Power of the Post

Flannery O’Connor’s correspondence is almost as well-known as her short-story writing. Published letters and those found in library collections offer a personal insight into the author’s daily life. When O’Connor first left home for a graduate program in Iowa, she wrote home to her mother daily. Later, living on a farm back in her small middle Georgia hometown, she wrote letters to stay connected to literary peers, friends, and new pen pals.  Much like O’Connor’s published works, her letters show her creative talent, writing genius, and a considerable sense of humor.

In a time before texts, calls, and emails, O’Connor relied on the Post Office to carry messages about her career.  O’Connor regularly wrote to Yaddo cohorts Elizabeth Fenwick Way and Robert Lowell, her agent Elizabeth McKee, editors Robert Giroux, Catharine Carver, Denver Lindley, and many others. O’Connor signed contracts, sent and received edits to her stories, verified proofs, and received payment for publications all through the United States Postal Service.

Two of O’Connor’s most influential connections were author Caroline Gordon, along with Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. Sally edited The Habit of Being, the first compilation of O’Connor’s letters first published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 1979. O’Connor appointed Sally’s husband Robert, poet and translator, literary executor in her will. Gordon and the Fitzgeralds were more than close friends. “During the fifteen years of O’Connor’s publishing career, the Fitzgeralds were the only ones who consistently received the same drafts that O’Connor sent Gordon.”[1] The more recently published, Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon, adds development elements to O’Connor’s drafts and what would ultimately become her published works.[2] 

One of O’Connor’s most notable pen pals was Betty Hester, referred to as “A,” in the Habit of Being, as she elected to be anonymous at the time of publication. Hester first wrote to O’Connor in 1955, offering comments and a deep understanding of her writing. Within O’Connor’s initial response to Hester was her famous line, “I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic.”[3] She goes on to discuss the need for the Church in a time of uncertainty and how she wished people saw the deeper layers of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” She intended to highlight the journey from the darkest elements of humanity to redemption, and yet “the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.”[4] O’Connor requested that Hester write her again. The two developed a lasting friendship conducted primarily through the mail for the remaining nine years of Flannery’s life.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.72, receipt of order for 10 copies of her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, mailed to her home in January 1960.

Flannery’s use of the United States Postal Service went beyond letters. There are countless notes within her letters requesting and appreciating books via sent mail. From her publisher, she received copies of her works, as well as works by new and noteworthy authors. Flannery shared these among friends and acquaintances and even mailing library books, like one of Marcel Proust’s novels she sent to friend Cecil Dawkins in September of 1961. After a previous book had never arrived, she feared her confidence in the USPS might be waning and plagued by “fear and trembling”[5] waiting for delivery. Another challenge of communication by mail were travel delays. Flannery and Maryat Lee wrote to each other regularly after meeting in Milledgeville in 1956. Flannery, who could be found permanently at Andalusia, comically acknowledges Maryat’s transient lifestyle. “Do I wish to send the product of me teeming intelligence to Chester and them set for three weeks getting cool whilst you are flim-flamming about in New York, or do I want to send same to New York and have them idle in your mailbox while you are picking cucumbers in Chester? For from me mail-getting you are not in a good position.”[6]

In the summer of 1952, when she first realized Milledgeville would be a more permanent residence, she wrote Sally Fitzgerald in Connecticut. She requested she sends the belongings she left behind in two suitcases. Around this same time, Flannery ordered her first pair of peafowl from a Florida breeder to be delivered in a crate. At this time, the mail service did not deliver large packages to the rural farmhouse, so she had to go into town and pick up the items.[7] For Christmas 1957, Regina O’Connor prepared a fruit cake to ship to the Fitzgeralds living in Italy. The hardy cake would take up to twenty days to make the cross-Atlantic journey. Flannery wrote ahead to notify them as she, “would hate for some Eye-talian to getaholt to it before you.”[8]

For Flannery O’Connor, the postal service was an important element of her life. Via the post, she was able to add to her growing flock of fowl. Via the post, she made lasting friendships and extended her social circle beyond the farm. However, most notably for our Southern author, via the post, she continued her work, evolving her artistic abilities to produce a lasting legacy of published works and letters.

Fun fact: The blog is titled “Assorted Regards” for two reasons. One, O’Connor once signed a letter this way as her closing. Two, she likely recalled it from the mid-century greeting card packs of the same name. O’Connor used various quips and comments to end her letters; a selection of our favorites (seen here) make up the banner image to the blog website. 

[1] Christine Flanagan, ed., The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018), 13. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1971), 90.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 450.

[6] Ibid., 406.

[7] Ibid., 41.

[8] Ibid., 256.

Title Image: Andalusia Collection: 2108.1.1273, Columns, “Annual Report, May 1963 Alumnae Association,” The Women’s College of Georgia. Within the collection are a variety of magazines and publications like this one, addressed to Flannery at Andalusia in a time before street numbers and zip codes.

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