Flannery O’Connor, In A Bright Mood (1947)

"She was touched by evil and no doubt knew it." (Image by Cmacauley.)

This classic photograph profiles arguably the greatest American short-story writer, Flannery O’Connor, in a happy moment with friends Robie Macauley and Arthur Koestler. O’Connor, who suffered from lupus, managed in her brief life to find all of the darkness of humanity in narrow strips of the South. How could someone whose illness made it necessary to live a sheltered life have such a deep understanding of terror? Did she herself possess the capacity for great evil, which remained dormant for reasons we can’t quite understand? FromTouched by Evil,” Joseph O’Neill’s excellent 2009 Atlantic consideration of O’Connor and her work:

“One problem with O’Connor the exegesist is that she narrows the scope of her work, even for Catholic readers. To decode her fiction for its doctrinal or supernatural content is to render it dreary, even false, because whatever her private purposes, O’Connor was above all faithful to a baleful comic vision derived, surely, from an ancient, artistically wholesome tradition of misanthropy. Nonetheless, a spiritual drama is playing out. Only it is not the one put forward by the self-explaining author, in which she figures as an onlooker occupying the high ground of piety. On the contrary, Flannery O’Connor’s criticism reveals her as scarily belonging to the low world she evokes. She was touched by evil and no doubt knew it. That is what makes her so wickedly good.”

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