Wise as serpents, innocent as doves — the value of reading an author’s letters

I don’t assume that renunciation goes with submission, or even that renunciation is good in itself. Always you renounce a lesser good for a greater; the opposite is what sin is. And along this line, I think the phrase ‘naive purity’ is a contradiction in terms. I don’t think purity is mere innocence; I don’t think babies and idiots possess it. I take it to be something that comes either with experience or with Grace so that it can never be naive.

Flannery O’Connor, To “A,” 1 January 56, in The Habit of Being 126 (Sally Fitzgerald ed., 1979).

I don’t have anything particularly profound to add to the foregoing quote from Flannery O’Connor’s correspondence. What the passage shows, however, is the value of reading the letters of good writers. To read their finished published works is one kind of education; to overhear them discussing with friends the various thoughts which, ultimately, are manifested in their finished works, is quite another. And that latter kind of education is what an author’s correspondence very often affords.


Posted on November 26, 2012, in Inspiration, Story, Teaching, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Exactly. Collected letters particularly worth reading: Lewis’s, Tolkien’s, O’Connor’s. The Habit of Being is a real treat!

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