Tindall observes that since then, like John Donne’s world, Joyce’s Dublin has gone “all in pieces all coherence gone,… lacking that moral cement” that once “did faithfully compact and glue all virtues” ( 34). Everything became unglued after the betrayal of the man who had Home Rule within his grasp. In 1903 it was as unlikely that Home Rule would advance as that the sun might rise over the former Irish Parliament building, as shown on the Freeman’s Journal’s masthead. Gifford and Seidman report among radicals, the Freeman’s was considered “compromised by the quasi-conservative interests” (292. 37-38), and the sun could never rise over the old Parliament (in 1903 the Bank of Ireland) since the building faces Northwest (Gifford and Seidman N: 57: 33-35).

The Home Rule movement built upon ancient Celtic traditions, a history of rebellion, and the unfairness of English law and economic policy. Yeats’ Twilight, Irish Athletics linked arm in arm with the threat of rebellion, and a delicate balance between Tories and Labour in the halls of Parliament had favored the Home Rule cause. Since Parnell’s fall, there was little need for the Empire to compromise. International events and the willingness within some quarters of the Catholic hierarchy to trade Irish freedoms to secure Church wealth made political disinterest possible.

The attempt to resurrect the old heroes, culture, and law had scuttled. After more than a decade, the Committee Room collected representatives from all strata of Irish society. Facts became clouded, and political power realigned; time erased Parnel’s “betrayal” from history’s memory. The canvassers assembled to drink to the “Pok-ing” of Parnell’s tattoo.

Jack is an unlettered keeper of the flame. Others’ devotion has faded, but he remains dedicated to old ways. He fiercely but ineptly defends against the passing of tradition but remains susceptible to the influence of his “betters.” When Old Jack rakes the ashes, he casts a shadow distorted and overblown like the ones in Plato’s cave. His counterpart in the assemblage is the delivery boy, who is the vehicle of shabby patronage. He shares the drink, like Jack’s son, who brutalizes the old man when the opportunity presents. The delivery boy and Jack’s son are too young to remember the events that led to the abandonment of Home Rule; Jack is too old to forget the uncomfortable but stable Ascendancy. 

A tainted member of the clergy scuttles quickly into and then out of the group. Fr. Keon is looking for the man who buys the drinks and is happy to meet him in the pub where the rounds are likelier to flow. Lyons stands in for the observant Catholics who followed clerical advice and condemned Parnell. Mr. Lyons can’t grasp why Dublin should welcome the British playboy sovereign if Parnell must fall, “Why, now, would we welcome a man like that? Do you think now after what he did Parnell was a fit man to lead us? And why, then, would we do it for Edward the Seventh?”

Crofton championed self-assured but unexpressed support for the status quo. The well-fed Orangeman undermines anything but Ascendancy in circumspect ways. He only supports Tierney as an ineffectual foil to Labour’s opposition (“Mr. Crofton…. was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him”). This reluctant canvasser, whether from a lack of artistic taste or as a way of insult, gives thin praise to Hynes’ paean. Hugh Kenner offers a truer analysis of the poem: “the pathos genuine, the rhetoric frigid and ludicrous, falsity exposed in the very grief it expresses” (82). If the Protestant is unmovable and passive-aggressive, then frail, uncertain O’Connor is his opposite number. He has just enough insight to question the faulty logic proposed but without the conviction to oppose it. The betrayal could not have succeeded without his cadre of the indifferent.

