~Flannery O Connor
This week I’m moving on from Rilke’s Book of Hours to Flannery O Connor’s letters (The Habit of Being). Readers who might be avoiding Flannery because the dark tinge to her stories should dive into her correspondance. She is the ideal letter writer. One of the first things I wanted to bring out in our discussion, is Flannery’s relationship to the criticism and to the encouragement she receives for her work. Her confidence in the face of criticism is inspiring. Would that my skin were as thick! In an early letter to a publisher, she says plainly what I hope someday to be sure enough in my work to echo:
I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from…In short, I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not be persuaded to do otherwise.
Even respected criticism though, is of limited value to us. But it has it’s place, and within that place, it is essential to us as writers, unless we are only writing in journals for our own, personal use. Criticism gives perspective and balance to our writing. It’s easy to fall into careless habits when there is no one calling us to task for our mistakes. But the critic can’t be allowed to take over, at the end, it isn’t his story to abandon or to save, and both the writer and the critic have to accept their roles if they are to accomplish anything together.