Mystery and Manners MOBI µ Mystery and Epub /

Mystery and Manners MOBI µ Mystery and Epub /

Mystery and Manners [PDF] ✑ Mystery and Manners Author Flannery O'Connor – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk Alternate Cover Edition can be found here

At her death in , O'Connor left behind a body of unpublished essays and lectures as well Alternate Cover Edition can be found here At her death in , O'Connor left behind a body of unpublished essays and lectures as well as a number of critical articles that had appeared in scattered publications during her tooshort lifetime The keen writings comprising Mystery and Manners, selected and edited by O'Connor's lifelong friends Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, are characterized by the directness and simplicity of the author's style, a finetuned wit, understated perspicacity, and profound faithThe book opens with
The King of the Birds, her famous account of raising peacocks at her Mystery and Epub / home in Milledgeville, Georgia Also included are: three essays on regional writing, including The Fiction Writer and His Country and Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction; two pieces on teaching literature, including Total Effect and the th Grade; and four articles concerning the writer and religion, including The Catholic Novel in the Protestant South Essays such as The Nature and Aim of Fiction and Writing Short Stories are widely seen as gemsThis bold and brilliant essaycollection is a must for all readers, writers, and students of contemporary American literature.


10 thoughts on “Mystery and Manners

  1. Richard Richard says:

    This book of essays gives us some of Flannery O'Connor's thoughts about what it was like for her to be a Catholic writer in the American South. Her writing shows the personality of someone who is confident of her own experience and ability, and yet (at least most of the time) quite humble about it too.

    O'Connor writes with wit (ranging from wry humour to sarcasm) about the incomprehension or disapproval with which her short stories and novels were met by many contemporary readers. She stresses the importance of writing which is based on concrete details rather than on abstraction, unmediated emotions or even misdirected devotion. It is important to be true to one's vocation as a writer, and to write reality as it is, not as one would like it to be. One cannot and should not reduce reading to the extraction of handy themes or morals. And one should not reduce the writing process to the application of techniques and formulae. As a Southerner, says O'Connor, it is vital to be grounded in the region, history and customs which make the writer what he or she is. She also deals with the difficulties of teaching, understanding and reading literature which are caused by the general decline of the spiritual worldview in society.

    She has intriguing things to say about being a Catholic trying to write in accordance with the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine and spirituality while still being true to one's mission as a writer. This is a delicate balancing act, often made more complicated by the surrounding Bible Belt. (Interestingly, she says that this consideration of Protestantism is not all counterproductive and does not need to be entirely defensive or antagonistic!)

    While I didn't agree with absolutely everything O'Connor said, I think this is a valuable book for any serious writer or reader. O'Connor had a high opinion of the writer's calling and a serious spiritual vision, yet she was able to look at life with humour and to remain firmly grounded in the Southern world from which she sprang.


  2. Dhanaraj Rajan Dhanaraj Rajan says:

    A Confession:

    Two or three times I began writing a review and later tossed them away. For I was not happy with what came about as a review.

    A Fact:

    This is one of the posthumous collections of essays by F. O'Connor and is my first O'Connor book. O'Connor is revered for her short stories and fiction more than for her prose writing. Moreover, this collection has some essays which were not yet revised for publication.

    The Result:

    I ended up liking her writing and am really hungry for all of her writings.

    This essay collection contains just a single 'personal' essay in which she speaks of her own experience of rearing the King of Birds (the peacock) in her farm.

    The other essays are also personal but they can also be termed as essays dealing with literary criticism. In a special way, she analyses the questions like Who is a Novelist?, Who is a Catholic Novelist?, What is a Story?, How do we teach Literature (especially the fiction)?, How do we read fiction?, etc. This part is a must read for all lovers of literature and above all for the aspiring writers.

    A quote to express her idea of a well written story:

    A story that is any good can't be reduced, it can only be expanded. A story is good when you continue to see more and more in it, and when it continues to escape you. In fiction two and two is always more than four.

    According to her, to be a writer is a vocation. You are called specially. If one does not have the call it is no use trying writing anything.

    She writes: Of course, the ability to create life with words is essentially a gift. If you have it in the first place, you can develop it; if you don't have it, you might as well forget it.

    And what is the material for the fiction writer and how should he write it?

    She writes: The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you.

    So the essential quality for a fiction writer is his ability to see the natural world surrounding him. 'See and do not be afraid to see longer and all the more be not afraid to show what you saw in the words.' This seems to be her advise. Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things.

    If I go in this way, I might end up quoting the entire book or at least the first five or six essays.

    Besides, she being a devout Catholic also tries to answer the call of a Catholic novelist. In searching for the differences between the secular novelist and a Catholic novelist, she comes up with a theory that is absolutely stunning if you are a believer. In fact, even when one is not a believer, her points might still ring true and convincing.

