The Piano Lessons

Flannery once said that “writing is like giving birth to a piano sideways. Anyone who perseveres is either talented or nuts.”[1] Clearly, Flannery persevered and became a talented writer. However, while Flannery loved writing, her feelings about pianos were quite opposite. Ironic as it may seem, Flannery maintained a marked distaste for music that reflected itself in her aversion to playing the piano and her sparse collection of records in comparison to the plethora of books she possessed. 

It is likely because of Regina’s sense of propriety that the O’Connor’s owned a piano. In the dining room of Flannery’s Andalusia home sits their black Steinway piano. Well-worn from age, its stately presence is often a focal point during tours of the home. The Cline’s purchased their 1885 Steinway piano from a dealer in Atlanta, GA, the E. F. Droop Company, and it was shipped by rail from the Steinway factory in New York City. It was also Regina rather than Flannery who would most often grace guests with a hymn or two.

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.226

Playing an instrument, like the piano, was considered an essential skill of a wealthy Southern lady. A consummate Southern lady, in many respects, Flannery’s mother Regina played the piano, and desired for her daughter to do so as well. It was most likely at her behest that Flannery was required to take piano lessons. Reminders of Flannery’s bygone piano lessons remain in Andalusia’s collection. Like the slip of paper tucked away in a large reddish-brown paper file folder that has written on it “Mary Flannery O’Connor Mon. 4pm” in what is likely Regina’s tidy penmanship. In Savannah, “on the far side of Lafayette Square,” Flannery also “played the piano at the Girl Scouts Headquarters and wrote her first newspapers article, about the troop, published in a 1935 issue of the Savannah Morning News.”[2]

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.1333

However, even at this early stage in her life, Flannery strong-minded nature and pluck was a force to be reckoned with. In fact, Regina once recounted to a friend of having “to spank her six-year-old daughter to make her wear hose and a dress for her first piano recital.”[3] It seems a fair assumption that Flannery’s unwanted childhood piano lessons and recitals may have played a part in her apparent distaste for music as an adult. She certainly did not hide the fact that she “despise[d] the piano and all its works and pomps.”[4] Consequently, Flannery’s sheet music is likely not reflective of her actual taste. From “Schmidt’s Educational Series” to “On the Banks of the Killarney (Where the Shamrocks Grown Green)” by M.T. Bohannon, Flannery’s collection contains a variety of classical works, religious songs, Irish folk music, and popular love ballads.

Of course, ultimately the only ivory-colored keys that Flannery was fond of were the forty-four keys of her manual typewriter. And, aside from the one song that had the peculiar habit of make her peafowl scream in unison, if she preferred any music at all it was the percussive clickety-clack of her typewriter she composed her stories.

[1] Conversations with Flannery O’Connor, ed. Rosemary Magee, (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987), 13.

[2] The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon, ed. Christine Flanagan, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018), 6.

[3] Brad Gooch, Flannery, (New York: Little Brown & Company, 2009), 27.

[4] O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1988), 113.

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