The final pairing consists of compromised, caustic, self-serving Henchy and blindly staunch Hynes. Henchy is Joyce’s fictionalized treatment of Healy, whose betrayal of his longtime friend was chiseled in “Et Tu Healy.” Henchy navigates ethical sholes by the star of his own advantage and argues that Ireland needs English “sovereigns” more than freedom or dignity:

Listen to me, – said Mr. Henchy.-What we want in this country, as I said to old Ward, is capital. The King’s coming here will mean an influx of money into this country. The citizens of Dublin will benefit by it. Look at all the factories down by the quays there, idle!…Parnell, -said Mr. Henchy, -is dead. Now, here’s the way I look at it. Here’s this chap come to the throne after his old mother keeping him out of it till the man was grey. He’s a man of the world, and he means well by us. He’s a jolly fine decent fellow, if you ask me,…Damn it, can’t we Irish play fair? (James Joyce)

Hynes, though unaccomplished as a journalist or a poet, remained loyal to Parnell. Hodgart calls him a “waster whose political idealism is spilled out in bad verse” (118), but the name Hynes derives from the Irish for ivy, the symbol of Parnell’s memory (Torchiana 179). Crafty Henchy, henchman of the Castle, whispers the accusation that Hynes spies for the Labour Party, the loyal few now called disloyal themselves.

Old Jack, in an intuitive but also mindless ritual, holds off the darkness. The firelight is flickering. Fuel is scarce, and the old porter brings candelabra for the requiem. O’Connor lights tentative cigarettes by burning canvassing cards. These flimsy cards exist to kindle fires in the hearts of indifferent voters. Jack warns of the treachery of the dark stairs. They could lead the men out into the gray light but have kept them down in the darkness, where tardy corks “POK!” on the fire’s hob. Jackson and McGinley observe that the hob or iron side of the grate where stout bottles heat is also called the “devil or goblin” (116). Joyce indicted Irish politics to Grant Richards, noting “the special odour of corruption which, I hope floats over my stories.” In this story, corruption maneuvers through the relationship of politico and priest and the falling away of personal loyalties. The old institutions have expired.

At nine years old, James Joyce wrote his poem honoring the dead Parnell. Disappointed by politics as a child, when a young man, Joyce composed the anthem that placed “the artist” beyond the authority of human institutions. Nietzsche thought similarly. Pre-dating Joyce, he is called a proto-modernist but is best known for nihilism. This philosophy proposes that there are no universal truths and therefore no meaning in institutions, political, religious, or social. By 1903, there had been a societal shift toward situational politics and loyalties favored by Henchy. Old institutions buckled under the weight of corruption. By the time Joyce wrote Dubliners, he had turned away from human institutions, leaving Ireland, abandoning the Church, and keeping a stiff arm between himself and his old Irish loyalties.

 

Works Cited

Adams, Robert Martin. Surface and Symbol: The Consistency of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 4-12.

Burgess, Anthony. ReJoyce. Second ed., W.W. Norton & Company, New York. 1965, pp. 41-42. 

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York. 1983, pp. 207-223, 252-253, 310-311.

Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Ulysses Annotated Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Univ. of California Press, pp. 57: 33-35, 292: 37-38. 

Joyce, James. Dubliners. Enhanced Media, 2016, Retrieved September 14-September 23 2021.

Joyce, James. James Joyce’s Dubliners: An Illustrated Edition with Annotations, edited by John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley, St. 

Martin’s Press, 1993, pp. 106-121.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. Enhanced Media, 2011, Retrieved September 26 2021.

Joyce, Stanislaus. My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years, edited by Richard Ellmann, Da Capo Press, 1958, p. 206.

Hodgart, M.J.C. “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” James Joyce’s Dubliners: Critical Essays, edited by Clive Hart, Viking Press, 1969, pp. 115–121. 

Kenner, Hugh. Joyce’s Voices, Dalkey Archive Press, 2007.

Scholes, Robert and A. Walton Litz, editors. James Joyce’s Dubliners: Text and Criticism. Penguin Books, 1996, pp. 477-481. 

Tindall, William York. “Dubliners.” A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1959, pp. 33-36. 

Torchiana, Donald T.” ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room’: Fanning the Phoenix Flame, or the Lament of the Fianna,” Backgrounds for Joyce’s Dubliners, Allen & Unwin, 1986, pp. 176-187.

