Duke University

David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library

103 Perkins Library

Duke University

Durham, NC 27708-0185

(919) 660-5822

Collection: Thomas F. Gossett Papers

Collection ID: 6th 25:B

Arrangement: Chronological.

The Thomas F. and Louise Y. Gossett Papers contain thirty-nine letters from O’Connor to the Gossetts dated from June 1956 to May 1964, with five appearing in The Habit of Being. In this collection, there are thirteen letters to Tom Gossett, three to Louise Gossett, and twenty-three addressed to both of the Gossetts. O’Connor apparently met Tom and Louise Gossett when they were introduced to her by Father James McCown in 1956. The Gossetts and O’Connor began corresponding after Tom Gossett brought a group of students from Wesleyan College in Macon to the O’Connor farm, Andalusia. The Gossetts visited with O’Connor regularly and introduced O’Connor to Katherine Anne Porter when they brought Porter to the farm in March 1958. Soon thereafter, the Gossetts left Macon after Tom Gossett was suspended from Wesleyan College for supporting racial integration. The Gossetts continued their friendship with O’Connor by visiting Andalusia during their annual trips from Texas to North Carolina.

O’Connor’s letters to the Gossetts contain invitations for visits as well as discussions about O’Connor’s preparations for her trip to Europe, Tom Gossett’s dismissal from Wesleyan, the Gossetts’ interest in collecting peafowl, books O'Connor had read, including Tom Gossett’s Race: The History of An Idea in America, and activities of their mutual friend, Father McCown. O’Connor also mentions individuals who worked at Andalusia, her lecture and tour plans for a trip to Texas and Louisiana, honorary degrees she received, and a review of The Violent Bear It Away. O’Connor writes briefly about an operation to remove a tumor in 1964 and her recovery. Of special interest in one of these letters is a comment she made to Louise Gossett about omitting a portion of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” when she read the story to a group of students at the University of Chicago in 1959.

Other letters of interest in this collection include correspondence from Father James McCown and the Gossetts, which discusses O’Connor’s writing and illness. The letters provide insight into the relationship the Gossetts had with O’Connor and their thoughts about visiting Andalusia and meeting Regina Cline O’Connor. There is also a letter from Katherine Anne Porter to Louise Gossett dated December 1965, in which she discusses memories of her visits with O’Connor.

The collection includes a number of color photographs, three taken in 1957 of Flannery O’Connor, Regina Cline O’Connor, and Father McCown at Andalusia. Another nineteen color photographs dated March 27, 1958, are of O’Connor, Arlin Turner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Hugh Holman.

Collection: Flannery O’Connor Papers


Folder 1 - “O’Connor, Flannery (Add) Papers 1969” clippings

Folder 2 - “O’Connor, Mary Flannery (Additional) Papers 1958-1964 Milledgeville, Georgia” McCown & Barnes Correspondence

Folder 3 - “O’Connor, Mary Flannery Papers 1948-1972” McKee & Zuber/Hall Correspondence

Folder 1

The first folder in this collection, “O’Connor, Flannery (Add) Papers 1969,” contains miscellaneous photocopied items, including clippings and reviews of The Habit of Being, The Correspondence of Flannery O’Connor and the Brainard Cheneys, and Flannery O’Connor's South. There is also a photocopy of an article by Granville Hicks from the Saturday Review and a copy of the Fall 1972 issue of the Georgia College publication, Columns, featuring O’Connor.

Folder 2

The correspondence in the second folder, “O’Connor, Mary Flannery (Additional) Papers 1958-1964 Milledgeville, Georgia,” consists of letters to Father James McCown and Roslyn Barnes, along with a few letters from other O’Connor correspondents. The correspondence is intermixed and arranged chronologically. Readers are advised that Father McCown cut out sections from O'Connor's original letters both to Barnes and himself that he felt contained material that was too personal to be read by others.

Father James McCown, who described himself as O’Connor’s “spiritual father,” met O’Connor when he surprised her with a visit to Andalusia in January 1956. He had read A Good Man Is Hard to Find and came to the farm “to express his devotion” (HB 133). Letters in the file indicate that Father McCown and O’Connor corresponded frequently, discussing personal and spiritual matters. Father McCown eventually introduced O'Connor to Tom and Louise Gossett, who became life-long friends.

The collection at Duke University holds sixty-three photocopied letters from O’Connor to Father McCown spanning January 1956 to March 1964, twenty-six of which are in The Habit of Being. The letters are typically a single typed page in length. Some of the letters have Father McCown’s handwritten notes in the margins to clarify statements made by O’Connor. It appears from the text of some of the letters that McCown would often loan O’Connor books from a library to which he had access. In return, O’Connor sent him books she was reviewing for the diocesan publication, The Bulletin.

O’Connor’s letters to Father McCown cover a variety of topics: Catholic writers; the books she was reading and had read; the sin of excess and the sins against art; the novel as an art form; problems she was having with the editor of one of her reviews; her trip to Europe, including her experiences in Lourdes and meeting Pope Pius XII; a dinner party she attended with the Lowells and Mary McCarthy; and her thoughts on Carl Jung and religion.

