The Road to Andalusia
By Bryan Betts '14
Across from a Best Value Inn on the outskirts of Milledgeville, Georgia, a pair of white signs set back from a busy four-lane highway marks the road to Andalusia. Hidden from the road by trees, Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor's farm, exists apart from the modern world, preserved more or less as it was when she lived there.
After three-and-a-half hours on the road and a few months in the classroom, seven classmates and I have finally made it to Andalusia. In our First Year Writing Seminar, we have honed our skills against the whetstone of O’Connor's fiction, reading and discussing her stories in a small, comfortable setting designed to prepare us freshmen for the rigors of a liberal arts education. Today, though, we enjoy a break from academics and breathe in the same sweet honeysuckle as O’Connor once did.
Our guide, Willard Pate, awaits us as we pull up to the house. Our professor and Southern literature guru, Dr. Pate has to use her hands to explain her love for O’Connor.
“Faulkner's about here,” she says, her right hand at her eyes. She holds her left hand an inch below. “And O’Connor's right here.”
It's high praise for a writer whose main body of work consists of only two novels and two collections of short stories. Dark, grotesque, humorous, religious, absurd—her work resists easy categorization, but what emerges from the descriptive rubble stands among the best fiction of the 20th century.
Brick steps lead to a large, screened porch and a row of white rocking chairs covered with pollen. O’Connor, who lived at Andalusia for 13 years, would sit on the porch and take in the view. The porch looks out over a grassy field to the dirt road and a row of trees, and through a clearing in the distance, we can see a small pond, green in the morning light, likely the same “green speckled lake” Hulga sees in “Good Country People.”
A faded picture of Jesus hanging above the stairway welcomes us as we enter the house. The image reminds me of a passage in Wise Blood, O’Connor’s first novel, where she describes Jesus as “a wild ragged figure” moving “from tree to tree in the back of [the] mind.” O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic, an oddity in the Protestant South, but was not one to sugarcoat her faith. Her characters—nihilistic preachers, bigoted housewives, conceited “interlechuls”—are as sinful as they are absurd, each suffering through their own spiritual journeys.
“Grace changes us,” O’Connor wrote, “and the change is painful.”
The house’s curator directs our attention to O'Connor’s bedroom. A black typewriter sits on her desk. Silver crutches lean against a dresser. O'Connor came to Andalusia with her mother after being diagnosed with lupus, a disease that gnawed at her health and eventually killed her. Each morning, the curator explains, O’Connor woke up and wrote for three hours, the longest her lupus would allow. To avoid distractions, she kept her drapes closed and faced her desk away from the window. Time was precious, and she couldn’t afford to waste it.
In the foyer, chips of paint peel off the walls, and cracks show in the wooden floors. After O'Connor died in 1964, her mother moved out, and Andalusia fell into disrepair. Recent construction efforts have largely restored the house to its former state, but evidence of the passage of time remains.
After touring the house, we head outside and wander the estate. Around back, a sign on a pump house describes the well inside, stating that a similar one shows up in O'Connor’s second novel, The Violent Bear It Away
. The sign reminds me that she couldn't help but write her home into her fiction.
As we walk toward the back of the property we find buildings that might have been plucked from O’Connor’s stories. The barn from “Good Country People.” The milk processing shed from “The Enduring Chill.” The stories start to merge with the place, making it harder to distinguish fact from fiction. Leaning against the barn, a wooden ladder leads up to the hayloft where the Bible salesman tricked Hulga into giving up her prosthetic leg. In a sense, Hulga is still up there, stranded by both the Bible salesman and O’Connor’s unresolved ending.
At the end of our tour, we drive down the road to Memory Hill Cemetery where O’Connor is buried. At the top of her headstone are inscribed the letters “IHS,” a monogram for Jesus, and below are the dates of her life, March 25, 1925 and August 3, 1964.
Our group gathers around the grave and talks and laughs; it feels like an oddly appropriate way to finish our journey. Here, as in O’Connor's fiction, death and life, grotesque and beautiful, comic and spiritual dwell together. For a moment, I feel as though I’d entered one of her stories, having left reality to become a character in a world that, despite being fictional, bears a remarkable resemblance to our own.
The writer, Bryan Betts, is a sophomore English major from Fort Mill, South Carolina. In addition to working as an editorial student assistant in Furman’s Office of Marketing and Public Relations, he also writes for Furman’s weekly student newspaper,