Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy

This topic contains 11 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 2 years, 3 months ago.

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  • 09 Mar 2015 at 2:45 pm #6653


    Just started getting into Flannery O’Connor.

    I’m seeing similarities between McCarthy and her.

    For one, they both manage to be dark and humorous at the same time.

    Also I notice the Faulkner influence on both of them.

    I’ve never heard McCarthy talk about O’Connor in an interview, so I don’t know if he was influenced by her at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Here’s a reading O’Connor did of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” back in ’59: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQT7y4L5aKU

    09 Mar 2015 at 5:21 pm #6654


    Hey Jason,

    this is funny, I just finished re-reading “Wise Blood” earlier today,
    having also re-read “The Violent Bear It Away” last week. Moving on
    to her letters next. I’m told they are quite a chilling and funny read.

    Anyway, McCarthy refers to O’Connor in an interview:

    “Someone asked Flannery O’Connor why she wrote, and she said,
    “Because I was good at it.” And I think that’s the right answer.
    If you’re good at something it’s very hard not to do it.”

    Here’s the complete interview:

    Also, author William Gay had this to say:

    “I had a few questions about Child of God, but he didn’t want to talk
    about his stuff and doesn’t like to discuss his own writing. When I
    called he was polite but a bit stand offish until I mentioned something
    about Flannery O’Connor and he started to open up about O’Connor’s
    influence on him.”

    here’s that one:

    – Toni

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Toni.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Toni.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Toni.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Toni.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Toni.
    10 Mar 2015 at 6:22 am #6659


    Toni, nice finds!

    10 Mar 2015 at 4:30 pm #6664


    I am reading Flannery’s shorts with my accelerated kids. They love it! Bits from each Flannery story appear in the work of Cormac. Today, from “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” I couldnt’ help noticing deaf and dumb Lucynelle being similar to the idiot. Yesterday, I was thinking a paper could be done on Enoch Emory and Lester Ballard as being one and the same.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Mike.
    10 Mar 2015 at 5:01 pm #6666


    To the Enoch/Lester combination, you might want to add Gene Harrogate.

    I think McCarthy’s characters are stronger, though. I have a problem with Flannery, and it’s specifically in the way she manipulates them to advance her theories. Enoch Emory is such an obvious critique of the hubris of humanity and our pursuit of the Nietzschean overman that he even ends up wearing a gorilla outfit: our rejection of God sees us regress into barbarity.

    I’ve also always thought that the scene near the end of Suttree when Sut runs the police car down the hill into the river is a neat (maybe intentional?) inversion of Haze Motes doing the same thing with his beloved car, in which he had previously invested notions of divinity and which he now renounced as he approached redemption. If so, that would suggest McCarthy being somewhat uncomfortable with the rigidity of O’Connor’s moral view. If that were true, it is something I could only applaud.

    10 Mar 2015 at 10:37 pm #6668



    Good to hear from you. As for Flannery’s character’s I’d say that they are all used by the author to underscore her fear and antipathy of the politically egalitarian and enlightened ego of Modern man, which Nietzsche rhetorically employs and thematically warns of in such a sly and duplicitous way. Yes, her characters are mannequins of the unhealthy Modern soul. However, she does not put forth a theory: she just denies and shows the dangers of the nihilistic enlightened ego. She doesn’t pronounce anything, she just shows the “downside”. I agree her characters lack the depth of Cormac’s, but I think Flannery is employing the art of comedy more so than the art of short story or novel writing.

    “No one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer&he has his reasons- Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal 1/2/47

    Interesting thoughts on Enoch and Lester, but I think their checkered pasts with their fathers’ and their inability to integrate into society is the great trick of the authors Enoch and Lester truly know nothing and are truly lost.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Mike.
    11 Mar 2015 at 11:13 am #6670

    Richard L.

    “William Gay: Actually [talked with Cormac McCarthy] quite a bit…I had finished reading Child of God and on the dust jacket it said where he lived in Tennessee and on a whim I called information and got his number and just called him up. I had a few questions about Child of God, but he didn’t want to talk about his stuff and doesn’t like to discuss his own writing. When I called he was polite but a bit stand offish until I mentioned something about Flannery O’Connor and he started to open up about O’Connor’s influence on him. Since then we’ve exchanged a few letters. Of course this was all before he got famous. As far as I’m concerned he’s the greatest writer I’ve ever read. He’s very cinematic and as far as I’m concerned a lot of his writing is better than most movies. Eventually I think he’ll win the Nobel Prize.

    KR: I think both you and McCarthy share a very cinematic style of writing. Do you come at your writing as if it was a film where you work on it chronologically?

