"The Terrible Speed of Mercy" Flannery O'Connor by Jonathan Rogers

The Terrible Speed of Mercy

A spiritual biography of Flannery O’Connor, by Jonathan Rogers

“O’Connor invites us to step into such mysteries, but she never resolves them. She never reduces them to something manageable.”

“O’Connor speaks with the ardor of an Old Testament prophet in her stories. She’s like an Isaiah who never quite gets around to ‘Comfort ye my people.’ Except for this: there is a kind of comfort in finally facing the truth about oneself. That’s what happens in every one of Flannery O’Connor’s stories: in a moment of extremity, a character—usually a self-satisfied, self-sufficient character—finally comes to see the truth of his situation. He is accountable to a great God who is the source of all. He inhabits mysteries that are too great for him. And for the first time there is hope, even if he doesn’t understand it yet.”

“Blessed are the freaks and the lunatics, who at least have sense enough not to put any faith in their own respectability or virtue or talents.”

“With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially, and I believe that these are times when writers are more interested in what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives. Which helps explains why a story that looks at first like a brilliantly rendered but lightweight slice of daily life takes such a turn as this one does.”

“Anything I can’t stand, it’s a young writer or intellectual.” (Flannery O’Connor)

“But much of what passed for ‘Catholic literature’ was written in what O’Connor called the pious style. Remarking on the work of another Catholic writer, she commented that it ‘is just propaganda and its being propaganda for the side of the angels only makes it worse. The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it.'”

“Her work was to reveal mysteries, and that required the freedom to range over the whole world of ‘what is,’ even in all its ugliness.'”

“When I ask myself how I know what I believe, I have no satisfactory answer at all, no assurance at all, no feeling at all. I can only say with Peter, Lord I believe, help my unbelief. And all I can say about my love of God, is, Lord help me in my lack of it. I distrust pious phrases, particularly when they issue from my mouth.”

“She was bothered by the academic tendency to treat stories as problems or puzzles to be worked out. ‘In most English classes the short story has become a kind of literary specimen to be dissected. Every time a story of mine appears in a Freshman anthology, I have a vision of it, with its little organs laid open, like a frog in a bottle.'”

“‘Miss O’Connor,’ he said, ‘why was the Misfit’s hat black?‘ I said most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats. He looked pretty disappointed. Then he said, ‘Miss O’Connor, the Misfit represents Christ, does he not?’ ‘He does not,’ I said. He looked crushed. ‘Well, Miss O’Connor,’ he said, ‘what is the significance of the Misfit’s hat?’ I said it was to cover his head; and after that he let me alone. Anyway, that’s what’s happening to the teaching of literature.'”

“The sign of the Savior juxtaposed with those sniffing dogs looking to uncover an old man’s rotting flesh: Transcendence asserting itself in a world that, on its own momentum, runs forever to ruin. That one long opening sentence is O’Connor’s body of work in a capsule.”

“O’Connor’s stories are about people feeling their way toward grace—or fumbling blindly toward it, or perhaps running in vain away from it.”

“A belief, in O’Connor’s uderstanding of things, was something to be received, not figured out.”

“Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing.”

“As far as I’m concerned, as long as I can get at that typewriter, I have enough blood.”

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