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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

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Life of Mary MacLane

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« In Which We Hang On Flannery O'Connor In Blind Trust »

This is the final part of a three-part series.

The Newspaperman and the Housewife

I really have respect for Freud when he isn't made into a philosopher.

The last letters of Flannery O'Connor are no more filled with evidence of her faith than usual. Although she was dying and profoundly sick during these years - and she did on occasion write about just how long she was bedridden as a result of complications from lupus - she sought no special solace from God or her spiritual advisors. She was one of the most well-known writers in the country in her lifetime, but she never thought of herself as some kind of prophetic individual who deserved any more pity than the next person. In her writings to her best friend Betty Hester and one of her favorite correspondents, Maryat Lee, the pain she endures seeps through like light against stained glass.


To Alfred Corn

I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least it can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the 20th century. Peter said, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames or reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginning, but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe. About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do, and I think from your letter that you will not take the path of least resistance in this matter and simply decide that you have lost your faith and that there is nothing you can do about it.

One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. This sounds like a paradox, but I have often found it to be true. Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc., that they cease to look for God in other ways. Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, "Give alms." He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. When you get a reasonable hold on one, another will come to take its place. At one time, the clash of the different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer is because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.

I might suggest that you look into some of the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man et al.). He was a paleontologist - helped to discover Peking man - and also a man of God. I don’t suggest that you go to him for answers but for different questions, for that stretching of the imagination that you need to make you a sceptic in the face of much that you are learning, much of which is new and shocking but which when boiled down becomes less so and takes place in the general scheme of things. What kept me a sceptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture; if one isn’t satisfactory read others. Don’t think that you have to abandon reason to be a Christian.

A book that might help you is The Unity of Philosophical Experience by Etienne Gilson. Another is Newman’s The Grammar of Assent. To find out about faith, you have to go to the people who have it and you have to go to the most intelligent ones if you are going to stand up intellectually to agnostics and the general run of pagans that you are going to find in the majority of people around you. Much of the criticism of belief that you find today comes from people who are judging it from the standpoint of another and narrower discipline. The Biblical criticism of the 19th century, for instance, was the product of historical disciplines. It has been entirely revamped in the 20th century by applying broader criteria it, and those people who lost their faith in the 19th century because of it, could better have hung on in blind trust.

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It's there, even when he can't see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian scepticsm. It will keep you free - not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.

I don't know if this is the kind of answer that can help you, but any time you care to write me, I can try to do better.



To Maryat Lee

We will be plumb charmed to put you up but as soon as we do your kinfolks will come out here & storm the fort to get you away as they are dying for you to come. Your invite here is always open.

As for the story, you worry about the wrong things.

The South is the place for you if you can keep yourself from running off to every sit-in or wade-in or knee-in that is being held. Break a leg. I couldn't write any better prescription for your writing than to tell you to get out of New York and come South.

We will be looking for your face.


from the movie adaptation of 'Wise Blood'


To Maryat Lee

Book on way - a donation to the cause if there is a cause if not, spectacle est gratui anyhow. I put to Helen Nash & after it was wrapped up I got to worrying if it shouldn't have been Dr. Helen Nash, but it was done wrapped up. I ain't supposed to know she's a doctor.

Did I tell you that the Ku Klux Klan met across the road Saturday night before last. They burned a cross - just for the sake of ceremony. We could have seen it out of our upstairs windows but we didn't know until it was over. You ought to go down to observe mid-August politics in Georgia. You would return with curled hair.



To Maryat Lee

According to my tellyvision the stock market is not cheering you up any. The dividends is all I'm interested in and mine haven't gone down. But that man can probably recoup your losses in time...

About old Proust. I read the whole bloody thing and liked the first books best and the last book. In the middle there were some drear spaces. As long as he kept it in society it was strong; great stuff, cheers. I have no desire to read any of it again...


The O'Connors' sitting room


To Betty Hester

I think that's great about going to New York if that's what I make out in the letter. I stayed there once very cheaply at the Y on 38th street or 37th maybe off Lexington Avenue. Fourteen years ago that was and it was $2 a day and you could get your breakfast in the building. There was then a very good co-op cafeteria on 41st Street between Madison and Park. The only place in New York that I could afford to eat downtown where I didn't feel like I was going home with pyoria...

We called B. on the phone when we got the news. He was at the hospital and sounded properly flustered. He told us Jenny was fine and then started right away telling us about his teeth, which it seems had been removed the week before and he had just got out of bed for the event. Not all his teeth removed, that is, just some embedded wisdom teeth. I hope you see him in New York.

On the basis of the fact that you use ten fingers to work a typewriter and only three to push a pen, I hold the typewriter to be the more personal instrument. Also on the basis of that you can read what comes off it.



To Betty Hester

Cecil is waiting to hear whether she is going to be accepted for a job at The New Yorker. I hope for her sake she won't be. I can't imagine anything that would be worse for her.

I found G.E. Sherry to be very nice and willing to listen to my views on his conduct of the racial business in the paper. He says he doesn't know anything about the region, wants to learn and doesn't want to go off half-cocked. He has practically no help and no money and he hopes for gradual improvements. The best thing he's done so far is that movie column. For the book supplement he hopes to get competent people to do the reviews and not any of us that have been doing them. I agree with this. Altogether I found him a modest man and able. The newspaperman has the same kind of job as the housewife, eat it and forget it, read it and forget it...



To Maryat Lee

I have been sick. Fainted a few days before Christmas and was in bed about 10 days and not up to much thereafter. Blood count had gone down to 8 & you can't operate on that. It's up now & so am I but ain't operating yet on a normal load. Ma has been in bed with intestinal flu this last week so if hasn't been one thing it's been another. I'll try to get them nuts off before they get rancid.

Don't know which is worse, CORE or Young Republicans for Goldwater, but I reckon it is inevitable they fall into the hands of one or the other. I guess this will get laid at your door though it is only nature taking its course. Glad you're picking up. Old doctor Greenleaf must not be a quack after all...



To Betty Hester

I'm afraid the television would finish me off for good. Letters I can do, company I can now have for 10 minutes but telephone clobbers me the thought of. Only thing I would be tempted to use it for is to call up & ask how I am & be told I am resting comfortably and have peaceful days & nights! That's the sweetest thing I ever heard, now ain't it. Peaceful days & nights. My.

Why don't you just come to see me this weekend, preferably in the afternoon & only if it is not any trouble whatsoever because you ain't going to be allowed to stay long enough to make it worth the trip...

It sure don't look like I'll ever get out of this joint. By now I know all the students nurses who "want to write," - if they are sloppy & inefficient & can't make up the bed, that's them - they want to write. "Inspirational stuff I'm good at," said one of them. "I just get so taken up with it I forget what I'm writing."


To Maryat Lee

Dear Raybat,

Cowards can be just as vicious as those who declare themselves - more so. Don't take any romantic attitude towards that call. Be properly scared and go on doing what you have to do, but take the necessary precautions. And call the police. That might be a lead for them.

Don't know when I'll send those stories. I've felt too bad to type them.


The Thing She Did Best: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor

Part One: "The largest thing that looms up is The Humerous Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. I am sure he wrote them all while drunk too."

Part Two: "Your mother sounds just like my mother. You should bring her down some time as I feel sure there is nothing they wouldn't agree about."

"Not Just A Girl" - She Wants Revenge (mp3)

"Little Stars" - She Wants Revenge (mp3)

"Suck It Up" - She Wants Revenge (mp3)

Valleyheart, the new album from She Wants Revenge, came out on Monday and you can purchase it here.

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