Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flannery O’Connor on Hope and the Novel

Stefanie’s excellent post on reading and hope at So Many Books prompts me to offer up another excerpt from Flannery O’Connor’s marvellous essay collection:

People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.

From Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1969).

I’ve only read two of the essays so far and have already decided that this collection is indispensable. Yesterday I bought myself a copy and returned the library copy with which I began.

9 comments:

AC said...

That's such a great passage; makes me want to reread that essay.

Will you include Flannery in your short story group? I think one of her stories would make for great discussion.

Kate S. said...

We'll definitely include a Flannery O'Connor story on the list for our discussion group. The difficulty with her is in choosing which one; she wrote so many brilliant stories. Which one would you choose if you wanted to single out her best?

Victoria said...

"People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them."

I very much concur with this part. All the writers and readers I've met over the years have been singularly thoughtful, hopeful and proactive people. In order to really do either activity you have to *believe* in something, be wanting something...and that doesn't happen without hope. I imagine all readers/writers believe their work is going somewhere hopeful. :-)

Any news yet on which stories we'll be reading for the group?

Carl said...

I like your blog, have just posted a website and included a link to yours--hope that wasn't presumptuous--and wondered if you wanted a look. I'll take down the link if you prefer, of course. www.writerworking.net--
Carl Brush

LK said...

Hi: Flannery would be indispensible in my humble o. for the short story group. She's one of the absolute masters of the form. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is probably the most anthologized (and famous). I'd also vote for "Good Country People."

AC said...

I'd second LK's picks, and maybe also suggest "A View of the Woods" as another less-anthologized piece.

Stefanie said...

Wonderful passage Kate! Writing is a hopeful activity, especially novel writing. I like how she adds reading in there too. Very nice.

Yay for reading an O'Connor story! It doesn't matter which one, I don't think she ever wrote a bad one.

Ex Libris said...

In addition to A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People, I would also recommend The River. Looking forward to the short story reads! Sharon

amcorrea said...

Mystery and Manners is one of my favorite books of all time. It is nothing short of brilliant. Enjoy your first read! I'm sure there will be many more.