In the spring of 1951, Caroline Gordon agreed to do a favour for Robert Fitzgerald, agreeing to reading Flannery O’Connor’s novel in draft, Wise Blood. The letters about her response to the work are the first in Christine Flanagan’s edited volume: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon (2018). Only six of these letters have been previously published.
Unfortunately, these letters were not included in The Habit of Being, for Sally Fitzgerald first saw them fifteen years after O’Connor’s death, after the editing process for that volume was complete. But Sally Fitzgerald had been close friends with both of the women (and her family is mentioned in these letters too).
In 1951, Flannery was twenty-six years old; Caroline was fifty-five and had just published her seventh novel. Ultimately, Caroline’s career peaked in the mid-1950s, and she would publish eight novels and a short story collection; she was nominated for the National Book Award (alongside William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and J. D. Salinger in 1952), had won a Guggenheim in 1932, and had received second prize in the O. Henry Awards in 1934. (And, yet, she was not included in that high school English text.)
The letters are not so remarkable from the perspective of Gordon’s epistolary record (her tone was typical of her response: “length, tone, and density of content” much the same as with many others, and also with O’Connor. But, from O’Connor’s perspective, Gordon’s letters were remarkable: they were “unlike any others O’Connor herself received”.