Mary Flannery O’Connor:
Daughter of Savannah
— and Wexford

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About the Peacock Image

The top of this page features an illustration of a peacock, a bird associated with Flannery O’Connor. In adulthood, the author raised peafowl. Her 1961 essay, “Living with a Peacock” (1961), states, “Many people, I have found, are con­genitally unable to appreciate the sight of a peacock. Once or twice I have been asked what the peacock is ‘good for’ — a question which gets no answer from me because it deserves none.”

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Mary Flannery O’Connor
(1925-1964)

Generally known as Flannery O’Connor, the author Mary Flannery O’Conner was born — and spent her first 13 years — in the port city of Savannah, Georgia. Her exact place of birth was St. Joseph’s Hospital, Savannah, operated by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, an order of Roman Catholic nuns established by the Corkonian (and Daniel O’Connell lieutenant) John England during his tenure as the Founding Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston. Catholicism would prove central to Flannery O’Connor’s life and fiction, and one biographer, Brad Gooch, has noted that her birthday, March 25th, is the Feast of the Annunciation.

“I am really only interested in a fiction of miracles”
— Flannery O’Connor, letter to a friend (1960)

Above: Mary Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), a Savannah-born member of the Wexford diaspora and a leading practitioner of the Southern Gothic literary genre. As a devout Catholic in the Protestant-dominated “Bible Belt,” she interrogated religious and moral themes by means of her short stories and novels, as well as her personal letters and journals.

Above: Mary Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), a Savannah-born member of the Wexford diaspora and a leading practitioner of the Southern Gothic literary genre. As a devout Catholic in the Protestant-dominated “Bible Belt,” she interrogated religious and moral themes by means of her short stories and novels, as well as her personal letters and journals.

Some weeks prior to her sixteenth birthday, Flannery O’Connor lost her 45-year-old father, Edward Francis (“Ed”) O’Connor, Jr., to lupus, the autoimmune disease that would also take her life at age 39. Her initial university education resulted in a Social Science degree, obtained in 1945 from the Georgia State College for Women in her mother’s hometown of Milledgeville, sometime capital of the State of Georgia. The year before her father’s death, the family had moved to Andalusia Farm, Milledgeville, a property purchased by Dr. Bernard Cline, her mother’s brother, in 1931 (and now a museum).

In 1946, Flannery O’Connor entered the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a unit of (what is now) the University of Iowa. While studying there for a master’s degree (MFA) in creative writing , her instructors included such important authors as Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe-Ransom. She graduated in 1947, and during the summer of the next year she worked on a novel (Wise Blood) and a number of short stories at Yaddo, an artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, a resort town in upstate New York.

After being diagnosed with lupus in 1951, Flannery O’Connor moved back to Andalusia Farm, where she remained, writing — under her mother’s care — for the remainder of her short life.

“[Flannery O’Connor’s] work is shocking, hard, violent, yet gravely lyrical, an elegy for the unseen”
— Richard Gilman (1979)

The first of O’Connor’s two novels, Wise Blood, was published in 1952, with John Houston’s film adaptation following in 1979. The tale’s principal male protagonist, Hazel (“Haze”) Motes, returns from military service and determines to advance a humanistic project: the Church Without Christ. Matters religious and moral also inform The Violent Bear It Away (1960), O’Connor’s second novel, whose title is a phrase from St. Matthew’s Gospel.

While her novels are esteemed, O’Connor’s literary fame resides fundamentally with her short stories, collected as, first, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and, second, the posthumously published Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). Works from the two collections were again published in 1972 as The Complete Stories, which received that year’s National Book Award, a plaudit usually reserved for a living author.

In 1979, the Sally Fitzgerald-edited collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, appeared. Deeming the book “[r]emarkable and inspiring,” Kirkus opined, “These hundreds of letters give O'Connor's tough, funny, careful personality to us more distinctly and movingly than any biography probably would.” In 2013, prayers that O’Connor wrote while at the Iowa Writers Workshop were published as A Prayer Journal.

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 Wexford Roots

Flannery O’Connor’s great-grandfather, Patrick O’Connor (born in 1833), emigrated from his native County Wexford, Ireland, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1851, together with an older brother, Daniel O’Connor (born in 1830). Some months later, Daniel joined the expanding Wexford diaspora in Savannah, Georgia; and Patrick followed in due course. As Savannahians, both brothers became prominent in industrial manufacturing, as well as the city’s Irish-American cultural organizations.

The Savannah Morning News of August 30, 1870, observed that at his “[w]heel-wright establishment … on West Broad street,” Savannah, the “industrious mechanic,” Daniel O’Connor, had “increased his business” from 14 to 28 employees in “the manufacture of drays, wagons and other vehicles.”

In 1887, the Morning News reported Daniel’s passing, which occurred on February 15th of that year. Characterizing him as “one of Savannah’s most prominent Irish citizens,” the piece noted his birth “in Wexford, Ireland” and the growth of his “wheelwright and blacksmith shops” into “the largest in the city” of Savannah.

