Part of what I’d like to do with this website is to find a home for the items that didn’t make the book, THE LETTERS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR AND CAROLINE GORDON. After four years of background research, I have a lot of small stories and tangents that, while not essential to the book’s final content, are important to understanding of O’Connor and Gordon’s relationship.
Ashley Brown was one such figure.
Brown did his dissertation on Caroline Gordon’s work; as the editor of Shenandoah, he picked up a copy of Wise Blood by (the then unknown) Flannery O’Connor. He saw Gordon’s blurb on the inside front cover–and that was enough for him to give the work a read.
Brown remembers that he didn’t even know if the author was male or female– but he was immediately struck by the power of the work. (You could say the same about Brown.)
Much later, Brown became Gordon’s first literary executor and trusted friend. Together, Brown and Gordon would visit O’Connor at Andalusia. Brown was driver and distraction: he charmed Regina O’Connor while Gordon and O’Connor talked shop.
In a letter to Jean Cash (author, Flannery: A Life— such an excellent book) on 21 June 1985, Ashley Brown wrote, “As you probably know, Sally Fitzgerald intends to publish a volume of O’Connor-Gordon letters [. . .] This is obviously the best single source for Flannery’s comments on her stories.”
Later, in an interview with Jean Cash (on 23 September 1992), Brown tried to describe the complicated relationship between O’Connor and Gordon:
“Well, it was both very affectionate and, at the same time a little bit, let me say, detached, complicated, you know . . . . Flannery’s admiration for Caroline as a literary mentor was very, very extensive, even when she might have disagreed about things, including some of Caroline’s own works. I remember when Caroline’s novel The Malefactors came out, what most people took to be a roman a clef, largely based upon Allen. Some people, in fact, were rather shocked about it and thought that Caroline shouldn’t have done this. Actually, Allen Tate himself admired the novel a great deal and I, as a matter of fact, heard him say so. . . . I remember Flannery saying at the time, ‘Oh, I fear for her’.”
If you are interested in Ashley Brown, check the index of THE LETTERS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR AND CAROLINE GORDON— or write to me, and I’ll share with you what I found!