    She says that life is made up of two elements - Mystery and Manners.
    Mystery = the unknowable, the Image of God, the Divine element, the grace, the transcendental element.
    Manners = The knowable, the normal human make up, his observable behaviour, his place in the society, his habits, his environment, his language, his culture, etc.
    The Fiction is always in search of the Mystery. This does not mean to indoctrinate the fiction with her beliefs. According to O'Connor, to arrive at the mystery the writer had to present the manners as accurately as possible and from there surely the Mystery element will be made visible in one way or the other.

    Note: Do not depend on the review. Just get a copy and read at least the first five essays. You will have found something worth a treasure.


  3. Francisco Francisco says:

    Flannery O'Connor published two novels and some twenty-five short stories. That was the literary output of her life and yet her work continues to live - which is to say that it continues to be alive in the mind and hearts of those who read her. Mystery and Manners is a collection of lectures that were put together by friends after her death (she died in her thirties from Lupus). There's something about Flannery O'Connor that makes her, in many ways, the writer's writer. There is just so much to learn from her writing and Mystery and Manners is a gold mine for young (and old) writers. Maybe it is even better for old writers for the reminders that it gives them about what the ideal of fiction is - even if the ideal is never reached. Flannery O'Connor was a woman of faith (Christian) and it is wonderful to see how this faith is embodied in her writing in a way that is totally opposite to the desire to convert or even to enlighten. She was too wise and too humble and too much a believer in God to think that she could ever do that. What she did believe, I think, is that her writing could be an instrument for and on behalf of mystery. The writer's task is to push her work to the point of mystery - most of all to push her characters to the mysterious depths of personality. It is as if the writer creates the deep space where the reader may fall ( or may not). But what is amazing about Flannery O'Connor, and why she is such a good teacher, is that this mystery and depth is always attained through an incredible power of seeing the concrete and the particular. The habit of art, she says, is the habit of seeing. She saw life singly through the binoculars of the specific and the universal so that the reader could see as much of mystery as he or she was capable of seeing.


  4. Cindy Rollins Cindy Rollins says:

    4 stars for most people, 5 for writers.

    After reading this I don't have to wonder what Flannery would think of modern Christian fiction. This book makes
    me feel less guilty about all those times I made fun of the Christian fiction catalogs on my old blog.
    The book is the collected writing of Flannery on writing from various sources. I say Flannery because I love her so much
    and she is my friend. If you truly want to at least try to probe the idea of the art of fiction this is a must-read. I secretly think
    I will not be a writer until I write fiction and yet when I read this I am pretty sure I don't have the gift.

    What interests the serious writer is not external habits but what Maritain calls, “the habit of art”; and he explains that “habit” in this sense means a certain quality or virtue of the mind. The scientist has the habit of science; the artist, the habit of art.

    I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.

    I don’t know which is worse—to have a bad teacher or no teacher at all. In any case, I believe the teacher’s work should be largely negative. He can’t put the gift into you, but if he finds it there, he can try to keep it from going in an obviously wrong direction.

    Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.

    There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics;...


  5. Lee Klein Lee Klein says:

    Ms. O'Connor sometimes seems to me like a didactic pedantic generalizer, but in general I like her. Flat-out loved the opening peacock essay and wish there were more slice of essayistic life in here to complement the must-read/essential essays that reveal her as a literary fundamentalist, albeit one whose ideation be animated by denominational spirits, a religiousity that's maybe her strength and weakness in this collection, as in the story collection I read earlier this year (A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories). My reaction to her stories and essays seems consistently polarized -- either I love a story or essay, fly through it, swim in it, revel in it, fully engage with it, or else it closes down and becomes an impenetrable thicket of text, dull, inflexible, too parochial for this fancy northeastern prep school kid. In this collection, the essays about Catholic writers and the memoir about the little girl who died at age 9 were not accessible to this 21st century pagan (literary pantheist, to be exact). In general throughout I jibed with her when she talked about the anti-scientific mysteries of fiction writing, the mysticism of it, but when she deploys a lot of musts and shoulds when talking about fiction, although at one point she does say there're no rules as long as you can pull it off (although few pull much off), she loses me, since I guess I just don't respond to what seems to me like this sort of mild-mannered effectively totalitarian sensibility (reminded me of Marilynne Robinson somewhat), especially when it comes to art. Too often for me seemed intellectually dualistic (good vs evil) in a way I don't believe accurately reflects what it's like to be alive. For an engaging story, an evil obstacle (a dragon!) on the way to the Kingdom of Souls might work wonders for readers, but then it seems a little rote, too, even if the ultimate goal is a sense of mystery/redemption? In general, I enjoyed reading most of this, even if I didn't agree with it all, to such an extent that I give it four stars even if I skimmed the last few essays. Awesome to see where so many of those writing workshop old standbys come from: a story needs a beginning, middle, and end, if not necessarily in that order, etc. Also interesting re: what she has to say about teaching writing in college at the end of The Nature and Aim of Fiction: In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel's worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class. (Again, Matthew, no offense to your grandma!)


