Mystery And Manners Part 5

Bishop Hyland preached Mary Ann's funeral sermon. He said that the world would ask why Mary Ann should die. He was thinking undoubtedly of those who had known her and knew that she loved life, knew that her grip on a hamburger had once been so strong that she had fallen through the back of a chair without dropping it, or that some months before her death, she and Sister Loretta had got a real baby to nurse. The Bishop was speaking to her family and friends. He could not have been thinking of that world, much farther removed yet everywhere, which would not ask why Mary Ann should die, but why she should be born in the first place.

One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of G.o.d, and once you have discredited his goodness, you are done with him. The Alymers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus' hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the ma.s.sacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.

These reflections seem a long way from the simplicity and innocence of Mary Ann; but they are not so far removed. Hawthorne could have put them in a fable and shown us what to fear. In the end, I cannot think of Mary Ann without thinking also of that fastidious, skeptical New Englander who feared the ice in his blood. There is a direct line between the incident in the Liverpool workhouse, the work of Hawthorne's daughter, and Mary Ann-who stands not only for herself but for all the other examples of human imperfection and grotesquerie which the Sisters of Rose Hawthorne's order spend their lives caring for. Their work is the tree sprung from Hawthorne's small act of Christlikeness and Mary Ann is its flower. By reason of the fear, the search, and the charity that marked his life and influenced his daughter's, Mary Ann inherited, a century later, the wealth of Catholic wisdom that taught her what to make of her death. Hawthorne gave what he did not have himself.

This action by which charity grows invisibly among us, entwining the living and the dead, is called by the Church the Communion of Saints. It is a communion created upon human imperfection, created from what we make of our grotesque state. Of hers Mary Ann made what, like all good things, would have escaped notice had not the Sisters and many others been affected by it and wished it written down. The Sisters who composed the memoir have told me that they feel they have failed to create her as she was, that she was more lively than they managed to make her, more gay, more gracious, but I think that they have done enough and done it well. I think that for the reader this story will illuminate the lines that join the most diverse lives and that hold us fast in Christ.

APPENDIX & NOTES.

APPENDIX.

[Besides drafts of talks, the O'Connor papers included two minor cla.s.ses of ma.n.u.scripts: brief book reviews done mainly for the Georgia Bulletin, the diocesan newspaper; and copies of remarks that Miss O'Connor wrote out in reply to the questions of interviewers. Here and there in each, of course, were pa.s.sages of good sense and savor that seemed to deserve republication. But on repeated review these things appeared to add less and less to what the longer pieces had to say. Ultimately we were left with a very few examples indeed, of which it will be sufficient and just to quote two. The first is from a review of J. F. Powers' book of stories, The Presence of Grace.]

According to Mr. Evelyn Waugh on the book jacket, "Mr. Powers is almost unique in his country as a lay writer who is at ease in the Church; whose whole art, moreover, is everywhere infused and directed by his Faith." Indeed, if it were not directed by his Faith, Mr. Powers would not have been able to survive what his eye and ear have revealed to him, but he is equipped with an inner eye which can discern the good as well as the evil which may lurk behind the surface which to ordinary eyes has long been dead of staleness, so that his work, however much directed by his Faith, seems more directed by his charity. But the explanation for any good writer is first that he knows how to write and that writing is his vocation. This is eminently true of Mr. Powers and it is for this reason that one may be allowed to wonder why, in two stories in this collection, he has seen fit to use a cat for the Central Intelligence. The cat in question is admirable, in his way. He has Mr. Powers' wit and sensibility, his Faith and enough of his charity to serve, but he is a cat notwithstanding, and in both cases he lowers the tone and restricts the scope of what should otherwise have been a major story. It is the hope of the reviewer that this animal will prove to have only one life left and that some Minneapolis motorist, wishing to serve literature, will dispatch him as soon as possible.

[The second example is from an interview with C. Ross Mullins that appeared in Jubilee for June, 1963.]

