To accompany this week’s review of Thomas Mallon’s book about letters, each day the blog will feature two letters. Flannery O’Connor wrote the one below to Betty Hester on March 10, 1956. (The excerpt below picks up about a third of the way through the letter.) It’s taken from The Habit of Being edited by Sally Fitzgerald. In the book, Hester, O’Connor’s closest friend and the recipient of many of her letters, was given the pseudonym “A.”
I think of novenas the same way I think of the hideous Catholic churches you all too frequently find yourself in, that is, after a time I cease to see them even though I’m in them. The virtue of novenas is that they keep you at it for nine consecutive days and the human attention being what it is, this is a long time. I hate to say most of these prayers written by saints-in-an-emotional-state. You feel you are wearing somebody else’s finery and I can never describe my heart as “burning” to the Lord (who knows better) without snickering.
I have just been disgusted to read the review of Caroline Gordon’s book in Time. They could not be expected to like such a book but what seems particularly low in the review is that it implies there is not even any honest of intention in the writing. I read the book in page proofs. I don’t think it is entirely successful as she is trying to do something impossible, but I think it is a good deal better than most of what they will recommend during the year. I am a Time subscriber but I think it is a stupid magazine . . . This is the lady who taught me so much about writing . . .
It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them — in which case, if you don’t watch out, they cease to be adversaries. I don’t know if that was Dostoevsky’s trouble or not. As for me you are mighty right I could do with some learning about souls not my own — only I wouldn’t be knowing where I’m to get that from.
This pride in the tin leg* comes from an old scar. I was, in my early days, forced to take dancing to throw me into the company of other children and to make me graceful. Nothing I hated worse than the company of other children and I vowed I’d see them all in hell before I would make the first graceful move. The lessons went on for a number of years but I won. In a certain sense.
The enclosed (“Greenleaf”) is for you. I sent it to Mr. Ransom last week and got word today that they will use it probably in the summer issue. If you don’t like it, don’t fail to say so. I have a heart of pure steel.
*In a previous letter Flannery noted her astonishment that William Sessions had once danced professionally in the ballet. She said that she herself had a “tin leg.” This echoes an entry in her youthful journal: “Do not see why children twelve years old have to take dancein.”