Monday, July 11, 2005

"A commanding, grim, witty child...": Robert Lowell On the Death of Flannery O'Connor:

Did you read about Flannery O'Connor's death? I know nothing except the longish notice in the Times that described her career mostly. I gather she must have died of the bone disease, lupus, that plagued her all these years. A book of short stories will come out in January. It seems such a short time ago that I met her at Yaddo, 23 or 24, always in a blue jean suit, working on the last chapters of Wise Blood, suffering from undiagnosed pains, a face formless at times, then very strong and young and right. She had already really mastered and found her themes and style, knew she wouldn't marry, would be Southern, shocking, and disciplined. In a blunt, disdainful yet somehow very unpretentious and modest way, I think she knew how good she was. I suppose she knew dimly about the future, the pain, the brevity, the peacocks, the life with her mother. She was 38 when she died, and I think always had the character of a commanding, grim, witty child, who knew she was destined to live painfully and in earnest, a hero, rather like a nun or Catholic saint with a tough innocence, well able to take on her brief, hardworking, hard, steady, splendid and inconspicuous life. I think the cards seemed heavily stacked against her, and her fates must have felt that they had so thoroughly hemmed her in that they could forget, and all would [have] happened as planned, but really she did what she had decided on and was less passive and dependent than anyone I can think of.

-- August 10, 1964 letter to Elizabeth Bishop. O'Connor died a week earlier, on August 3.)

From The Letters of Robert Lowell.


Arp said...

Thanks. It's really full of insight.

RW said...

Glad you liked it and thanks for reminding me about it. There are, also, several letters to Flannery in the book, but a little too many to quote.