We're all grotesque and I don't think the Southerner is any more grotesque than anyone else; but his social situation demands more of him than that elsewhere in this country. It requires considerable grace for two races to live together, particularly when the population is divided about 50-50 between them and when they have our particular history. It can't be done without a code of manners based on mutual charity. I remember a sentence from an essay of Marshall McLuhan's. I forget the exact words, but the gist of it was, as I recollect it, that after the Civil War, formality became a condition of survival. This doesn't seem to me any less true today. Formality preserves that individual privacy which everyone needs and, in these times, is always in danger of losing. It's particularly necessary to have in order to protect the rights of both races. When you have a code of manners based on charity, then when the charity fails-as it is going to do constantly-you've got those manners there to preserve each race from small intrusions upon the other. The uneducated Southern Negro is not the clown he's made out to be. He's a man of very elaborate manners and great formality, which he uses superbly for his own protection and to insure his own privacy. All this may not be ideal, but the Southerner has enough sense not to ask for the ideal but only for the possible, the workable. The South has survived in the past because its manners, however lopsided or inadequate they may have been, provided enough social discipline to hold us together and give us an ident.i.ty. Now those old manners are obsolete, but the new manners will have to be based on what was best in the old ones-in their real basis of charity and necessity. In practice, the Southerner seldom underestimates his own capacity for evil. For the rest of the country, the race problem is settled when the Negro has his rights, but for the Southerner, whether he's white or colored, that's only the beginning. The South has to evolve a way of life in which the two races can live together with mutual forbearance. You don't form a committee to do this or pa.s.s a resolution: both races have to work it out the hard way. In parts of the South these new manners are evolving in a very satisfactory way, but good manners seldom make the papers.

NOTES.

"The King of the Birds." This piece bears the t.i.tle that Flannery O'Connor gave it. Ent.i.tled "Living with a Peac.o.c.k," it appeared in Holiday, September, 1961.

"The Fiction Writer and His Country." This was contributed in the spring of 1957 to a book of statements by novelists on their art, edited by Granville Hicks and published in the same year under the t.i.tle The Living Novel: A Symposium.

"Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction." This paper was read by the author in the fall of 1960 at Wesleyan College for Women in Macon, Georgia. At that time she asked that it be given only local distribution as she might "sooner or later revise it for publication." This she never did. After her death her literary executor permitted its publication in 1965 in Cl.u.s.ter Review of Macon University in Macon and in The Added Dimension, a book mainly devoted to critical studies of Miss O'Connor's work, edited by Melville J. Friedman and Lewis A. Lawson, published in 1966. In the latter case, at least, the text as published appeared to contain a number of misreadings. We print her own ma.n.u.script version.

"The Regional Writer" was contributed by the author to Esprit, the literary magazine of the University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, where it appeared in Winter, 1963.

"The Nature and Aim of Fiction" and "Writing Short Stories" are composites for which the editors bear the kind of responsibility explained in the Foreword. We do not know the dates of the talks from which these texts were derived; the nucleus of "Writing Short Stories" was delivered at a Southern Writers' Conference neither located nor dated on the ma.n.u.script. "On Her Own Work" consists of fairly late observations, as noted in the footnotes.

"The Teaching of Literature" is a composite. The main part or nucleus was a single talk to an unidentified group of English teachers. "Total Effect and the Eighth Grade" was published in the Georgia Bulletin, March 21, 1963, under the t.i.tle "Fiction Is a Subject with a History; It Should Be Taught That Way." We use the ma.n.u.script t.i.tle.

"The Church and the Fiction Writer" was published in America, March 30, 1957.

"Catholic Novelists and Their Readers" and "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South" are composites of relatively late material. The former includes pa.s.sages from a paper read at the College of St. Teresa, Winona, Minnesota, and published under the t.i.tle "The Role of the Catholic Novelist" in Greyfriar, Siena Studies in Literature, Vol. VII, 1964, at Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y. The latter essay embodies much of a lecture delivered at Georgetown University during 175th-anniversary ceremonies in 1963 and published in the Georgetown magazine, Viewpoint, in Spring, 1966.

The ma.n.u.script of her "Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann" bears Miss O'Connor's inscription, "December 8, 1960, Milledgeville, Georgia." It was first published in 1961.

Books by FLANNERY O'CONNOR.

Wise Blood.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find The Violent Bear It Away Everything That Rises Must Converge.

Mystery and Manners The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor The Habit of Being.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux 18 West 18th Street, New York 10011.

Copyright 1957, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969 by the Estate of Mary Flannery O'Connor Copyright 1962 by Flannery O'Connor.

Copyright 1961 by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy (now Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

All rights reserved.

end.

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