Flannery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)

In a let­ter dat­ed May 31, 1960, Flan­nery O’Con­nor, the author best known for her clas­sic sto­ry, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (lis­ten to her read the sto­ry here) penned a let­ter to her friend, the play­wright Mary­at Lee. It begins rather abrupt­ly, like­ly because it’s respond­ing to some­thing Mary­at said in a pre­vi­ous let­ter:

I hope you don’t have friends who rec­om­mend Ayn Rand to you. The fic­tion of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fic­tion. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the sub­way and threw it in the near­est garbage pail. She makes Mick­ey Spillane look like Dos­to­evsky.

The let­ter, which you can read online or find in the book The Habit of Being, then turns to oth­er mat­ters.

O’Con­nor’s crit­i­cal appraisal of Ayn Rand’s books is pret­ty straight­for­ward. But here’s one fac­toid worth know­ing. Mick­ey Spillane (ref­er­enced in O’Con­nor’s let­ter) was a huge­ly pop­u­lar mys­tery writer, who sold some 225 mil­lion books dur­ing his life­time. Accord­ing to his Wash­ing­ton Post obit, “his spe­cial­ty was tight-fist­ed, sadis­tic revenge sto­ries, often fea­tur­ing his alco­holic gumshoe Mike Ham­mer and a cast of evil­do­ers.” Crit­ics, appalled by the sex and vio­lence in his books, dis­missed his writ­ing. But Ayn Rand defend­ed him. In pub­lic, she said that Spillane was under­rat­ed. In her book The Roman­tic Man­i­festo, Rand put Spillane in some unex­pect­ed com­pa­ny when she wrote: “[Vic­tor] Hugo gives me the feel­ing of enter­ing a cathedral–Dostoevsky gives me the feel­ing of enter­ing a cham­ber of hor­rors, but with a pow­er­ful guide–Spillane gives me the feel­ing of lis­ten­ing to a mil­i­tary band in a pub­lic park–Tolstoy gives me the feel­ing of an unsan­i­tary back­yard which I do not care to enter.” All of which goes to show that Ayn Rand’s lit­er­ary taste was no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in June, 2014.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

When Ayn Rand Col­lect­ed Social Secu­ri­ty & Medicare, After Years of Oppos­ing Ben­e­fit Pro­grams

Christo­pher Hitchens Dis­miss­es the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advo­cat­ing Self­ish­ness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Rein­force­ment”

Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Iden­ti­fy It’s A Won­der­ful Life as Com­mu­nist Pro­pa­gan­da

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

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

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Comments (11)
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  • Shaun says:

    If only Ayn Rand had real­ly been a bad writer we would­n’t’ve had to strug­gle against her per­ni­cious ideas for the last

    fifty years.

  • Tibor Sallai says:

    I’m not for­bid any­thing to read for my friends. Because they are my friends. Besides it seems open cul­ture can’t read between the lines: lis­ten­ing a mil­i­tary band in a pub­lic park… isn’t a nice thing to do. (too loud, the­atri­cal, sim­ple, earth­bound and not fit­ting in a pub­lic park, where you usu­al­ly go out to jog­ging, play­ing, hav­ing pic­nic with friends…) She recitat­ed some of the most impor­tant writ­ers of the past cen­turies com­pared to a bump­kin guy, to show how much you can accom­plish with writ­ing.

    Any­ways: how can you crit­i­cize a per­son­’s taste writ­ing if you nev­er read them? You call some­one a bad writer because she did­n’t like Tol­stoy?

  • Gorby says:

    Open Cul­ture could do bet­ter. This pseu­do arti­cle can´t even tell why she was that bad, why her opin­ion was lousy, why her taste is bad, feels like an unfin­ished home­work from a 2nd grad­er, no argu­ments, ideas or con­cepts, just plain hate (or is it igno­rance?) I have nev­er read her so i was look­ing for an expla­na­tion and all i found was lit­er­ary pompous­ness, super­fi­cial obser­va­tion and bad read­ing com­pre­hen­sion from the poor soul who pub­lished this as a fin­ished piece… GET A LIFE! There must be some­thing you can do bet­ter than try­ing to write about books, authors and ideas.

  • MP R says:

    Always fun to see the dif­fer­ent ways this blog masks their pop cul­ture pol­i­tics. It’s just a shame they’re too busy fol­low­ing the herd instead of think­ing for them­selves –
    one of the many lessons Rand con­veyed in her works, if you both­ered to read any of them.

    Open Cul­ture: the Buz­zFeed of the blog-o-sphere.

  • Nick in London says:

    Dos­to­evsky, Tol­stoy and Hugo are all bril­liant writ­ers.. how can you say oth­er­wise ? Odd to include Mick­ey Spillane in this list..never read him. Sounds like pound-shop Ray­mond Chan­dler.

  • Mike says:

    If you haven’t read Rand you can’t know how self-evi­dent­ly bad her books are. Your home­work assign­ment: read one and report back.

  • caren says:

    The arti­cle is writ­ten for peo­ple who have read Ayn Rand’s work and are famil­iar with her ideas.

  • Lynn says:

    Any Rand’s entire per­spec­tive was as an indi­vid­ual who was obliv­i­ous to any pur­pose oth­er than to serve that indi­vid­ual. Igno­rance of advan­tage of groups/community/family, etc. made her crip­pled and blind to oppor­tu­ni­ties that most of us expe­ri­ence on a team or as a mem­ber of an effort such as a coun­try or a school or fundrais­ing non prof­it cor­po­ra­tion.

  • Dan Gallivan says:

    I have read Rand’s books just to know what the hell she was about. It sick­ens me to know many con­ser­v­a­tives like Ryan have such dis­dain for indi­vid­u­als that sore­ly need a hand up. It was painful but was final­ly clear Rand was noth­ing. Being noth­ing she had all her time to her­self. No expec­ta­tions of ever shar­ing, just tak­ing back what she and now our Speak­er of the House Paul Ryan con­sid­ers is their , he is Noth­ing. He will take all he can into the emp­ty space of his mind. You have to ask your­self why did­n’t some­one give him a com­ic book like Archie and Jug head. Where he assim­i­lates the char­ac­ter of Jug head and no longer feels the desire to hurt peo­ple.

  • karen says:

    Did that and had a book burn­ing time.

  • TJ says:

    I enjoy Ayn Rand’s books. She’s an elo­quent writer.

    I have lit­er­al­ly nev­er come across a crit­i­cism of her writ­ing that presents a legit­i­mate rea­son against her. Just a lot of lies, out-of-con­text gen­er­al­iza­tions, and hol­low attacks.

    “Ayn Rand’s lit­er­ary taste was no bet­ter than her lit­er­a­ture.”

    What’s wrong with her lit­er­a­ture? Or with the lit­er­a­ture she men­tioned?

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