I can’t imagine Flannery O’Connor as a young woman, having made the decision to leave rural Georgia to strike out on her own as a writer, getting into a prestigious MFA program at Iowa Writer’s Workshop, moving from there to the creative community at Yaddo, and from there to New York where she had a publisher and an agent and had sold work and was part of a circle of writers, finding out that she had to return home and that due to her illness, she would never live elsewhere again.
I’m sure Andalusia Farm was more lively back then, as Regina ran it as a working dairy farm and there were those screeching peacocks all over the place. I imagine it looked more prosperous. But it’s rural, and quiet. Flannery lived essentially in one room, although she traveled when she could, had visitors, and kept up a lively correspondence with interesting people like Thomas Merton.
Here is her room, on the first floor of the farmhouse.
She said in one of her letters that she thought she had to leave Georgia to write, but found that her best work was done back on the farm. I think, actually, that her best work was stolen by the illness: it would have combined her immense talent, her Georgia sensibility, her religious sense of mystery and grace, all honed by her writer’s community and writing life in New York. That last piece was far too fleeting. She was a brilliant writer and she worked hard, and certainly her later stories — written on the farm — show her talent developing in leaps and bounds. Those stories quite rightly earn her acclaim as an American short story writer, a master of her craft. But we missed all the rest, all the writing that would have come had she more years, and more literary people to talk with on a regular basis.
I recognize Regina’s role in all this, as I’m sure Flannery did. Flannery had a few good hours every day during which she could focus on work — because Regina cared for her, and did everything else. Regina was living in Milledgeville when Flannery had to come home, and Regina returned there almost immediately after Flannery died. One can speculate that living on the farm was not Regina’s first choice, just as getting lupus was not Flannery’s. With inordinate grace, they both did the best they could — and their best was very fine indeed.
Her room was first on the left as you enter the front door. She used crutches because the heavy steroids used to control the lupus flares destroyed her bones, making her hip sockets soft and mushy. There was no treatment other than to back off on the meds to a degree and hope her bones would harden again before the lupus flared. Then she died.