Thursday, May 16, 2013

ANDALUSIA

Main House, Andalusia
The gravel and red clay road just off Highway 441 North in Milledgeville, Georgia leads uphill to a white frame house with a spacious screened front porch, its red roof gleaming in the May sunlight. The home, known as the "Main House," is the major residence in the complex that incorporates a smaller farm home, cow barn, equipment shed, calf barn, a water tower, an aging pump house, and a horse stable. It’s the former home of one of my favorite writers, Flannery O'Connor, and is the place where most of her work was completed before her life was shortened by the onset of lupus. The agricultural setting of a dairy farm provided the retreat necessary for O'Connor to depict what she called the "Christ haunted Protestant South" in her arresting fiction that made her one of the most important American writers of the 20th century.

Home of farm workers
at Andalusia
We toured the 19th century home, peering into O'Connor's downstairs bedroom/study that held a single bed, covered with a simple blue and white bedspread, set only a few feet away from a desk that held a manual typewriter, flanked by a straight-backed chair sans cushions of any kind. It was a stark room, a setting where O'Connor wrote her novels, short stories, essays, and letters from nine until noon every morning of her writing life. In the afternoons, she tended peafowl – at one time, she had fifty of them – and painted (even her self-portrait), sometimes entertaining people who would drop in to see her.
As we walked around the grounds that included a small pond, a peacock aviary, and a few nature trails, we thought about the mysterious, often violent fiction, that had emerged from the quiet landscape and connected with the words in O'Connor's essay, "The Fiction Writer and His Country:" "When we talk about the writer's country we are liable to forget that no matter what particular country it is, it is inside as well as outside him. Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other. To know oneself is to know one's region. It is also to know the world, and it is also, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world…"
Diane next to red dirt road
beside Andalusia
As I walked through the grounds, I passed a completely dilapidated garage that seemed strangely incongruous with the well-kept landscape, a large pile of broken wood that mocked the romanticism I had attributed to the scene of a southern writer who had once said people didn't understand her writing about the people and region that surrounded her farm. O'Connor also said her Christian affiliation centered on redemption and what she saw in the world in relation to that redemption, adding that her Christian beliefs freed her to observe and affected her writing "primarily by guaranteeing her respect for mystery."
If you haven’t sampled the work of Flannery O'Connor, you might enjoy the short story collection, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) which includes a bizarre baptism in "The River," a one-legged woman's encounter with a Bible salesman in "Good Country People," and other discomfiting stories that bear out her words, "In order to recognize a freak, you have to have a conception of the whole man."
Main house, side view of Andalusia
We had been to deepest south Florida prior to the O'Connor visit, and after sojourning in an environ of Fort Lauderdale and being hustled like most tourists, for me, the visit to O'Connor country seemed to be an occasion of  a "blind sow finding an acorn," to descend to a "countrynism" that might have come out of the mouth of a character in one of O'Connor's stories.

In the small gift shop of the old farmstead, I bought a volume that included all of O'Connor's books, short stories, essays, and letters, published by the Library of America, and began reading it aloud to my friend, Vickie, while traveling home to Sewanee, Tennessee, arriving back on The Mountain after being transported by O'Connor's "The Train."
Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan
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