  6. Kathleen Kathleen says:

    This collection of essays and lectures goes a long way to explain the thinking behind Flannery O’Connor’s dark realism. A lesser-known gem of writing advice, it is bursting with wisdom--really specific stuff, told in this sort of deadpan sarcastic voice. O’Connor was so opinionated. So astute. It makes for wonderful reading.

    Mystery and manners. She defines mystery as the “mystery of our position on earth,” and manners as “those conventions which, in the hands of the artist, reveal that central mystery.” She writes specifically of her viewpoint as a Catholic and as a southerner.

    I copied so many passages my notes are almost as long as the book. She explains symbols and meaning and drama. She has opinions on education and poverty and religion. Together, this creates a kind of unique philosophy, and gives her advice deep and distinctive meaning.

    Here are three quotes, all about looking and seeing:

    “But there’s a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene.”

    “Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”

    “It is a fact that fiction writing is something in which the whole personality takes part—the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the whole personality. They have to be cultivated like any other habit, over a long period of time, by experience; and teaching any kind of writing is largely a matter of helping the student develop the habit of art. I think this is more than just a discipline, although it is that; I think it is a way of looking at the created world and of using the senses so as to make them find as much meaning as possible in things.”

    Highly recommended to writers, but all Flannery O’Connor fans will find much here to enjoy.


  7. Kate Savage Kate Savage says:

    I dislike so many things about Flannery O'Connor -- her dogmatic Catholicism, her venom toward the faithless world and other would-be writers -- and yet all the same I'm in love with her. I'm not the only one; what's wrong with us?

    O'Connor's the mean girl in your writers' group:

    Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. The idea of being a writer attracts a good many shiftless people, those who are merely burdened with poetic feelings or afflicted with sensibility.

    Her own explanations of her work is often irritating to me. Her ultimate aim is to preach Catholic dogma and further the glory of God. But what remarkable talent, that reading her fiction alone none of us would have guessed it.

    At least half of the essays in this book are about being Catholic, and would have been helpful to me when I was studying literature at a religious university. In one class we watched an interview where Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer, who also dabbles in painting, asserts that the role of the artist isn't to document the world with all its nastiness, but improve and perfect it. In contrast, O'Connor says the writer has to write what he or she sees, and To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God. (Let's hope the two of them can have a curmudgeon-off one day in the starry Great Beyond.)

    Or as O'Connor writes elsewhere: I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, 'Well, them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do,' and I thought to myself that that was right; when you write stories, you have to be content to start exactly there -- showing how some specific folks will do, will do in spite of everything.


  8. Taka Taka says:

    In reading Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, I was inspired and found so many things relevant to my situation as a writer and teacher. I will respond to her book in two parts, first from the standpoint of a teacher and second from that of a fiction writer.

    One of the tips that may be useful in teaching creative writing is her insistence that fiction must, before all else, be concrete and appeal to the senses. One of my students likes to write abstractly because, he says, it will allow different people to see what they want to see. I told him that’s probably an ineffective way of writing and gave him James Joyce’s quote: “In the particular is contained the universal.” In fact, one thing I want my students to take away from my class is writing concretely, whether in fiction or poetry.

    Another point that is personally relevant to me is O’Connor’s claim that students need to learn tools to understand a story. After a disastrous class on characterization where I presented the tools of characterization to my students at the end of the class, I decided to do another lesson on the topic. I started with a simple question, “Why do we read in a creative writing class?” They responded with “So we can steal from them,” which allowed me to tell them we were going to read that week’s story and look at what the author is doing at the level of craft so they can learn how to do the same. And this time, I gave them the tools first and went over the story paragraph by paragraph, reminding them to keep the tools in mind and asking them what they learned about the characters in each paragraph. I also had them build an interesting character using the tools, and I hope that class was a lot more successful in teaching my students the tools than the first one.

    Going back to O’Connor, I also agree with her assessment that workshops, especially undergraduate ones, tend to be “composed in equal part of ignorance, flattery, and spite” (86). Though I haven’t seen “spite” in the workshops I ran, I have seen my student finish “workshopping” one another’s work after ten to twenty minutes. And sadly, some of those elements—especially flattery—remain in graduate-level workshops.

