Mystery an' Manners


P.S. The conversation on Population Control continues on the Back Porch for the stouthearted.


We had Flannery last night. Thas' a bookclub thas' been readin' Flannery O'Connor fer 18 years. Yeah,
I know. But, she is THAT good.

Our hostess laid out divine snacks: figs wif' some silky cheese, candied pineapple, dark chocolate chunks wif' hazelnuts... the wine? Ditto.

Last night thar's a visitor who joined in--he teaches Flannery to his classes, so he thought to mosey on by an' join' the fun.

Iffin' y'ain't made Flannery's acquaintance, ya's in fer a real treat. Mary Flannery wuz born in Savannah, went to Iowa's famous writer's school, on to Yaddo, then--diagnosed wif' Lupus.

Home to her mama's farm in Milledgeville Georgia, from said farm she gave the world her literary best-- captivated readers as far away as Japan.

Between bein' desperately sick, an' watchin' over her guinea hens an' peacocks, she wrote. Her short stories will jes' lay ya right out. Funny, rollin' in the aisles funny--but with deadly truth jes' under the surface. Oh mah heavens.

Last night we dipped into her book of reflections, Mystery and Manners. It is the great mystery of life that the modern world finds keenly uncomfortable. We prefer to have everything planned, weighed, counted, deconstructed, analyzed an' then reconstructed to match our whims. Such meddlin' in the Order Of Things brings about the predictable follies. Flannery points this out--mercilessly to the willful blind an' deaf.

Here's a sample fer yore enjoyment:

About the dragons that sit on the side of the road-of-life waiting to devour its hapless victims:

"No matter what form the the dragon may take, it is this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, an this being the case, it takes considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller."

"We have become flooded with sorry fiction based on unearned liberties..."

"Since the eighteenth centry, the popular spirit of each succeeding age has tended more and more to view that the ills and mysteries of life will eventually fall before the scientific advances of man, a belief that is still going strong even though this is the first generation to face total extinction because of these advances. "

"The novels that interest the novelists are the novels that have not already been written."

"There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered a chance to be restored. The reader today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking all together, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration."

"Art is selective."

"It is the peculiar characteristic of fiction that its literal surface can be made to yield entertainment on an obvious physical plane to one sort of reader while the selfsame surface can be made to yield meaning
to the person equipped to experience it there." (emphasis mine)

"A sense of loss is natural to us, and it is only in these centuries when we are afflicted with the doctrine of the perfectibility of human nature by its own efforts that the vision of the freak in fiction is so disturbing."

"The modes of evil usually receive worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with with a cliche or a smoothing down that will soften their real look."

"Alienation was once a diagnosis, but in much of the fiction of our time it has become an ideal."

"It requires considerable grace for two races to live together...It can't be done without a code of manners based on mutual charity...Formality preserves that individual privacy which everyone needs and, in these times, is always in danger of losing."

* * *

Do y'all have an author youse been readin' fer years an' never grow tired of their work?

* * *


sparringK9 said...

how weird!!! I was just sort of drawing out if i could do a giant portrait of flannery with an assortment of fowl - she had guineas and ducks and stuff - not just peafowl.

a favorite:

"there's many a bestseller that couldve been prevented by a good teacher"

love flannery.

I want to do a southen painting for the show. i thought maybe something on the dying hemlocs. or Vera doing something...somehow i arrivedon flannery and then came here. syncronicity!

Debora said...

Wow, you are certainly a Flannery devotee! I can't say I've stuck with any author that long, except maybe the Apostle Paul! I think I'll mosey on down to the library and pick up Mystery and Manners.

grins said...

I had to read those about six times before I could get them to sink in. Looks like I'm part of the problem.
In your vernacular; Wa'll I's saucered an blowed better skedaddle

SophieMae said...

'His sense of evil is diluted or lacking all together, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration.'

Sure'n this applies to more than just readers these days!

I'm so uber-eclectic, it's hard to pin down one long-time favourite wordsmith. Always been right fond of O Henry. Though I'm drawn to Faulkner, he's a dreadful chore to read sometimes.

For banty-weight moods, I still enjoy Jan Karon (yes, I admit it) and Bailey White.

moi said...

I never get tired of Shakespeare and Mark Twain. I read, or re-read, something of theirs at least once a year.

I'm a voracious reader, but unfortunately, I'm so very often disappointed. I stumble upon good books every now and then (Ravens, Dark Places, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Acts of Faith) but not from writers who are consistently writing. I had high hopes for Larry McMurtry as our Great American Novelist (Lonesome Dove is certainly in my opinion the great American novel of my lifetime), but then he goes and writes stuff that is just downright silly. James Lee Burke is a wonderful writer, but has become forumlaic. And there are no females doing anything interesting. Flannery was most likely the last stop in that regard.

