Growing Up Mary Flannery

For the first half of her life, Flannery O’Connor went by her full name Mary Flannery. She was born in Savannah, Georgia, the only child to parents Edward O’Connor and Regina Cline O’Connor.  Her father doted on her every desire and creative whim. At the same time, her mother wanted her to become the perfect southern lady.

At the age of five, Flannery had her first encounter with fame, or rather her chickens did. A New York camera crew from Pathé News filmed her reverse walking chicken on location in Savannah. The young Mary Flannery and her birds shined. From that point on, her fondness for chickens became a devotion and pursuit for all birds.[1] Even at a young age, Mary Flannery was a tenacious opinionated young girl. Unabashedly vocal about the lack of competency of the nuns who taught her at St. Vincent’s;[2] she likewise had no qualms when calling the renowned children’s classic tale Pinocchio[3] absolutely the worst book she ever read.

By the age of 12, Flannery decided she had aged enough. “There was something about ‘teen’ attached to anything that was repulsive to me. I certainly didn’t approve of what I saw of people that age.”[4] Shortly after, she would move to Milledgeville and live in the Cline family home on Greene Street. The young girl lived surrounded by her adult aunts and uncles. A rare occasion of lively talkative laughter was the annual visit of her four female cousins (Margaret, Louise, Catherine, and Frances Florencourt) from the north.[5]

Mary Flannery O’Connor and four of her cousins on horseback at Andalusia (then known as Sorrel Farm, 1939). L to R: Mary Flannery, Louise, Margaret, Catherine, and Frances Flourencourt and Mr. Gerard. Image courtesy of Frances Florencourt.

Throughout high school, Mary Flannery kept much to herself, very quiet and collected, observing those around her with a show of suitable irritation. Classmates recall how the budding author excelled in their creative writing class. However, her artistic focus at this time was as a cartoonist, creating humorous scenes of daily school situations and printing them in Peabody High School’s newspaper, Palladium. [6]

“The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough

information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can’t make

something out of a little experience, you probably won’t be able to make

it out of a lot.”[7]

In 2019, through a generous donation by Louise Florencourt of O’Connor family photos, we added to the collection nearly 600 images, many never before seen. As spring gears up into summer, Andalusia presents: Growing Up Mary Flannery. The 60 image photo exhibit, celebrates the childhood, youth, and life of Flannery O’Connor long before she became a fiction writer and moved permanently to Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Georgia.

[1] Flannery O’Connor, “The King of the Birds,” Mystery and Manners Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970),p. 3-4.

[2] Brad Gooch, Flannery, A Life of Flannery O’Connor, (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009), p 40.

[3] D. Collodi, Pinocchio (Chicago: Saalfield Publishing, 1924).

[4] Flannery O’Connor, Letters of Flannery O’Connor The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979),p. 136-7.

[5] Gooch, 56-59.

[6] Ibid, 66, 79-81.

[7] Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” Mystery and Manners Occasional Prose, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970),p. 84.

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