    Now as a writer, I strongly disagree with O’Connor’s belief that fiction writing is a gift, or as she puts it, “If you have it in the first place, you can develop it; if you don’t have it, you might as well forget it” (88). Like Anthony Johnston, I don’t believe in talent, and I highly doubt I could have been born with any innate ability to write fiction in English.

    This notwithstanding, I found most of her essays to be germane to me as a writer. First, I was inspired by her definition of fiction: “A story is a way of saying something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is… The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning” (96). Now, this made me think of Zen’s concept of art, where art aims to achieve maximal effect with minimal means, which is something I aspire to in all of my work.

    Second, something I have been thinking about a lot lately is the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind in writing, and she drives home the idea that jibes with my experience as reflected in my analogy of a sculpture in response to Madison Smartt Bell: “The time to think of technique is when you’ve actually got the story in front of you” (102). Elsewhere, she makes the point that too much competent alone is harmful because you need vision to go with it, and vision is something you can get only from the unconscious mind. Being too self-conscious of technique when writing a first draft, I think, kills any vision that the unconscious mind is trying to communicate to you, and that’s why O’Connor says, “One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write” (83). This is exactly something I’ve been experiencing with my own work. Every time I start a new story, contrary to my expectations, it’s never easier. If anything, it’s harder. I’m constantly wincing at humdrum descriptions and the flatness of the plot and fighting the impulse to edit. Each story presents its peculiar difficulties and I have to learn how to render those into credible scenes. Also, because technique comes after the first draft, finishing the first draft is always a learning experience.

    Third, I’ve been drawn to stories with natural disasters in them (earthquake, tsunami, rockfall in a tunnel, etc.), and her claim about the role of violence in her fiction explained my fascination with crises and how they could be viewed: “With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially” (113). This way of thinking about my fascination with natural disasters made me realize that although they have never been just ends in themselves, I could do so much more with them. O’Connor helped me understand what I’ve been trying to do unconsciously: getting to the essence of who the characters are. This was a valuable realization.

    Finally, her remark about the relationship between craft and depth really struck a chord in me: “This is not to say that [the novelist] doesn’t have to be concerned with adequate motivation or accurate references or a right theology; he does; but he has to be concerned with these only because the meaning of his story does not begin except at a depth where these things are exhausted” (153). This last bit came to me almost as a shock because it seemed to me that all I have been doing is to get to that point, but, I realized, not past it. In other words, I was going deep enough. This realization made me want to go back to my old stories and really get to that depth she is talking about, because I think I have an inkling of what she’s talking about and I have a few stories that I can see going deeper with. So perhaps the biggest gain from reading Mystery and Manners is that it made me want to approach the revision process with a whole lot more artistic rigor and vision.


  9. Cassy Cassy says:

    This is a collection of essays and speeches complied after O’Connor’s death. It is divided into six parts. I thought I’d organize my review accordingly.

    I. A Short Story – very entertaining. I am glad the editors included this story among all the essays. I had never read any of her short stories or novels. This established my respect for her talent.

    II. Southern Literature – fairly interesting, although maybe obsolete. I had not really realized that there was such a genre, which is pretty sad since I was born and raised in her Georgia and have dutifully read Faulkner et al.

    III. Writing Fiction – the most helpful section by far. I actually used three different colored highlighters to mark it up. There were lots of quotable material and things to ponder when writing.

    IV. Teaching Literature – more interesting that I expected. She had some very valid points. Yet, this part was obviously more applicable to a teacher than a writer.

    V. Religious Novelists – long and uninteresting. There were some good nuggets hidden here and there, but I mostly skimmed it. (Shameful, I know.)

    VI. A Book Introduction – pleasant to read and well-chosen to end the book. I was pleased to be able to follow her references to some of Hawthorne’s short stories.

    Overall, O’Connor’s writing is very witty, intelligent, and dense. I feel like I would have gotten more out this book if I had read it in connection with a class – taking notes, heavy thinking, writing papers, and discussing with others.

    I would recommend it whole-heartedly to a serious writer, yet flash a caution light for a causal reader. And if you're short on time, focus on Parts I and III. Skip the rest.


  10. Elizabeth Andrew Elizabeth Andrew says:

    I'm kicking myself for not reading MYSTERY AND MANNERS years ago. Flannery O'Connor is a fiction writer, I told myself; what could she teach me about spiritual memoir writing? And yet some of these are the best essays I've ever read about addressing the spiritual life in prose.

    If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than it can ever be to his reader.
    --Flannery O’Connor, Mystery & Manners, 83.

    The point O'Connor emphasizes repeatedly is that only a writer's adherence to reality, in its sensory, concrete details, can make the supernatural apparent. The universal is in the particular; the supernatural is in the natural. I knew this. But where she challenges me is when she discusses the skepticism of modern readers, and how a writer of faith must at times exaggerate to make his or her point:

    The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural. … When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.
    --Flannery O’Connor, Mystery & Manners, 33.