 

 

 

 

 

What You Were Reading on the JJRC in September

 

There was less new material on the site to read last month. I’ll do better this month. Interest in Giacomo Joyce resumed as haikus were added to the files for a Daily Haiku group on Facebook. Materials about Flannery O’Connor continue to interest some readers. This month excerpts from her letters will be discontinued in favor of more original materials about her writing. A Year of Dubliners will conclude in October. The final essay will be “about “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.” “About ‘Grace'” is complete but is being withheld from posting while circulated for publication. Please let me know if there is a topic you like addressed on the JJRC. Thanks for your interest to many your friendship. You know who you are. ~Don

Access by Topic

Ulysses 30%

The Flannery O’Corner 25%

Home Page, etc. 22%

Giacomo Joyce 15%

Dubliners 7%

Reviews of Books, etc 1%

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: A Classroom of Flannery with Dr. Marshall Bruce Gentry at GCSU

One most pleasant surprise of our visit to Andalusia and Flannery’s alma mater in Milledgeville was the invitation to sit with Bruce Gentry’s scholars on September 27. 

We first encountered Dr. Gentry digitally during the International Flannery O’Connor Conference in early August (2021). Bruce, who edits and writes for the Flannery O’Connor Review, had the conference Zoomers halting their walking-in-place and bookshelf dusting as he explored the comparative treatment of amputees by writers doing homage (or damage) to O’Connor’s “Good Country People.” One gem he mined was an exploration of Joyce Carol Oates’ treatment of physical disfigurement in “Amputee.” Bruce pointed to the degradation of the comparison. O’Connor’s sometimes infused “otherness” with grace, as in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost.” At other times, she used the grotesque as a merit badge of nihilism as she did in “Good Country People.” Oates departs O’Connor’s precedent making her amputee an icon of Postmodernism. JCO elevates “otherness” creating in her character a token of sexual conquest in the casino of the Twentyfirst Century. Oates’ theme: “God meant to mock: a pretty-girl face on a broken body” became a focus of fascination in Bruce’s discussion. 

When we asked for access to O’Connor’s manuscripts, we expected a response from Special Collections. We’ll post more about Nancy Davis Bray’s benefices soon, but Nancy’s reply included invitations from Bruce Gentry too. We could not have anticipated the generosity of Dr. Gentry’s hospitality. He offered links to two express but expert discussions of Wise Blood conducted in September and October. I wasn’t certain how this could be conjured, but it seems Bruce has done this before. His overview wasn’t a shoveling out of CliffNote factuals. He marked the significant themes with notes that don’t replace a careful reading but enhance it. I was happy to hear him confirm my thinking that the Redcap is, in fact, a railroading prodigal son. He disagreed with my (okay, sigh) overly optimistic hopes for Haze Mote’s salvation. I’ll hear his conclusion in two weeks.

Sandwiched between bookended digital Wise Blood discussions was another invitation. That was for seated attendance in the Gentry classroom, where undergraduate and graduate inspiration is fostered in a single class. The academic diversity of this class requires special handling. We could only guess at how diverse the students’ academic interests were. One self-identified as a film major, and another may have studied Social Sciences or Psychology. One might have been pursuing studies in Literature. Posing and answering questions in this advanced class while maintaining the interest of such a group requires surgical skill– not too broad for the specialist, nor too focused for the generalist. Every response directly responded to a questioner’s particular interest while sparking general attention among the class. This pedagogical deftness speaks nothing of the depth of this professor’s boundless subject matter mastery. 

Flannery O’Connor’s generosity toward correspondents is legendary. When questions were vapid, she was usually gentle unless they offended her religious sensibilities. With some frequency, she invited continued contact, explained her process and the intent of her writing. Sometimes she provided materials for the novice writer’s development. That spirit lives on in Milledgeville. I taught on the lowest rung of higher education for thirteen years. I confess that I never mastered the easy and judgment-neutral style of feedback that got the same reception from students, whether the feedback was approbation or remediation. At GCSU, student comments are bent from dark night toward morning. No one gives feedback more effectively. No instructor is more gently collaborative. No instructor better handles dense subject matter improvisationally.