So more and more lately, if I pick up a book, it's either a memoir, biography, or a history of the American West.

Aunty Belle said...


Whoa--thas' what we call a "Flannery moment"--when thangs is oddly synchronous in a good way.

Yes, Flannery had more'n one tyoe of chicken-bird. One of mah favorite stories on Flannery is how a rural fella showed up to hep her Mama on the farm.

He mentioned how loud the peacocks were at his own place until his mama-in-law said "either them birds go or I go."

Flannery replied, "how many birds does ya have left?"

Handyman: "seven or eight....in the freezer."

Flannery: "how do they taste?"

Handyman: "No better than any other chicken."

Pup, a Southern homage is a real good start on any paintin'. If it doan sell, an it is Flanney-esque, I might trade ya some Pork Rinds fer it.


Oh thas' a good idea--youse gonna learn up on the South in ways ya never knowed about--Flannery sees the particularity of the Southerner as one variety of MAN that still has some memory of the distinction between good an' evil. Not tht they abide by it, but that they at least still recognize it:

"Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one."


Howdy--I howled when I read "saucered an' blowed"! lemme assure ya' I ain't heard that phrase since I wuz a sprout 'cept in mah own Daddy's mouth.

No problem, akshully--Flannery is deep. It's OK to read her comments over a few times. I promise, git aholt of her short stores an' youse gone a git some shocking bursts of laughter afore ya cover yore mouth with shock--the shock of recognition that she nailed somethin' essential that we all hide from.

I recommend GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE, PARKER'S BACK, an' REVELATION. Of course, her A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND is most folks favorite.

What youse gonna find is that she doan allow no false piety to cover over anybody's sense of self respect. But when youse stripped of falsity, now ya have a choice to make- thas' the drama of these stories.

A note of caution however--I doan advise THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY to tenderfoots. It is akin to Cormac McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Hangs wif' ya' in all its unease--a signpost in a strange land (to mix in a little Walker Percy)

Curmudgeon, who does ya' read the most?

Sophie Mae!
Hey hey, you!

Well now, I like all them authors
Sophie Mae. Bailey White is always tickled funny bone--in that same tone, does ya know Olive Ann Burns' COLD SASSY TREE?

An' speakin' of manners, busybodies an' cold, how about COLD COMFORT FARM?

I gears up once a decade to ride into Yoknapatawpha County. I might be aged enough now to really git it. Ought try that out. Truth is, I is more likely to grab a Walker Percy, which ain't as fer from Faulkner as ya might think--he growed up in Oxford too. He has the right tension in his tales.

Aunty Belle said...


Oh now--them's a good list. Sawtelle were somethin' I reread...I doan know Dark Places. Twain is reread heah too--mostly though, his bio of Joan of Arc, since he say it were his best work.

James Lee Burke has become formulaic--drat it all! BUT, Uncle likes each new scribble he puts out.

As I mention to Sophie Mae above, Walker PErcy is a favorite--an' ya already know I is avid Cormac McCarthy fan--though I has not had the courage to get through OUTER DARK. It gives me the willies.

Moi, I has had some disappointments too--'specially--as ya say--wif' women writers. Ya' know that whole Southern coastal states gaggle of women writers-- the Kudzu Kousins I call 'em?

Josephine Humphreys, Dorothy Allinson (shiver), Kaye Gibbons, Connie Mae Fowler, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle-- some real good books among 'em, but sorta spotty. Some are solid literature, then the next book will be flaccid. All have won numerous awards an accolades--so mebbe I'se the problem, not the authors.

As fer Menfolk Southern writers, I'se already said Percy is tops--I like Peter Taylor sometimes, an' fer LOL humor wif' a gentle knowing of the human spirit I grab and reread Clyde Edgerton. An' ya already seen me praise Wendell Berry.

So, uh....why not a MOI novel?? I fantasize about it, but I doan think I can wrestle a novel to the ground an force it to come into the light.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one."


the best quip ever.

Aunty Belle said...

heh...THE. BEST.

Flannery is to me as Frida be to the Pup. Mebbe a a paintin' wif' some almost freaks is a good start--"beauty an' the freaks"

grins said...