    How do we do this in memoir, or essays? I'm curious to explore this.

    I also love O'Connor's perspective that her faith, rather than diminish the terrain of her content or the breadth of her perspective, actually demands more of her craft. Good writing addresses the farthest reaches of mystery, O'Connor says, and faith requires us to live in relationship with this mystery in every moment--or, more to her point, with every mundane detail of our days. In a literary world so often devoid of believers, O'Connor is a must-read.


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10 thoughts on “Mystery and Manners

  1. Richard Richard says:

    This book of essays gives us some of Flannery O'Connor's thoughts about what it was like for her to be a Catholic writer in the American South. Her writing shows the personality of someone who is confident of her own experience and ability, and yet (at least most of the time) quite humble about it too.

    O'Connor writes with wit (ranging from wry humour to sarcasm) about the incomprehension or disapproval with which her short stories and novels were met by many contemporary readers. She stresses the importance of writing which is based on concrete details rather than on abstraction, unmediated emotions or even misdirected devotion. It is important to be true to one's vocation as a writer, and to write reality as it is, not as one would like it to be. One cannot and should not reduce reading to the extraction of handy themes or morals. And one should not reduce the writing process to the application of techniques and formulae. As a Southerner, says O'Connor, it is vital to be grounded in the region, history and customs which make the writer what he or she is. She also deals with the difficulties of teaching, understanding and reading literature which are caused by the general decline of the spiritual worldview in society.

    She has intriguing things to say about being a Catholic trying to write in accordance with the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine and spirituality while still being true to one's mission as a writer. This is a delicate balancing act, often made more complicated by the surrounding Bible Belt. (Interestingly, she says that this consideration of Protestantism is not all counterproductive and does not need to be entirely defensive or antagonistic!)

    While I didn't agree with absolutely everything O'Connor said, I think this is a valuable book for any serious writer or reader. O'Connor had a high opinion of the writer's calling and a serious spiritual vision, yet she was able to look at life with humour and to remain firmly grounded in the Southern world from which she sprang.

  2. Dhanaraj Rajan Dhanaraj Rajan says:

    A Confession:

    Two or three times I began writing a review and later tossed them away. For I was not happy with what came about as a review.

    A Fact:

    This is one of the posthumous collections of essays by F. O'Connor and is my first O'Connor book. O'Connor is revered for her short stories and fiction more than for her prose writing. Moreover, this collection has some essays which were not yet revised for publication.

    The Result:

    I ended up liking her writing and am really hungry for all of her writings.

    This essay collection contains just a single 'personal' essay in which she speaks of her own experience of rearing the King of Birds (the peacock) in her farm.

    The other essays are also personal but they can also be termed as essays dealing with literary criticism. In a special way, she analyses the questions like Who is a Novelist?, Who is a Catholic Novelist?, What is a Story?, How do we teach Literature (especially the fiction)?, How do we read fiction?, etc. This part is a must read for all lovers of literature and above all for the aspiring writers.

    A quote to express her idea of a well written story:

    A story that is any good can't be reduced, it can only be expanded. A story is good when you continue to see more and more in it, and when it continues to escape you. In fiction two and two is always more than four.

    According to her, to be a writer is a vocation. You are called specially. If one does not have the call it is no use trying writing anything.

    She writes: Of course, the ability to create life with words is essentially a gift. If you have it in the first place, you can develop it; if you don't have it, you might as well forget it.

    And what is the material for the fiction writer and how should he write it?

    She writes: The fact is that the materials of the fiction writer are the humblest. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you.

    So the essential quality for a fiction writer is his ability to see the natural world surrounding him. 'See and do not be afraid to see longer and all the more be not afraid to show what you saw in the words.' This seems to be her advise. Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things.

    If I go in this way, I might end up quoting the entire book or at least the first five or six essays.

    Besides, she being a devout Catholic also tries to answer the call of a Catholic novelist. In searching for the differences between the secular novelist and a Catholic novelist, she comes up with a theory that is absolutely stunning if you are a believer. In fact, even when one is not a believer, her points might still ring true and convincing.

    She says that life is made up of two elements - Mystery and Manners.
    Mystery = the unknowable, the Image of God, the Divine element, the grace, the transcendental element.
    Manners = The knowable, the normal human make up, his observable behaviour, his place in the society, his habits, his environment, his language, his culture, etc.
    The Fiction is always in search of the Mystery. This does not mean to indoctrinate the fiction with her beliefs. According to O'Connor, to arrive at the mystery the writer had to present the manners as accurately as possible and from there surely the Mystery element will be made visible in one way or the other.

