instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A memoir of A Memoir of Mary Ann

Questions were raised about the degree of Flannery O'Connor's involvement in the writing of A Memoir of Mary Ann (a.k.a. Mission Fulfilled).

Following Sandra Miesel's suggestion, I looked in the letters of Flannery O'Connor (in the Library of America's Collected Works) and found the following:
To A., July 23, 1960
I was greatly impressed with the Sister Superior... She brought two old sisters, one of whom was Mary Ann's nurse, and three younger sisters, one of whom draws (very badly) and the other two write (very very badly). However, the Sister Superior is the one doing the writing on the book and she writes better than the others. She don't write like Shakespeare but she does well enough for this.

To Robert Giroux, September 29, 1960
I told [the Sister Superior] if they did happen to write it, I'd be glad to go over the manuscript and would supply a little introduction if that would help. I thought that would be the last I'd hear of her. Never underestimate them. They forthwith sat down and wrote it and they are hell bent to see it through. The Abbot is interested in it and so is the Bishop who wants it to have the imprimatur. I hear he thinks the child was a saint.

The manuscript is not very good, of course. I set about to get the obnoxious pieties out of it and that proved almost impossible. I'm still working on it, and they are expecting me to not only to turn it into decent manuscript but to get them a publisher. Would you read it when I get it edited? I know I can't make it into the kind of thing you would publish but you might be able to tell me who might or if you think it's publishable at all.

Fr. Paul thinks it's quite comic that they have lit on me to do this. He asked them which of my murder stories gave them the idea I should help them with it.

To Robert Giroux, December 8, 1960
The enclosed jolly treat is the Sister's manuscript. If you think there is any possibility at all of its getting published anywhere, I might be able to get them to improve it. After I had got the thing all typed up for them, they decided there were "a few other little things" they had forgotten to mention. So I told them to write them down and I would insert them. Today they sent me the insertions, three of them. Two I have inserted and the other I am sparing you. It had to do with Mary Ann eating some applesauce...

I... suggested the title I have put on it. They accept this reluctantly but think it is very "flat."

To Robert Giroux, January 23, 1961
The Sisters are dancing jigs all over the place. I bet them a pair of peafowl nobody would ever buy the book so I am out a pair of peafowl.

Sister Evangelist called up the Bishop at once and he was delighted. However, he wanted one thing in the manuscript out before he can give it the imprimatur. The scene where Mary Ann goes to confession and the Sisters hear her say, "Fife times, Monsignor." The Bishop says that can't be in there as you are not supposed to hear what goes on in the confessional. Bishops will be Bishops. Then there is one thing he wants added, which I think is a good idea and will improve the book. It seems that before she died, the Sisters allowed Mary Ann to become a tertiary and she was buried in the Dominican habit... I told the Sisters to write it up and indicate where it should come and send it to me...

Sister Evangelist wanted to know what "a free editorial hand" meant and I told her it meant you all would improve the book some, so she is all for a free editorial hand.

To A., February 4, 1961
I can't get over this Mary Ann business. I told the Sisters that if that child was a saint, her first miracle would be getting a publisher for their book. And now the more I think about the way that book is written, the more convinced I am that it is a genuine miracle. Giroux wrote, "I read the story with a few misgivings which somehow are not important." And I guess that about sums it up. They have asked for a free editorial hand, so I am hoping this will improve the book a little.
From which we might conclude:
  1. Sister Evangelist wrote the first draft, editing in stuff from the other sisters.
  2. Flannery O'Connor did some rewriting as she typed it up for them.
  3. The editors at Farrar, Straus & Cudahy did further rewriting.
  4. Everybody else had their own suggestions, too.
  5. Flannery O'Connor's letters are charming, fascinating and funny.