    WG: I wish I could write chronologically, linearly. But the way I write is I have a lot of bits and pieces and I just kind of bring all the bits and pieces and tie them all together. When I feel it’s all done, it all has to be sequenced, almost like like putting a crossword puzzle together. It’s kind of a hard way of doing it because I don’t write on a computer or a typewriter.

    KR: So you do everything in a notebook?

    WG: Yeah, notebooks or yellow legal pads. I seem to think better with a fountain pen in my hand than at a keyboard. I’m really not all that great of a typist, so when I finally do get around to typing everything up, it’s pretty much a second draft because of all the changes I make as I’m typing.

    KR: Who are the writers who’ve helped shape your voice? Has Faulkner in anyway influenced you?

    WG: I think Faulkner is one of the writers I’m most interested in. Something I was pretty proud of was I was asked to write an introduction to a U.K. edition of As I Lay Dying. The editor felt Twilight was a gothic novel and had a similar feel to As I Lay Dying. I was real proud and humbled by that comparison. But I don’t think Faulkner was as big of an influence as O’Connor or McCarthy. Especially McCarthy’s novel Suttree…”


    Nice stuff, and thanks for that link.

    Which reminds me that, when the actor John Franco was asked to name his favorite book of the past year, 2014, he named William Gay’s novel, TWILIGHT, and gushed praise over it. Some of us here in the forum, at least Dr. Morgan and myself, praised that book here when it first came out.

    11 Mar 2015 at 2:57 pm #6671


    The mention of William Gay brings back some memories. According to my notes, on April 26, 2004, I attended a reading at the University of Tennessee Library by Gay. Gay read “My Hand Is Just Fine Where It Is” from I Hate To See The Evening Sun Go Down. After the reading and reception at the library a number of us went to Calhoun’s Restaurant on the river to get something to eat and drink. I had the opportunity to talk some with him at some length and he seemed interested in talking about McCarthy. I gave him my McCarthy Journal paper [“McCarthy’s High School Years”] and a copy of McCarthy’s poem “Autumn’s Magic,” and he seemed interested and appreciative. (I had previously been alerted to his interest in McCarthy.)

    Gay told me about calling McCarthy up cold one day after reading Child of God. It was while Anne and Cormac were living in Louisville. Although Gay found McCarthy initially a little stand-offish on the phone, the two seemed to talk more during subsequent phone calls. McCarthy offered to read some material that Gay had written before Gay had published anything. Gay sent the material and McCarthy sent it back with written comments. He remembered talking with McCarthy about Flannery O’Connor, a writer that both of them liked. McCarthy could quote long passages from O’Connor from memory according to Gay.

    Gay was interested in knowing if I knew where the site of Suttree’s Aunt Martha’s house was. I said that I did not, but that I had found the old mansion house. He was also interested in learning where the bridge was that Harrogate lived under, and I pointed it out to him.

    Gay told me that he had read a draft copy of Suttree in which he remembered a part that was probably removed by the editors. It concerned the farmers in the watermelon patch after it had been visited by Harrogate. In the draft that Gay read he remembered that the farmer found a condom on the ground, and Gay thought that was an extremely funny detail the more he thought about it.

    Years later when I visited the McCarthy Archive in San Marcos I wanted to see if I could find that particular detail written somewhere in the early drafts of Suttree.

    One recalls that in the published version the farmers are talking to each other as they are leaving the field.

    “They were walking slowly along the rows.

    It’s just the damndest thing I ever heard of. Aint it you? What are you grinning at? It aint funny. A thing like that. To me it aint.” (Suttree, p. 34).

    Sure enough, in Box 19, Folder 9, p. 56, I found the following ending to this scene:

    “I notice he always gets em in the bottom there instead of in the stem end.


    It is kindly cute the way it tucks there.

    Yeah. Aw hush that, damn it.

    The other one was grinning. They were walking toward the house. Looky here, he said. Here’s a rubber.

    Where at? You swear it? Aw goddamit quit that. It aint funny.”

    Well, it may not have been funny to one of the farmers, but it sure was amusing to me and William Gay.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  wesmorgan.
    19 Mar 2015 at 10:58 am #6693


    “A View of the Woods”

    “She sat on the hood, looking down into the red pit, watching the big disembodied gullet gorge itself on clay, then, with the sound of a deep sustained nausea and a slow mechanical revulsion, turn and spit it up. Her pale eyes behind her spectacles followed the repeated motion of it again and again…”

    The machinery being watched by Mary Fortune caught my attention as I was reading this story for class. Reminded me of the “mechanical birds” from ATPH.

    27 Mar 2015 at 12:23 pm #6754


    Have any critics discussed the three degenerates from Flannery’s “A Circle in the Fire” in tandem with OD’s grim triune? Alot there…

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