Above: A portion of the  Savannah Morning News  obituary for Daniel O’Connor (published in the edition of February 16th, 1887). The son mentioned here, P.J. O’Connor, received a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In addition to running a major law practice in Savannah, P.J. O’Connor became the National President of America’s oldest and largest Irish-Catholic fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

Above: A portion of the Savannah Morning News obituary for Daniel O’Connor (published in the edition of February 16th, 1887). The son mentioned here, P.J. O’Connor, received a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In addition to running a major law practice in Savannah, P.J. O’Connor became the National President of America’s oldest and largest Irish-Catholic fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

Daniel O’Connor was a member of Savannah’s original Irish militia, the Irish Jasper Greens. When reorganized in 1872, that body awarded its captaincy to John Flannery (1835-1910), a native of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, who had become a wealthy factor in Savannah. His wife, Mary Ellen Norton Flannery (1844-1899), was a relative of the Cline family, prominent Catholics in Milledgeville. When Regina Cline O’Connor gave birth to her daughter (and only child) on March 25th, 1925, she honored her kinswoman by naming the baby Mary Flannery O’Connor.

Regina Cline O’Connor and Edward Francis O’Connor, Jr., raised Mary Flannery O’Connor in the shadow of Savannah’s twin-spired, Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Captain John Flannery had chaired the committee responsible for rebuilding the edifice after a major fire in February 1898. The O’Connor home — 207 Charlton Street on Lafayette Square — is a three-story row house that, today , functions as a Flannery O’Connor house-museum. Its furnishings reflect the Depression era of the author’s girlhood.

Above: LEFT — Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home on Lafayette Square, one of Savannah’s 22 historic squares. With an eye to purchasing it, the O’Connors rented the house from Katie Semmes, the only surviving child of Captain John Flannery and Mary Ellen Norton Flannery. • CENTER and RIGHT — Just steps from the O’Connor home, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (known for one ten-year period as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help) has been called “the Sistine of the South.” Flannery O’Connor’s baptism, first communion, and confirmation occurred in the cathedral, and for five years she attended grammar school next door: the all-girls St. Vincent’s Academy, run by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.

Above: LEFT — Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home on Lafayette Square, one of Savannah’s 22 historic squares. With an eye to purchasing it, the O’Connors rented the house from Katie Semmes, the only surviving child of Captain John Flannery and Mary Ellen Norton Flannery. • CENTER and RIGHT — Just steps from the O’Connor home, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (known for one ten-year period as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help) has been called “the Sistine of the South.” Flannery O’Connor’s baptism, first communion, and confirmation occurred in the cathedral, and for five years she attended grammar school next door: the all-girls St. Vincent’s Academy, run by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.

“I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”
— Flannery O’Connor, personal prayer journal (1946)

Above: The baby Flannery O’Connor slept and played in this Kiddie Koop, on display in the house-museum in Savannah.

Above: The baby Flannery O’Connor slept and played in this Kiddie Koop, on display in the house-museum in Savannah.

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Our Speakers:
Amanda Konkle & Bill Dawers

Above: Amanda Konkle and Bill Dawers at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah.

Above: Amanda Konkle and Bill Dawers at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah.

About Bill

Bill Dawers is a member of the faculty of the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University, a 27,000-student institution, founded in 1906 and classified as a doctoral-research university. His base is the university’s Armstrong Campus — that is, its facility in the city of Savannah. While Bill’s teaching also embraces such genres as travel writing, it centers on journalism. He is an active and respected professional journalist, regularly contributing arts, music, and other features to the Savannah Morning News, especially its “City Talk” column. His work has featured in important US magazines, not least Oxford American.

Attuned to the Savannah scene, both contemporary and historical, Bill is passionate about the writings of Flannery O’Connor. He serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home on Lafayette Square in Savannah’s Historic District. In addition to attracting literary pilgrims from across the globe for tours, the house also hosts lectures and other events that deepen understanding of Flannery O’Connor, in particular how Savannah helped shape her.

About Amanda

Dr. Amanda Konkle received her PhD in English from the University of Kentucky (2016). Her research focuses on Film Studies and Twentieth-Century American Literature. Her most recent major publication is the monograph, Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe (Rutgers University Press, 2019). Reviewing the book, Lucy Bolton of Queen Mary, University of London, opined, “Konkle brings fresh understanding to the Marilyn Monroe phenomenon, shedding light on her journey from sexpot to star, and revealing the complex construction and development of the Monroe image.”

In 2020, Syracuse University Press will publish, in book form, a collection of essays on the television series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Amanda co-edited the volume. Amanda’s academic articles appear in such journals as Feminist Encounters and Quarterly Review of Film and Video. She is on the faculty of Georgia Southern University’s Department of Literature, teaching on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah.

Above: Scenes from the    Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home   , Savannah, Georgia.

Above: Scenes from the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, Savannah, Georgia.

Suggestions for Talks, Workshops

• Irish immigration to Savannah, with emphasis on County Wexford and on the O’Connor family

• Stories about Flannery O'Connor's childhood in Savannah and how those experiences echo in her literary works and other writings

• Catholicism and themes of grace in O'Connor's life and work, paying attention to the fact that most of her literary characters are not Catholic

• Details and history about the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, with (perhaps) some emphasis on the issues faced generally by literary house museums 

• The power of place, in particular the American South, noting that O’Connor’s essays frequently address Southern literature and her position within it

• O’Connor’s use of bizarre “prophets” — and of the grotesque — in her fiction

• O’Connor’s various letters and essays dealing with the art of writing; despite her own MFA from Iowa, she frequently showed disdain for creative-writing programs

• One or more discussion sessions about some O’Connor’s short stories; excellent candidates include (but are not limited to): “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”; “Good Country People”; “Parker's Back”; “Revelation”

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