Vanderbilt University

Jean and Alexander Heard Library

Nashville, TN

Collection: Brainard and Frances Neel Cheney Papers

Arrangement: Chronological

Brainard Cheney (known as “Lon” in the O’Connor correspondence) was involved in politics as a speechwriter for Tennessee Senator Tom Steward and Governor Frank Clement and a reporter for the Nashville Banner. He later dropped out of politics in order to write fiction. While he wrote several novels, only one, entitled This Is Adam, was ever published. Brainard Cheney’s wife, Frances Neel Cheney, was a well-known librarian and teacher at George Peabody College. Both were Catholic converts and were friends of O’Connor’s friends Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, Ashley Brown, Thomas Stritch, Ralph McGill, and Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (Stephens xi-xxv).

Brainard Cheney first met O’Connor after writing a review of her novel Wise Blood, which appeared in the August 1952 issue of Shenandoah. O’Connor responded to the review by writing Cheney a letter of appreciation (Stephens xi). They met for the first time in June 1952 when the Cheneys stopped for a visit at Andalusia (Stephens xi). O’Connor and the Cheneys continued to develop their friendship through correspondence and frequent visits. Later, in 1955, Frances Neel Cheney wrote a review of A Good Man Is Hard to Find published in the Nashville Banner (BC 26).

The collection contains 117 letters from O’Connor, including fifty-five to Brainard Cheney, twenty-three to Frances Cheney, and thirty-nine to both Cheneys. The collection contains seventy-one carbon copies of Brainard Cheney’s letters to O’Connor. Although Frances Cheney also wrote to O’Connor, there are no letters from her to O’Connor in this collection. The majority of the letters from Cheney are addressed to O’Connor alone with the remainder addressed to both Flannery and her mother, Regina. Early in O’Connor’s friendship with the Cheneys, O’Connor frequently wrote to Frances Cheney. By 1959, however, most of O’Connor’s letter are either addressed to “Lon,” “Lon and Fannie,” or “L&F.” While most of the letters to the Cheneys are signed “Affectionately, Flannery” or “Cheers, Flannery,” several are signed “Love, Flannery” or “Love to you both, Flannery.” Letters written after October 1963 from O’Connor are all handwritten and generally shorter than her earlier ones.

There are several letters in which O’Connor offers a list of comments and suggested changes for manuscript drafts of Brainard Cheney’s novels. Some of the comments address character development, the tone of Cheney’s writing, the voice of the narrator, the use of an omniscient narrator, imagery, similes, the voice of his characters, the use of dialect, and subtle ways of addressing and including Catholic theology in the text.

Early in the correspondence O’Connor discusses stories she is working on, her characters, and the process of writing. In his replies, Cheney makes very few specific comments about O’Connor’s writing. It is clear that he liked to think about O’Connor’s work at length before he offered remarks. However, he repeatedly mentions reading O’Connor’s short stories as they are published in magazines and journals.

Many of the letters mention O’Connor’s visits to the Cheney’s house (“Cold Chimneys”) in Smyrna, Tennessee, or the Cheneys’ visits to Andalusia. Most contain an invitation to visit or an exchange of information in preparation for a visit. Early in their friendship, Brainard Cheney invited O’Connor to travel to Rome with him and his wife to visit Caroline Gordon. O’Connor declined his invitation, but continued to correspond with the Cheneys while they were in Rome.

Brainard Cheney’s letters mention novels he was writing; problems with publishing; his political and religious beliefs; and racial politics in Tennessee. He also comments on The Violent Bear It Away; repairs and remodeling to their home; his visit to Ireland; people who were visiting with them; and news about Frances Neel Cheney, Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, Thomas Stritch, and Andrew and Edna Lytle.

The letters from O’Connor mention her relationship with her mother; her health and medications; some ideas about Wise Blood; her effort in writing and correcting proofs for The Violent Bear It Away, and her intended meaning for the ending; reviews of The Violent Bear It Away; the Schlitz Playhouse television version of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”; her lectures; news about Caroline Gordon; her trip to Lourdes and Rome; peafowl she was buying; driving lessons; the death of her cousin in Savannah; people who visited Andalusia; a sesquicentennial pageant in Milledgeville; the introduction she wrote for A Memoir of Mary Ann; honorary degrees she received; and her view of race relations in Milledgeville.

O’Connor mentions a variety of people who were working at Andalusia, including the Polish displaced persons (the Matisiacks) and a wedding reception for their daughter that she attended. She remarks on the social activities of the African Americans working on the farm and Regina Cline O’Connor’s method of dealing with trouble created by some of the farm workers. On one occasion, while Brainard Cheney was visiting the O’Connors at Andalusia, one of the workers, Shot, was injured by a hay bailer. O’Connor mentions this event in her letters and updates the Cheneys on his recovery. O’Connor also mentions other activities at Andalusia, such as remodeling the farmhouse, and Regina Cline O’Connor’s efforts to change Andalusia from a working dairy to a beef farm.

In 1962, Brainard Cheney began reading Teilhard de Chardin’s works and including discussions of Teilhard’s philosophy in his letters to O’Connor. At this point, O’Connor and Cheney apparently began to exchange books of theology. While they both shared an interest in Teilhard de Chardin, O’Connor made very few comments about his philosophy or her Catholic beliefs in their correspondence.

O’Connor’s letters addressed to Frances Cheney discuss her characters in “The Artificial Nigger,” having to use crutches, events at Andalusia, photographs taken while she was visiting the Cheneys, individuals they both knew, the sale of the rights to “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” for television production, driving lessons, and future visits.

While all of the O’Connor-Cheney letters have been published in C. Ralph Stephens’s The Correspondence of Flannery O’Connor and the Brainard Cheneys, (University of Mississippi Press, 1986), five omit some text:

    • Letter # 6, November 29, 1953, omits text indicating O'Connor’s belief that her story, “The Displaced Person” was not published by The Atlantic because it had the words “God” and “nigger” in it.

    • Letter #84, February 22, 1959 omits O’Connor’s description of a trip she took to Chicago and an experience she had with an African American student at the University of Chicago.

    • Letter #87, April 25, 1959 omits a paragraph in which O’Connor mentions the possibility of meeting the noted African American author, James Baldwin, and having him visit her at Andalusia.

    • Letter #90, June 14, 1959 omits Elizabeth Hardwick Lowell’s name.

    • Letter #151, August 9, 1962 omits Culver Kidd’s name and the name of his father’s drug store in Milledgeville.

Collection: Andrew Nelson Lytle Papers

NUCMC: MS 69-1633

Arrangement: Chronological

In addition to his works as writer and critic, Andrew Lytle was also one of O’Connor’s visiting teachers at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, editor of the Sewanee Review, and a member of the group of southern writers known as the Fugitives/Agrarians.

The collection contains three letters from O’Connor to Lytle from September 1955 to October 1961, two of which appear in The Habit of Being. They are each fairly brief and are all typed and signed “Flannery [O’Connor].” In these letters, O’Connor asks Lytle if he would be willing to serve as a reference for her application for a Guggenheim Fellowship; thanks him for a letter he wrote to Harcourt-Brace about her writing; thanks him for his comments regarding The Violent Bear It Away; discusses her beliefs regarding love, charity, and grace; mentions that a British edition of The Violent Bear It Away will be published; and refers to reviews and comments on the novel.