Beginning in April I’m resuming book events, and the first will be visiting friend Phyllis in South Carolina. She knows I’m a huge Flannery O’Connor fan, and has offered a trip to Milledgeville, Georgia, where Andalusia is located — the farm where Flannery returned to live with her mother after falling ill with lupus in her late 20’s. She died at age 39, having suffered from the disease for 12 years.
Many of her best stories are located on that farm, because that’s what she saw every day and where her body was confined. She had an astonishing gift as a writer, even though her foreshortened life gave her a chance to write no more than 2 short novels and 32 short stories. There’s nothing small or local or confined about her work, but I am eager to see the physical place where so much of the gothic drama unfolds.
Friend Barbara just traveled there, and she said the sense of the writer and her strange fascination with peacocks is palpable, even though it’s been decades since anyone lived on the farm. The metal crutches O’Connor used to get around during flares of the illness are in the farm house, perhaps just where she left them before becoming bedridden for good.
In preparation for the trip I’m reading The Complete Works of Flannery O’Connor again — and appreciating anew this astonishing writer. As with anyone whose life is cut short, I can see her development from the first short story to the last one she submitted right before her death, and I’m filled with longing about what another ten or twenty or thirty years of work might have given us.