Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

“I always answer any letter I get, at once and at length. This may be because I don’t get many.” The Habit of Being, a collection of more than eight hundred of Flannery O’Connor’s letters, reveals the truth of her first sentence and the understatement of her second. Assembled by O’Connor’s friend and correspondent Sally Fitzgerald, the wife of O’Connor’s literary executor, the collection begins with a letter to O’Connor’s agent in 1948 and concludes with a barely legible, scrawled note to Maryat Lee written six days before the author’s death in August, 1964. In between are letters addressed to a wide circle of correspondents—famous writers such as John Hawkes, Robert Lowell, and Robert Fitzgerald; lesser-known authors such as Cecil Dawkins; her editor, Robert Giroux; and, perhaps most interesting of all, a woman known only as “A.,” an Atlanta writer of O’Connor’s age and build who chose to remain anonymous.

Not all of her correspondents are represented or represented fully. O’Connor’s mother refused to allow the publication of the letters her daughter sent to her, claiming that these were of private interest only. One finds virtually nothing about her early work on her first novel, Wise Blood (1952). Except for a brief note, Fitzgerald has omitted all the letters written to Walker Percy and there are few to Caroline Gordon, O’Connor’s favorite source of advice about her work. Absent, too, are...

(The entire section is 591 words.)