A “Millgrimage” to Milledgeville: Planning and Provisioning the Trip

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.

 

A Cheery “Millgrimage” to Flannery O’Connor’s Environs in Milledgeville

Drop-down arrows from the main menu and the link to the NEXT entry below will access the entries posted. If you have made your own trip to Flannery’s Milledgeville and would like to post a photo, leave a Comment here and I will post it for you, or you can also Direct Message me on Facebook. Best~Don

U22E6 Bowing My Head to the Hades Episode

Listening to U22 this week, I contemplate my rumored mortality. I can ignore it for days at a time, but the obscuring clouds are stratus now, not cumulus, so I rode in the carriage with Paddy Dignam’s mourners. Simon Dedalus was sufficiently decrepit and feared that the horses shook bells for him. Cunningham and Power could talk of death but, like those casting their pod upon the waters, could not really taste it yet. The podcast was crafted for the young, not for the over-ripe.

This “Centenary” episode (I love Dr. Flynn’s vocalization of the word) dealt not with death but with footnotes. An interesting rat, fat, superannuated, and successful in the Hades-trade scuttles across the podcast. Another commentary explores Irish political shades as Greek heroes. Death became a fleeting distraction in the interior monolog of Outsider Bloom. The dead, Rudy and Virag, threw a shroud over the vital infidelity of Mrs. Molly Bloom. There is the discussion of the trappings of death but without Dignam’s widow, his orphaned brood, Paddy’s wastrel life, or Macintosh.

This week I am reading and writing about the same mourners. They swirl in a vortex of identities from historical Edwardian Dublin into Joyce’s story “Grace,” again in Ulysses, and occasionally beyond. An incident from the life of John S. Joyce inspired “Grace.” The model for the “protagonist” better identifies with one-time Joyce neighbor and tea taster Dicky Boy Thornton. Kernan travels in another carriage but is spoken of with disdain by John S. He might as well be dead for, as the saying goes, “if we cannot speak ill of the dead, then whom?” Jack Power draws from the personage of Tom Devan. M’Coy is an unevolved Leopold Bloom, a canvasser for ads and married to an opera soprano. Another contributor to Bloom’s character is the Dubliner Alfred Hunter, who attended a funeral with Joyce and who, also like Bloom, showed him kindness during a Joycean drunken escapade. Charles Chance attended the retreat in the historical company that was to become “Grace.” Chance was married to the woman who modeled for Molly Bloom. Kane is everywhere. A real-in-death Paddy Dignam in the grave, a lost-at-sea corpse unrecovered, the organizer of the party to attend the actual retreat on Gardiner Street, and Martin Cunningham.

The overt subject of the Hades episode of Ulysses is Requiem, while “Grace” metes out Penitence. But the sub-rosa themes in each are simony and Jansenism. The mourners and penitents misunderstand the rites and fail the facts of the religious practice. They afford all top-hatted adherence to form without regard for substance. These “gentlemen” prove to have no better understanding of the rituals or history of their faith than does Mrs. Kernan in Grace. For her, “faith was bounded by her kitchen, but, if she was put to it, she could believe also in the banshee and in the Holy Ghost.”

It’s all genuflection, a coin, and a handful of soil exchanged for salvation.

*****************

I was thrilled to hear Amanda Greenwood comment on the affinity of the Korean people for the Irish. Her comment on the shared buffeting of Ireland and Korea by imperial powers echos something I have often said. It is also true that the Koreans were responsible for curating written language in Asia as the Irish were in the Dark Ages of Europe. Furthermore, the imperial powers in the East and in the West are large populous, continental empires (China and France) and insular maritime powers (Japan and England).