I had to go look at my books to get an Idea of who I read. I like cheesy SF when I'm trying to sleep. It seems like most of my books are christian religious.(don't tell anyone I refuse to be religious.) I actually went to a school of preaching, for a while but turned into a derelict. I guess krishnamurti, Cheri Huber, and P.G Wodehouse. I'm bad ADDDDDDD so I usually start at the back and read half of something.

Aunty Belle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie's Design Perspective said...

I am not one to really enjoy authors who have a need to turn over a rock to see what is crawling beneath. I am one who would much prefer to see the beauty of the rock in a river, a painting, in a hand carved wooden bowl, as a cookbook page holder...

Lately I been trying the ballad series of Appalachian novels by Sharyn McCrumb. It's a bit under the rock for me so far.A bookish lady I like swears she is the best for her day in capturing the life of those who are governed by their relationship to the land.

I think you and my Mermaid would be in the same book clubs. Cold Sassy Tree is about her favorite book. My go to author is Mark Twain.

If I am brain weary and a little under the pressures I read (mostly) Southern cookbooks for comfort. If you have not read "Cooking in the Moment" by Andrea Reusing you are in for a treat. Just reading the preview on amazon will make you salivate.

@ Chickory,
You cannot image the South in Summertime without Moonflowers! Not in the Great Southern Novel or in Great Southern Art.

Have you read the Death on Demand mystery series by Carolyn Hart. Her bookstore runs a competition every month to guess the mystery novel based on the art displayed.
Very much like your thoughts of a painting based on Flannery's view.

Aunty Belle said...

well, ya got me ter snickerin'... I find religious derelicts to be a juicy addition to most any discussion.

Matter o' fact, we had quite a set-to t'other night wif' a neurologist who said religion wuz superfluous these days, tho of course HE believed, but din't think in 100 years anybody would still believe cause "even five year olds don't buy Jesus walking on water. It's not scientific."

I'se a bit puffed up over the night--got his haid snapped around when I sweetly showed him, in three moves or so, that, in fact it is highly UNscientific to claim Jesus couldn't walk on water. I doan mind folks not believin' as much as it irks me that they think theirs is the more "reasonable" or scientific view, an they say that smugly. Fear it tempts me past my charity quotient.

Wodehouse is a delight an' one of the best ever series. Might be on my desert island list.

Curmudgeon, I ain't much got the hang of SF yet, though I wuz talked into one I'se readin' now --it is snappin' MAH haid to an' fro. It's a first contact theme set in Middle Ages--lots of math/ physics, but, it makes the ride wilder.

Thanky fer comin' back to share yore bookstack. I'se comin' by yore spot directly.

7/20/11 1:36 PM

Aunty Belle said...

Design Perspective!


I is gonna check out that cookbook. Mermaid an' me can share books huh? well, send me her address an I will ship her a box o' books.

I ain't read Sharon McCrumb yet, but I met her! She's a bit on the frumpy middle age lady side, but razor sharp. I trust her research. The book I have of hers is somethin' about a murder case in the 1930s.

Lemme know how ya' like the one youse readin' when ya finish it.

grins said...

I've been reading quotes and excerpts of O'connor. I am astounded. You were right. I will now probably have to own everything she ever wrote. Bother! I can never tell if I've already thought of what she is writing, or just recognizing as she writes. I don't think I've ever seen such a command of English but I've never been big on classic lit. Maybe I'm old enough now. How depressing. lol

moi said...

I keep forgetting to check out Walter Percy. I used to not be able to read Comac McCarthy. Now that I've managed several of his books, I have to admit: only a great literary talent can do what he does. It's pretty amazing.

Kudzu Kouzins? Bwahahahahaha! Yes, I know what you mean. Not really my cup of tea.

But I did think of a couple of contemporary gals whose work I like: Faye Weldon, Joyce Carol Oates (when she's good, she's great, when she's bad, she's fireplace fodder), and Shirley Jackson.

As for my own work, even though I have several rough, rough novel drafts on my computer, I doubt I'm much of a novelist. I think I'm more of a non-fiction writer and do have a project in that vein underway.

czar said...

Aunty: Thanks for the invite. Just saw your comment.

Occupational hazard is that I read virtually nothing these days that doesn't have a paycheck on the last page. So my recent favorites tend to be those that are easy on the red pen from publishers who pay quickly.

Over my life, I've tended -- for worse, not better -- to get immersed in a few books or authors and reread and reread until I had them virtually memorized. Like wearing out the grooves on a vinyl record.

Adolescence: Dan Jenkins and Catcher in the Rye, the latter to my ultimate detriment. I pick up the book now and wonder what the hell I could have been thinking.

