As I did when I read Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, I collected quotes as I read Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners. I’ll let them speak for themselves:
“There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.”
“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.”
“I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”
“There may never be anything new to say, but there is always a new way to say it, and since, in art, the way of saying a thing becomes a part of what is said, every work of art is unique and requires fresh attention.”
“The serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene.”
“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I am always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it is very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.”
“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. As soon as the writer ‘learns how to write,’ as soon as he knows what he is going to find, and discovers a way to say what he knew all along, or worse still, a way to say nothing, he is finished. 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.”
“Art is selective. What is there is essential and creates movement.”
“I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies. This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity…It would be a gesture which somehow made contact with mystery.”
“…In my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace…Violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially…”
“Actually, a work of art exists without its author from the moment the words are on paper, and the more complete the work, the less important it is who wrote it or why.”
Joanne R Fritz says
These are all wonderful quotes!
I especially loved this one: “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I am always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it is very shocking to the system.”
Tell it, Flannery!
Me too. My favorite.