O’Connor also discusses her beliefs and on several occasions asks Father McCown for advice. She consults Father McCown about reading André Gide and Jean Paul Sartre (who were both on The Index). She discusses sharing her religious beliefs with her lapsed Catholic friends and eating meat on Fridays, and she requests prayers for Roslyn Barnes and herself. O’Connor remarks to Father McCown that she is grateful to be able to refer spiritual questions to him and then resume focus on her work.

Other significant subjects discussed by O’Connor and McCown include visitors to Andalusia; mutual friends, including Tom and Louise Gossett and William Sessions; the Catholic Church in Milledgeville; meeting Katharine Anne Porter; O’Connor’s medical condition; lectures she was giving; writing the introduction for and the publication of A Memoir of Mary Ann; meeting McCown’s family in Alabama; receiving an honorary doctorate from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame; money she wanted to donate to McCown and the children with whom he was working; and keeping him up to date on Roslyn Barnes’s activities. The correspondence also contains one cartoon and one clipping, which O’Connor had enclosed in letters to Father McCown.

Father McCown cut text out of the following letters before they were donated to the Duke University archives: August 2, 1959; January 22, 1961; September 5, 1961; and, January 24, 1962.

Roslyn Barnes first wrote to O’Connor while Barnes was attending the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in August 1960. O’Connor eventually introduced Father McCown and Barnes through correspondence. O’Connor encouraged Barnes to pursue her writing and her Catholic beliefs. Barnes eventually converted to Catholicism and worked as a Papal Volunteer in South America. The correspondence continues until the time Barnes moved to Chile, when she apparently gave her letters from O’Connor to Father McCown.

There are twenty-five letters from O’Connor to Barnes, fourteen of which were published in The Habit of Being. The letters mention Iowa City, the buildings in which O’Connor lived, and people O’Connor knew in Iowa City. O’Connor recalls the first time she read aloud at the Writers’ Workshop and describes Paul Engle’s reaction to her reading. O’Connor encourages Barnes to keep writing and to endure the criticism she was receiving at the workshop.

O’Connor also briefly mentions her lectures, articles she was publishing or selling, floods in Milledgeville, a Ford Foundation conference, activities at Andalusia, and her medical treatments. O’Connor eventually asks Barnes, who was a scientist, about the phrase “everything that rises must converge” and wonders if the concept is true in physics.

Readers are advised that Father McCown cut out a section of a letter to Barnes dated October 6, 1962.

Ethel Daniell and O’Connor apparently met through Father McCown. A letter of February 1956 from O’Connor to Daniell mentions Caroline Gordon and Allan Tate, their writings, and their decision to convert to Catholicism. O’Connor also philosophizes about the effect of Catholicism on all art and reflects on being a Catholic writer.

Ben Griffith was a writer teaching at Bessie Tift Women’s College in Macon, Georgia, when he first wrote to O’Connor in 1954 after reading Wise Blood (HB 68). O’Connor's letter of May 7, 1956, to Ben Griffith includes an invitation for him and Tom Gossett to visit her at Andalusia. O’Connor also mentions the self-portrait she painted and remarks that the pheasant in the painting had been mistaken for a peacock and a turkey. An edited version of this letter appears in The Habit of Being, along with five additional letters that are not in Duke University’s collection.

Father Watson was a priest Father McCown wrote to for advice in January 1958 when O’Connor had questions about reading a book by André Gide for a reading group meeting at her house. In his letter to Watson, McCown explained that the Bishop of the Archdiocese in Atlanta was conservative and would not allow O’Connor to read Gide, an author on The Index. The letter includes Father Watson’s reply to Father McCown stating that while he could not give O’Connor permission to read books on The Index, it was his opinion that reading books on The Index was permissible if not reading the book would result in harm to the Catholic faith.

Father McCown again contacted Father Watson in January 1960 when O’Connor had another question regarding the statement “the end sanctifies the means.” Father Watson's lengthy response to O’Connor’s question is included in this folder.

Joe C. Rees was on the library staff at the Duke University. O’Connor wrote a brief thank-you note to Rees on October 7, 1963, for a pamphlet he sent her on peafowl.

Laurence Perrine, who taught in the English Department at Southern Methodist University, was a friend of Tom Gossett’s who wrote to O’Connor in 1964 asking her questions about “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “Greenleaf.” Her June 6, 1964, response answering his questions is included in the collection.

There is a set of anonymous letters in this folder that will remain confidential until December 31, 2007. The collection contains one letter to O’Connor and one letter from O’Connor. Photocopies of these letters with the writer’s name and institution removed are available to readers. An edited version of O’Connor’s response is published in The Habit of Being. The Associate Professor who wrote to O’Connor on March 21, 1961 asked about the story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and its main character “The Misfit.” He inquires as to whether the accident really occurred or if it was part of Bailey’s dream. O’Connor’s March 28th response includes the comment that “too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little” and briefly explains her thoughts about the story.

Folder 3

“Folder 3” contains photocopied letters between O’Connor, her literary agent Elizabeth McKee, and book review editors of The Bulletin, Leo Zuber and Eileen Hall. The original letters are held in the Flannery O’Connor Collection at Georgia College & State University.

Follow this link to the GC&SU section for more information on these letters.