Flannery O’Connor on Southern literature and the grostesque

I started watching John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1979) for the first time, and I actually stopped half-way through. And while I am a huge fan of Harry Dean Stanton, and I dug Brad Dourif in this role, I felt the film really sucked the life out of the literature—and it may also be part of an ongoing disillusion I’m experiencing with a few of Huston’s films these days. I’ll ultimately finish the film and then read Wise Blood again because I’m interested in why I’m having such a vehement reaction to the film, plus it gives me an excuse to re-visit the novel.

All that said, the new Criterion edition of Wise Blood comes with two phenomenal audio gems:

O’Connor’s reflections on the nature of the Southern grotesque in literature (“Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Literature”). It’s simply magic to hear her talking about the fact that the grotesque is alive in the South because Southerners can still recognize a freak, and “it’s when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.” Say what you will about the American South, but its literature during the first 60 years of the 20th century remains unparalleled in terms of beauty, style, and sheer gothic genius.

Download “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Literature”

And add to that Flannery O’Connor reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and what you have is a veritable gold mine.

Download “A Good Man is Hard to Find”


Special thanks to the Black Market Kidneys Blog for converting and uploading the audio.

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14 Responses to Flannery O’Connor on Southern literature and the grostesque

  1. Chris L says:

    I love O’Connor … her personality and her work. Of course you would too!

    She was truly a “character” but possessing all the talent most characters don’t. She was also endlessly quotable. If you haven’t read her letters, do yourself a favor and check them out.

    O’Connor on the grotesque– a lot of her writing in general– reminds me of Cocteau: “Beauty limps.” And this is advice for anyone who writes, novels or anything else:

    “The problem for such a novelist will be to know how far he can distort without destroying, and in order not to destroy, he will have to descend far enough into himself to reach those underground springs that give life to big work. This descent into himself will, at the same time, be a descent into his region. It will be a descent through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man cured in the gospels, he sees men its if they were trees, but walking.”

    I also came to appreciate (sadly too late) O’Connor’s thoughts on university writing programs: “I’m always asked if Universities smother writers. My opinion is they don’t smother enough of them…”

  2. Tim Bounds says:

    Southern short stories have to be the highest form of literary art and it really doesn’t get much better than “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

    Thanks for the post. Now, excuse me while I go read for a while.

  3. Chris L says:

    “A Good Man is Hard to Find” has one of the greatest endings ever written:

    Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.

    Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking. “Take her off and thow her where you thown the others,” he said, picking up the cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.

    “She was a talker, wasn’t she?” Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.

    “She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

    “Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.

    “Shut up, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”

  4. Elizabeth says:

    “A Good Man” is pretty impressive, but I have a serious soft spot for “Parker’s Back”. It was one of the last stories O’Connor wrote before she died & I think it’s definitely the peak.

    But, I agree with you, Jim, I loved what Harry Dean did with Asa & in my imaginary world, Brad Dourif would read the audio book for “Wise Blood”, but. . . not so much with Huston’s film. I think one of the biggest problems I had was how Enoch Emery was portrayed in the movie. His instinctive fear of/competition with animals, the calculating way he “passes” through society’s boundaries even though he doesn’t actually fit, how his traits oppose Haze’s. All that gets boiled down to a semi-retarded character who just stumbles through the film. Very disappointing.

  5. Brad says:

    The “Good Man” reading leaves me nearly speechless, I donno why I hadn’t heard it before. What a great find.

    Its delivery, tone, & accent remind me, perhaps predictably, of Professor Emerson’s readings of her own poetry. So glad to know that southern tradition is being kept alive, & in a big, big way.

  6. Reverend says:

    Yeah, Flannery is the real deal, I can’t imagine anyone not liking her. And the contrast of the idea of her stories as religious parables that are so blatantly depraved is the great marriage of all the tensions that make literature what it is. I also like her suggestion that the South still has a sense of “the whole man,” “not Christ-centered, but Christ-hearted.” What does that mean? I don’t know, but it fascinates me, as does just about everything she has written.

    A true Southerner chimes in 🙂 Enjoy the brilliance.

    Yeah, I agree with the Emerson comment, I couldn’t help but think of her when here her frame the idea of freaks and also starting lilting through the story. Very cool.

  7. Reverend says:


    She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.

    Not a line, but a phiosophy.

    Sorry I missed your comment on the first past, I agree entirely about Emery, he is pivotal in the novel, but laughable in the movie. The other thing that really struck me was how much the background and built environment robbed from the story. It was there, and it was all Southern enough seeming, but it seemed to refocus my attention as a reader/viewer, so that I felt torn between a rather unimpressively shot movie that seemed to further alienate me from characters which are the novel. The setting is there, but I’m not so sure her works are about the environment as much as about the people, but I’m sure folks will argue me on this.

  8. Brian says:

    Those O’Connor clips are magnificent.

    For what it’s worth, I like the film a lot more than you did. It’s true, it does not come remotely close to capturing the near-hallucinatory intensity that the book gives off (especially toward the end), but I wonder if Huston knew that was impossible to do, and dialed down and went for something more achievable.

    Whatever the debatable merits of the film, you can’t deny that it contributed audio samples to a kickin’ rip:


    Nobody with a good car needs to be justified. And be warned, some day I WILL mix “Jim Groom Built My Hot Rod”…

  9. Pingback: Flannery O’Connor reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” | Cosmopoetica

  10. Pingback: In the Words of Flannery O’Connor | Writing That Matters

  11. greyfoot says:

    If I may ask, why is there a whole section (equivalent of a page) cut from O’Connor’s audio of “A Good Man Is Hard To Find?” Is it because of the use of the “n-word?” If so, I wonder if you could direct me to an uncut version of the audio?

    Thank you.


  12. Bruce says:

    Flannery didn’t say the southerner is Christ-hearted; she said he is Christ-haunted. That’s a very big difference.

  13. Pingback: Flannery O’Connor reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” | PassionTask Blog

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