Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction’ (c. 1960)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare 1959 Audio: Flan­nery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Hear Flan­nery O’Connor’s Short Sto­ry, “Rev­e­la­tion,” Read by Leg­endary His­to­ri­an & Radio Host, Studs Terkel

Flan­nery O’Connor’s “Every­thing That Ris­es Must Con­verge” Read by Estelle Par­sons

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  • Michael says:

    This talk was giv­en mid-Octo­ber (16th?), 1960, at The Col­lege of St. There­sa in Winona, MN. O’Con­nor makes a ref­er­ence to Min­neso­ta in her talk, and you can see in “The Habit of Being,” which is a col­lec­tion of her let­ters, that she vis­it­ed MN at that time.

  • Diane says:

    Lucky you to have heard it. The Open­Cul­ture arti­cle I down­loaded won’t play. Dis­ap­point­ing. 00.00–00.00.

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