Aquinas, Gilson, and The Hillbilly Bulldog of Milledgeville

The earliest appearance of Mary Flannery as the Avenging Hillbilly Thomist seems to have been in 1944. The sweater-clad crusader emerged from her Fortress of Silence while taking Introduction to Modern Philosophy (Philosophy 412) with Professor George Beiswanger. Her instructor was known as Dr. He-B, his wife on the Arts faculty at the Georgia State College for Women was called Dr. She-B. The Doctors B were curiosities in Milledgeville for having cosmopolitan and Modernist approaches respectively to philosophy and terpsichore. He-B assigned Randall’s The Making of the Modern Mind to his students; She-B instructed in “godless” modern dance. 

Randall’s book championed Descartes, the Enlightenment, and philosophical Pragmatism and was dismissive of Medieval thought in general and Aquinas in particular. O’Connor is described as being sullen during lectures and shaken before being stirred. When Dr. He-B proposed the Medieval Church was “polytheistic,” she cast away her shyness, challenging him in class. His reaction was cold and “anthropologistic.” She continued her defense of Thomas to Beiswanger outside of class. Beigwanger became convinced of her potential if not her astuteness. While he would only concede that she had a solid foundation in “earlier philosophy,” it was he who pushed her and endorsed her applications to graduate school at Iowa and Duke University (Gooch 112-115).

Beset at every corner after the Reformation, Catholicism had withdrawn from debates about most theological and ethical refinements choosing to focus on the necessary defense of fundamental tenets like the Ressurection and the divinity of Christ. Unfortunately for Aquinas’ reputation, many of his writings, like the classification of lies and the criteria for justifiable war seemed less critical to a Papacy under attack. Furthermore, Aquinas was sometimes out of step with Suarez, the most prominent Jesuit thinker. Thomist thinking fell from the mainstream of Catholic intellectualism. In 1827, when an Italian Thomist was named to teach logic at the Roman College, objections caused the appointment to be withdrawn.

Leo XIII began a recall of Thomas from his exile in 1879. This occurred only through two Thomist champions, a Medieval scholar and the second a convert who was anxious to separate the philosophical from the theological writings of Aquinas. The first was Etienne Gilson, whose influence on O’Connor will be discussed a bit here; the second is Maritain whose contribution will keep until another day.

Gilson wrote his doctoral dissertation about Rene Descartes, but as years passed, he became increasingly disillusioned with Human rationality’s effectiveness in dealing with core theological problems. Descartes had attempted, for example, to prove the existence of God with logic. I believe, and some smart people agree, that the proof was unsatisfactory. Faith seems to be the cornerstone of theological logic. Gilson said: “Faith comes to intelligence as a light that overflows it with joy and inspires it with a certitude that does away with question.” The instability of unguided reason seems to be central to the themes that emerge in Flannery O’Connor’s writing. In her letters, she takes Descartes to task but saves her most vociferous concern for Nihilism.

I don’t know yet and may never know how much Etienne Gilson influenced O’Connor by the day she fenced with Professor Beigwanger in 1944. It wasn’t until 1946 that Gilson was elected an “Immortal” of the Académie française (“Gilson, Etienne,” Wikipedia). She may not have known his work as an undergraduate, but by September 1955, she described herself as an admirer of Gilson’s Unity of Philosophical Experience and reported that she was reading his Christain Philosophy in the Middle Ages (O’Connor 107). We do know that she was already well versed in the Summa Theologicae when an undergraduate. Even better evidence may be found in her fiction, particularly in her two finished novels. It was Gilson who wrote before her: “Man is not a mind that thinks, but a being who knows other beings as true, who loves them as good, and who enjoys them as beautiful.” 

 

Works Cited

Gilson, Etienne,”Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/philosophy 26 August 2021.

Gooch, Brad. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. Bay Back Books., 2010, pp. 112-115.

Herr, William A. Catholic Thinkers in the Clear: Giants of Catholic Thought from Augustine To Rahner. The Thomas More Press, 1985, pp. 195–206. 

O’Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being, Ed. Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999, p. 107

Sundell, Carl “ETIENNE GILSON ON MAD-HATTERS AND METAPHYSICS,” Catholic Insight, 12 November 2018. https://catholicinsight.com/etienne-gilson-on-mad-hatters-and-metaphysic/ 26 August 2021.