Flannery O’Connor’s accent

When Flannery O’Connor went to the University of Iowa for graduate school, her mentor Paul Engle could not understand her Georgian accent. Engle later recalled his reaction when she asked to attend his workshop.

Embarrassed, I asked her to write down what she had just said on a pad. …

Like Keats, who spoke Cockney but wrote the purest sounds in English, Flannery spoke a dialect beyond instant comprehension but on the page her prose was imaginative, tough, alive: just like Flannery herself.

Source: Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories.

Here is a recording of O’Connor reading her story A Good Man is Hard to Find. I don’t find her at all hard to understand. The recording was made 13 years after her first encounter with Engle, and perhaps her accent had moderated. Or perhaps my ears are simply accustomed to Southern speech.

6 thoughts on “Flannery O’Connor’s accent

  1. Thanks for sharing this—really interesting. Of course my opinion on her accent is useless as I’m from Atlanta.

  2. My mom recounts the story from when she was little, of being in Cape Cod and seeing a southerner talk to a man with a strong, New England accent. Both men were apparently completely incomprehensible to the other. Apparently, my Grandmother, someone who had a fairly neutral accent (New Jersey suburban, and no, she did not have the caricatured subdued diphthong)) had to serve as a mediator between the two.

  3. As an Australian living in Germany and currently writing this in England, accents are funny things 🙂 (I listened to the first few seconds of that recording. I could understand maybe 75% of it, but I had to concentrate. I find her accent pleasant to listen to all the same.)

    A year ago I traveled through Mississippi. I paused at a food stop somewhere not far from the border with Louisiana, and tried to order breakfast: waffles with bacon. The girl behind the counter couldn’t understand me. I couldn’t understand her. I finally ended up ordering by pointing at the menu.

  4. And I just found out yesterday that she also wrote and drew comic strips. They were recently re-published, and I can’t wait to read them.

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