A conversation with Flannery O’Conner’s biggest fan
Marshall Bruce Gentry is an English professor at GC who specializes in the study of Flannery O’ Connor’s life and literary work.
What moment in your life led to you wanting to be a Flannery O’ Connor scholar?
After being afraid of O’ Connor for a long time, I was halfway through a PhD program, and somehow in a literary theory course, I said something to the professor about being interested in Flannery O’ Connor. He whipped out a copy of a theoretical Russian article and said, “write something like this about Flannery O’ Connor.” I did it, and he liked the paper, and before I knew it, I was forgetting about specializing in drama and switching to Flannery O’ Connor.
In your years of studying Flannery O’ Connor’s work, what has surprised you the most?
When I moved to Milledgeville, that’s been the surprise. The surprise has been how much she used this crazy town.
I had always thought that Flannery was one of those writers who didn’t have a lot of experience of the real world. I think she soaked up a lot of the craziness of this town. My theory is that it all got filtered through her mother, who ran the dairy farm operation and had dealings with people in town.
I didn’t know that she really had a boyfriend that she turned into Manly Pointer, and I didn’t know that she went to high school with the one-legged woman who dressed as a man and had all sorts of family troubles. I moved here, and I [found] out everything has got an O’ Connor connection, and a lot of it is more personal than I’d ever suspected.
Do you think she ever visited James Yancey, the misfit, when he was at Central State?
I know that people have said that she would answer a letter from anybody, so who knows? If he wrote her a letter, I bet you she wrote him back.
The theory that I’ve always accepted is that she read about him in the paper, and that was enough. And then she imagined him into this locality.
What did you think of the movie “Wise Blood,” and why haven’t there been more films made of Flannery’s work?
I like “Wise Blood” a great deal. I think there are a lot of wonderful touches to the movie, and they did a real good job with what they could manage. It was a small budget. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is being made into a movie supposedly in Atlanta right now.
How do you feel about Flannery’s heirs selling so much of her remaining work to Emory University instead of the plan to give it to Georgia College?
The old-fashioned principle is that you don’t divide a collection, but no laws were broken. It’s in Flannery’s will that she would have given stuff to GC, but then she put in there that she’d leave everything to her mother if she died first.
Thank goodness it’s only 100 miles away, so that when someone comes to Georgia to research, they have two stops, and they’re only 100 miles apart. I hope that somebody at Emory decides to teach Flannery O’ Connor as a result.
What do you think about the change in ownership at Andalusia Farm, and will you have any role under the ownership?
I have no idea whether I will have any role. The plan is that they’re going to restore 14 buildings to what they were in the ‘50s. I’ll be ready to take people out there and show it to them and yak at them for as long as they want to listen.
Just before you came, [I was] on the phone with a tour group from Australia who wants to come to the other side of the planet, and we’re not exactly sure when they can go because the place is closed, and it’s going to be closed for some time. Nothing ever gets done in less time than you think it’s going to get done. I expect that when the phone rings and someone says they want me to do something, I will jump.
This interview has been condensed and edited.