Most people consider Flannery O’Connor the master of all things grotesque, but the Southern author always felt like her work was misunderstood by those who failed to recognize its religious themes. “I am tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic,” she once wrote. “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism… when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.” Evidently, misguided critics weren’t the only ones who ruffled her feathers; in a new post up on Letters of Note, we see O’Connor’s scathing response to a letter from a professor asking her to explain the “intention” behind her 1955 collection’s titular short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
“The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation,” O’Connor wrote back. “If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction.” Her conclusion might be our favorite part of the missive: “My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.” Head over to Letters of Note to read the full exchange now, and if you’re still craving more Flannery, listen to rare audio recording of her reading the story here.