Here is a rare recording of Flannery O’Connor reading an early version of her witty and revealing essay, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction”:
O’Connor gives an eloquent outline of her vision as both a Southern and a Catholic writer. She defends her work against critics who say it is highly unrealistic. “All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real,” she says, “but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality.” In the published version of the essay, she writes:
Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.
This passage can be heard, in different form, beginning at the 3:40 mark in the recording. Like many of O’Connors essays, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction” was written not for publication, but for public reading. She was known to rewrite and rearrange these pieces between readings. In this recording, O’Connor is using the piece as a preparatory statement for a reading of her classic story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
We don’t know the date of the recording, but the text differs significantly from the posthumously published version, so perhaps it is an early version. The earliest extant recording of the essay that we know of was made on October 28, 1960 for the Dorothy Lamar Blount Lecture Series at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. There is also known to be a recording of O’Connor reading the piece on November 16, 1962 at East Texas State University.
To compare the recorded version to the one eventually published in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, you can click here to open the essay in a new window. And for more on O’Connor, including a recording of her reading her most famous story, see our earlier post, “Rare 1959 Audio: Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.'”