    Note: Do not depend on the review. Just get a copy and read at least the first five essays. You will have found something worth a treasure.

  3. Francisco Francisco says:

    Flannery O'Connor published two novels and some twenty-five short stories. That was the literary output of her life and yet her work continues to live - which is to say that it continues to be alive in the mind and hearts of those who read her. Mystery and Manners is a collection of lectures that were put together by friends after her death (she died in her thirties from Lupus). There's something about Flannery O'Connor that makes her, in many ways, the writer's writer. There is just so much to learn from her writing and Mystery and Manners is a gold mine for young (and old) writers. Maybe it is even better for old writers for the reminders that it gives them about what the ideal of fiction is - even if the ideal is never reached. Flannery O'Connor was a woman of faith (Christian) and it is wonderful to see how this faith is embodied in her writing in a way that is totally opposite to the desire to convert or even to enlighten. She was too wise and too humble and too much a believer in God to think that she could ever do that. What she did believe, I think, is that her writing could be an instrument for and on behalf of mystery. The writer's task is to push her work to the point of mystery - most of all to push her characters to the mysterious depths of personality. It is as if the writer creates the deep space where the reader may fall ( or may not). But what is amazing about Flannery O'Connor, and why she is such a good teacher, is that this mystery and depth is always attained through an incredible power of seeing the concrete and the particular. The habit of art, she says, is the habit of seeing. She saw life singly through the binoculars of the specific and the universal so that the reader could see as much of mystery as he or she was capable of seeing.

  4. Cindy Rollins Cindy Rollins says:

    4 stars for most people, 5 for writers.

    After reading this I don't have to wonder what Flannery would think of modern Christian fiction. This book makes
    me feel less guilty about all those times I made fun of the Christian fiction catalogs on my old blog.
    The book is the collected writing of Flannery on writing from various sources. I say Flannery because I love her so much
    and she is my friend. If you truly want to at least try to probe the idea of the art of fiction this is a must-read. I secretly think
    I will not be a writer until I write fiction and yet when I read this I am pretty sure I don't have the gift.

    What interests the serious writer is not external habits but what Maritain calls, “the habit of art”; and he explains that “habit” in this sense means a certain quality or virtue of the mind. The scientist has the habit of science; the artist, the habit of art.

    I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.

    I don’t know which is worse—to have a bad teacher or no teacher at all. In any case, I believe the teacher’s work should be largely negative. He can’t put the gift into you, but if he finds it there, he can try to keep it from going in an obviously wrong direction.

    Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.

    There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics;...

  5. Lee Klein Lee Klein says:

    Ms. O'Connor sometimes seems to me like a didactic pedantic generalizer, but in general I like her. Flat-out loved the opening peacock essay and wish there were more slice of essayistic life in here to complement the must-read/essential essays that reveal her as a literary fundamentalist, albeit one whose ideation be animated by denominational spirits, a religiousity that's maybe her strength and weakness in this collection, as in the story collection I read earlier this year (A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories). My reaction to her stories and essays seems consistently polarized -- either I love a story or essay, fly through it, swim in it, revel in it, fully engage with it, or else it closes down and becomes an impenetrable thicket of text, dull, inflexible, too parochial for this fancy northeastern prep school kid. In this collection, the essays about Catholic writers and the memoir about the little girl who died at age 9 were not accessible to this 21st century pagan (literary pantheist, to be exact). In general throughout I jibed with her when she talked about the anti-scientific mysteries of fiction writing, the mysticism of it, but when she deploys a lot of musts and shoulds when talking about fiction, although at one point she does say there're no rules as long as you can pull it off (although few pull much off), she loses me, since I guess I just don't respond to what seems to me like this sort of mild-mannered effectively totalitarian sensibility (reminded me of Marilynne Robinson somewhat), especially when it comes to art. Too often for me seemed intellectually dualistic (good vs evil) in a way I don't believe accurately reflects what it's like to be alive. For an engaging story, an evil obstacle (a dragon!) on the way to the Kingdom of Souls might work wonders for readers, but then it seems a little rote, too, even if the ultimate goal is a sense of mystery/redemption? In general, I enjoyed reading most of this, even if I didn't agree with it all, to such an extent that I give it four stars even if I skimmed the last few essays. Awesome to see where so many of those writing workshop old standbys come from: a story needs a beginning, middle, and end, if not necessarily in that order, etc. Also interesting re: what she has to say about teaching writing in college at the end of The Nature and Aim of Fiction: In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel's worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class. (Again, Matthew, no offense to your grandma!)

