Did you know that six year old Flannery O’Connor had a pet chicken that was featured on the news? It’s true! You can see the Pathé News clip here. She said of the experience of being on film “…it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”
What on earth does O’Connor’s childhood chicken have to do with my dissertation? Well, not much. It’s simply one of many very random facts that I’ve learned in the process of research. In this case O’Connor makes it into my dissertation because she’s Catholic and from the same period as Magda Arnold and in her recently published journal from her university days, psychology comes up quite a lot.
In her very first entry O’Connor prays
“I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to you. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologist about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord that I can only trust in you to preserve me as I should be.”
In this quite short journal O’Connor mentions psychology quite frequently, primarily along the lines the quote above–in anxiety that psychological explanations would destroy her faith. This is quite interesting, given its contrast with the much more positive attitude Magda Arnold had towards psychology. On the other hand, they were both doing the same sort of project, really integrating their faith into their discipline, so it seems like you could make the argument that there was something larger going on at the time that was encouraging this kind of ‘integration’ work (Thomas Merton and Walker Percy are other writers who might fall into that category).
I came across the chicken fact when I was Googling to try and find out how O’Connor was exposed to psychology. So far I’ve figured out that she received a social science degree at Georgia State College for Women in 1945, but that’s it. So if anyone knows any more than that, like what courses she took, or knows which of her many biographies would hold this information, let me know! But in any event, you should check out O’Connor’s journal. It’s short, but delightful. For example:
“What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately. But then God can do that—make mystics out of cheeses.”