More on Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal


At the LA Review of Books, Amy Gerstler has a write-up on Flannery O’Connor’s recently released (and recently discovered) prayer journal, written while she was a student at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Some tidbits:

1. In some ways, she was your typical grad student: “At one point she moans, ‘I will always be staggering between Despair & Presumption…’” (I hear ya, Flannery.)

2. But mostly she was one-of-a-kind: “Another exception to O’Connor’s near silence on the subject of sex occurs in the journal’s penultimate sentence, in which she berates herself, with no further elaboration, for being ‘a glutton for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought.’”

3. Something you all probably knew already, but I didn’t: “In his biography Flannery,Brad Gooch says that during their initial meeting the director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop had to ask O’Connor to write down what she was trying to say, after prompting her to repeat herself twice and still failing to understand her.” 

And Gerstler’s conclusion: 

One can read A Prayer Journal buoyantly, with a good deal more cheer than was likely felt during its writing. One can savor it, without feeling the sort of pity O’Connor professed to feel for ‘Mr. Kafka,’ despite the fact that it’s a chronicle of sincere spiritual struggle. Perhaps this is because we know some things the 20-year-old Flannery did not. We know that her lofty sense of mission was entirely realized — that her work became and remains a gold standard in fiction. Thanks to our omniscient hindsight, we also have the benefit of knowing that though she was quite ill much of her life, succumbing at 39 to the same nasty autoimmune disease that had killed her father when she was 15, Flannery O’Connor never lost her talent or her faith.

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