Early adulthood: I became somewhat of a collector of the works of Philip Wylie, who wrote everything from quite a few groundbreaking novels to fishing stories to books of philosophy and Jungian psychology. Finnley Wren in particular remains a favorite -- an overwritten novel from 1934 about the moneyed set during the Depression enjoying a weekend of heavy drinking and open marriage and brutally introspective bouts of oral biography. I can go on and on about Wylie.

The book that I can now read in perpetuity? A Confederacy of Dunces. A book so good that it's impossible to turn into a movie. People have tried and failed, tried and failed. There was a staged reading of a stage version of it, with Will Ferrell and Olympia Dukakis a few years back. Ferrell is just the latest of the self-perceived icons who want to play Ignatius J. Reilly. The first one with the idea would have been the best: John Belushi. Dunces will never be on screen because as wonderfully hilarious/pathetic (as in pathos) as the plot and characters and scenery are, the beauty is in the written word and his diary entries. And no one's going to sit through 20 minutes of some masturbating fat slob casting pearls before swine into a three-ring binder. "I associate with my peers or no one, and having no peers, I associate with no one."

I was at the inaugural meeting of the Frederick Buechner Institute at a local college, and one of the breakout sessions was about the art of Buechner's writing. The speaker was talking about how Buechner was up for a Pulitzer in 1981 for Godric, but lost out. The speaker threw out what he thought would be a rhetorical question. "Anyone know what beat it out?"

Proudly I stated, "Of course. A Confederacy of Dunces."

People seemed impressed. They didn't know it was the only work and year I would have possibly known. It would be like asking someone who knows nothing about sports a trivia question, and you ask him the one thing he happened to remember from a lifetime of studiously avoiding such stuff.

Have I gone on long enough? That's what you get for inviting me to the party.

PS: Percy brought A Confederacy of Dunces to the world. And I worked on a book last year, 100 Great Catholic Books, and the omission of Dunces stunned me, but that's the point of such list books. Half the fun's in the arguing afterward.

PPS: Moi's writing a book of nonfiction? Be still my heart.

Aunty Belle said...

heh...fer certain sorts, Flannery is addictive. Her stories are unforgettable, but please do find Habit of Being,herletters to the outer world (she bein' more or less stuck at home wif' her Lupus). He ability to concisely identify what's in a comment, an event, a soul, slays me. How did one that young have such vision?


Youse gonnagit Percy right off. Thar's a quirkiness, but under it all, it ain't far from all that ya know. I'se got a dark streak, so mebbe Percy is nudges it. Thanatos Syndrome about fits today's headlines. But the Moviegoer is the favorite of a Percy fan I admire. Heh, well, of course in the Moviegoer, the *Aunty* is quite an acerbic grand dame--an' hits nails on heads. Percy--see Czar below-- will fill you wif' glimpses of Louisiana too.

JCO, cut teeth on her an' hope she din't leave TOO much of a mark on my young psyche. Still fer older folks, she is worthy of your time. I doan even know Shirley Jackson! Will ck it out.

Non-fiction book?
Write write write!! Go girl, go!

howdy--ya came up fer air I see, Happy Saturday to ya'.

Yep, reckon that editin' is a reader's handicap. I can shure see that.

Confederacy--the story of that book's publication is so heavy wif' struggle--his poor mama.

For anyone who learned N'awlins early in life ( I had young Uncles near by in BR, who thought scandalizin' their young niece wif' a romp through the Quarter wuz great sport) Ignatius' travails are unnervingly familiar. Have wondered about the whole "place" thang--Flannery's stories doan work if ya imagine the Misfit in Kansas. Would Toole's comedy/ tragedy work as well out side of New Orleans?
(Scarlett Letter would NEVER happen in Alabama) I have not read this book in years; now that I'se matured somewhat, I reckon it is worth the re-read, 'specially if The Czar thinks it so.

Why do I have the sly idea that CIR sets one up somehow COD?

czar said...

Aunty: New Orleans is probably the co-main character in Dunces, even moreso, I'd venture to say, that Manhattan in Woody Allen's early movies. In the latter, the place is mostly a backdrop; in the former, the place drips through the characters, the settings, the language, everything.

grins said...

I have been reading the Habit of Being. This woman is more brutal than I am. I am constantly told sarcasm is not your friend. Prob the pickiest person I have ever read. Can't follow her there. That's what makes her so good. Am gaining a unique view of the south and the catholic church. (It's not just about statuary. lol) That's good. My father was the first in his family to leave Richmond since the late 1700's.She definitely yanks my chain, and make me feel inadequate Or as you might say. she makes me feel like "Ah Cain't see through Hog wire."

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