Dark angels are rare among the women of American letters. There will be others in our pantheon, but few as dark as Flannery O’Connor, perhaps the first person ever to write a darkly humorous and deeply religious story about the murder of a family by a homicidal killer. That story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find ,” probably woke you up if you ever had to read it in an English class.
Like William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, O’Connor saw the American south as a place of almost medieval travail, populated by mad modern prophets, cold blooded highway fiends, and innocent souls trying to make their way through a world where God is present but damned hard to know. And through all the drama, there is an undercurrent of the sharpest wit, far darker and more subtle than Ambrose Bierce and vicious as Mark Twain.
Unmarried and stricken with lupus at 26, when she wasn’t writing, O’Connor spent her life in Catholic devotions, tending barnyard fowl, and carrying on a voluminous correspondence with her best friend, a lesbian. She lived a short, ordinary life except for the glorious, black vision of her talent.
The mordantly brilliant O’Connor only produced 32 short stories and two novels. One of the novels, Wise Blood, was made into a fine movie by Director John Huston, but her work is not popularly read, being relegated to the literature shelves. It’s a shame, because the bleakness of her vision and the lively horrors of her stories, her preoccupation with themes of madness and crime, place her on that interesting border where literature meets pulp.
Dark angel, chronicler of the blackest nights of the soul, Flannery O’Connor.