  6. Kathleen Kathleen says:

    This collection of essays and lectures goes a long way to explain the thinking behind Flannery O’Connor’s dark realism. A lesser-known gem of writing advice, it is bursting with wisdom--really specific stuff, told in this sort of deadpan sarcastic voice. O’Connor was so opinionated. So astute. It makes for wonderful reading.

    Mystery and manners. She defines mystery as the “mystery of our position on earth,” and manners as “those conventions which, in the hands of the artist, reveal that central mystery.” She writes specifically of her viewpoint as a Catholic and as a southerner.

    I copied so many passages my notes are almost as long as the book. She explains symbols and meaning and drama. She has opinions on education and poverty and religion. Together, this creates a kind of unique philosophy, and gives her advice deep and distinctive meaning.

    Here are three quotes, all about looking and seeing:

    “But there’s a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene.”

    “Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”

    “It is a fact that fiction writing is something in which the whole personality takes part—the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the whole personality. They have to be cultivated like any other habit, over a long period of time, by experience; and teaching any kind of writing is largely a matter of helping the student develop the habit of art. I think this is more than just a discipline, although it is that; I think it is a way of looking at the created world and of using the senses so as to make them find as much meaning as possible in things.”

    Highly recommended to writers, but all Flannery O’Connor fans will find much here to enjoy.

  7. Kate Savage Kate Savage says:

    I dislike so many things about Flannery O'Connor -- her dogmatic Catholicism, her venom toward the faithless world and other would-be writers -- and yet all the same I'm in love with her. I'm not the only one; what's wrong with us?

    O'Connor's the mean girl in your writers' group:

    Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. The idea of being a writer attracts a good many shiftless people, those who are merely burdened with poetic feelings or afflicted with sensibility.

    Her own explanations of her work is often irritating to me. Her ultimate aim is to preach Catholic dogma and further the glory of God. But what remarkable talent, that reading her fiction alone none of us would have guessed it.

    At least half of the essays in this book are about being Catholic, and would have been helpful to me when I was studying literature at a religious university. In one class we watched an interview where Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer, who also dabbles in painting, asserts that the role of the artist isn't to document the world with all its nastiness, but improve and perfect it. In contrast, O'Connor says the writer has to write what he or she sees, and To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God. (Let's hope the two of them can have a curmudgeon-off one day in the starry Great Beyond.)

    Or as O'Connor writes elsewhere: I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, 'Well, them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do,' and I thought to myself that that was right; when you write stories, you have to be content to start exactly there -- showing how some specific folks will do, will do in spite of everything.

  8. Taka Taka says:

    In reading Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, I was inspired and found so many things relevant to my situation as a writer and teacher. I will respond to her book in two parts, first from the standpoint of a teacher and second from that of a fiction writer.

    One of the tips that may be useful in teaching creative writing is her insistence that fiction must, before all else, be concrete and appeal to the senses. One of my students likes to write abstractly because, he says, it will allow different people to see what they want to see. I told him that’s probably an ineffective way of writing and gave him James Joyce’s quote: “In the particular is contained the universal.” In fact, one thing I want my students to take away from my class is writing concretely, whether in fiction or poetry.

    Another point that is personally relevant to me is O’Connor’s claim that students need to learn tools to understand a story. After a disastrous class on characterization where I presented the tools of characterization to my students at the end of the class, I decided to do another lesson on the topic. I started with a simple question, “Why do we read in a creative writing class?” They responded with “So we can steal from them,” which allowed me to tell them we were going to read that week’s story and look at what the author is doing at the level of craft so they can learn how to do the same. And this time, I gave them the tools first and went over the story paragraph by paragraph, reminding them to keep the tools in mind and asking them what they learned about the characters in each paragraph. I also had them build an interesting character using the tools, and I hope that class was a lot more successful in teaching my students the tools than the first one.

    Going back to O’Connor, I also agree with her assessment that workshops, especially undergraduate ones, tend to be “composed in equal part of ignorance, flattery, and spite” (86). Though I haven’t seen “spite” in the workshops I ran, I have seen my student finish “workshopping” one another’s work after ten to twenty minutes. And sadly, some of those elements—especially flattery—remain in graduate-level workshops.

    Now as a writer, I strongly disagree with O’Connor’s belief that fiction writing is a gift, or as she puts it, “If you have it in the first place, you can develop it; if you don’t have it, you might as well forget it” (88). Like Anthony Johnston, I don’t believe in talent, and I highly doubt I could have been born with any innate ability to write fiction in English.

    This notwithstanding, I found most of her essays to be germane to me as a writer. First, I was inspired by her definition of fiction: “A story is a way of saying something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is… The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning” (96). Now, this made me think of Zen’s concept of art, where art aims to achieve maximal effect with minimal means, which is something I aspire to in all of my work.

