The vicarious experiences that literary creation offers are
unquestionably compelling. Naturally, travelers want to visit the
locations where it took place.
Which is why my wife and I find ourselves in Milledgeville, Ga.,
halfway between the Atlanta airport and our destination, Savannah.
Literary tourists know that the late Flannery O'Connor, a splendid
novelist and short-story writer, did her best work here.
I had not read any O'Connor for years. But the opportunity to
spend a night in Milledgeville caused me to borrow a library copy of
"The Complete Stories."
O'Connor's output was not large: two novels and two volumes of
short stories, the last volume published after her death in 1964.
She's something of an acquired taste: acute insights, penetrating
and often humorous observations. Still her characters run to the
grotesque. Her stories often jolt even shockproof 21st-century
Arriving, we pass Andalusia, the farm where O'Connor lived for
many years. Her widowed mother managed the place.
We walk around the town's historic district, absorbing its
atmosphere as O'Connor did when her parents took refuge here from
Depression-era hard times, moving inland from Savannah, where
O'Connor was born.
Attending Milledgeville's Georgia State College for Women, now
coed and called Georgia College and State University (GCSU),
O'Connor steeped herself in that atmosphere. After graduating, she
was accepted to the Iowa Writers' Workshop where, so the story goes,
she had a Georgia accent so thick and word choices so down-home that
her professor could not understand her. She had to write out what
she was saying.
At the GCSU library, we ask to take a look at the Flannery
O'Connor Room. It's spring break; librarians are scarce. "I guess
you're stuck with me," declares a pleasant woman of our approximate
We follow her to the room. It contains memorabilia: photographs
of the author, her sayings - one of them something like, "I write
every morning from 9:00 to noon and spend the rest of the day
recuperating" - her works, and even her baptismal dress.
Getting chummy with our guide, we exchange names. She is Mary
Jones, a local woman who reminisces about being taken to Andalusia
farm by her great-aunt to attend Coca-Cola parties hosted by
O'Connor's mother, Miss Regina. Something quintessentially Southern
about "Miss Regina" forges a bond between us.
"What's your memory of those visits?" we ask.
"The silences," says Mrs. …