    Second, something I have been thinking about a lot lately is the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind in writing, and she drives home the idea that jibes with my experience as reflected in my analogy of a sculpture in response to Madison Smartt Bell: “The time to think of technique is when you’ve actually got the story in front of you” (102). Elsewhere, she makes the point that too much competent alone is harmful because you need vision to go with it, and vision is something you can get only from the unconscious mind. Being too self-conscious of technique when writing a first draft, I think, kills any vision that the unconscious mind is trying to communicate to you, and that’s why O’Connor says, “One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write” (83). This is exactly something I’ve been experiencing with my own work. Every time I start a new story, contrary to my expectations, it’s never easier. If anything, it’s harder. I’m constantly wincing at humdrum descriptions and the flatness of the plot and fighting the impulse to edit. Each story presents its peculiar difficulties and I have to learn how to render those into credible scenes. Also, because technique comes after the first draft, finishing the first draft is always a learning experience.

    Third, I’ve been drawn to stories with natural disasters in them (earthquake, tsunami, rockfall in a tunnel, etc.), and her claim about the role of violence in her fiction explained my fascination with crises and how they could be viewed: “With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially” (113). This way of thinking about my fascination with natural disasters made me realize that although they have never been just ends in themselves, I could do so much more with them. O’Connor helped me understand what I’ve been trying to do unconsciously: getting to the essence of who the characters are. This was a valuable realization.

    Finally, her remark about the relationship between craft and depth really struck a chord in me: “This is not to say that [the novelist] doesn’t have to be concerned with adequate motivation or accurate references or a right theology; he does; but he has to be concerned with these only because the meaning of his story does not begin except at a depth where these things are exhausted” (153). This last bit came to me almost as a shock because it seemed to me that all I have been doing is to get to that point, but, I realized, not past it. In other words, I was going deep enough. This realization made me want to go back to my old stories and really get to that depth she is talking about, because I think I have an inkling of what she’s talking about and I have a few stories that I can see going deeper with. So perhaps the biggest gain from reading Mystery and Manners is that it made me want to approach the revision process with a whole lot more artistic rigor and vision.

  9. Cassy Cassy says:

    This is a collection of essays and speeches complied after O’Connor’s death. It is divided into six parts. I thought I’d organize my review accordingly.

    I. A Short Story – very entertaining. I am glad the editors included this story among all the essays. I had never read any of her short stories or novels. This established my respect for her talent.

    II. Southern Literature – fairly interesting, although maybe obsolete. I had not really realized that there was such a genre, which is pretty sad since I was born and raised in her Georgia and have dutifully read Faulkner et al.

    III. Writing Fiction – the most helpful section by far. I actually used three different colored highlighters to mark it up. There were lots of quotable material and things to ponder when writing.

    IV. Teaching Literature – more interesting that I expected. She had some very valid points. Yet, this part was obviously more applicable to a teacher than a writer.

    V. Religious Novelists – long and uninteresting. There were some good nuggets hidden here and there, but I mostly skimmed it. (Shameful, I know.)

    VI. A Book Introduction – pleasant to read and well-chosen to end the book. I was pleased to be able to follow her references to some of Hawthorne’s short stories.

    Overall, O’Connor’s writing is very witty, intelligent, and dense. I feel like I would have gotten more out this book if I had read it in connection with a class – taking notes, heavy thinking, writing papers, and discussing with others.

    I would recommend it whole-heartedly to a serious writer, yet flash a caution light for a causal reader. And if you're short on time, focus on Parts I and III. Skip the rest.

  10. Elizabeth Andrew Elizabeth Andrew says:

    I'm kicking myself for not reading MYSTERY AND MANNERS years ago. Flannery O'Connor is a fiction writer, I told myself; what could she teach me about spiritual memoir writing? And yet some of these are the best essays I've ever read about addressing the spiritual life in prose.

    If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than it can ever be to his reader.
    --Flannery O’Connor, Mystery & Manners, 83.

    The point O'Connor emphasizes repeatedly is that only a writer's adherence to reality, in its sensory, concrete details, can make the supernatural apparent. The universal is in the particular; the supernatural is in the natural. I knew this. But where she challenges me is when she discusses the skepticism of modern readers, and how a writer of faith must at times exaggerate to make his or her point:

    The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural. … When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.
    --Flannery O’Connor, Mystery & Manners, 33.

    How do we do this in memoir, or essays? I'm curious to explore this.

    I also love O'Connor's perspective that her faith, rather than diminish the terrain of her content or the breadth of her perspective, actually demands more of her craft. Good writing addresses the farthest reaches of mystery, O'Connor says, and faith requires us to live in relationship with this mystery in every moment--or, more to her point, with every mundane detail of our days. In a literary world so often devoid of believers, O'Connor is a must-read.

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