At lunch with Supermaud on Sunday, the talk turned to editors and publishers, and I mentioned a letter Flannery O’Connor sent in 1949 to an editor at Rinehart who wanted her to rewrite Wise Blood. Neither Maud nor Our Girl knew about this letter, so I promised to post it. Here it is:
Thank you for your letter of the 16th. I plan to come down next week and I have asked Elizabeth McKee to make an appointment with you for me on Thursday. I think, however, that before I talk to you my position on the novel and on your criticism in the letter should be made plain.
I can only hope that in the finished novel the direction will be clearer, but I can tell you that I would not like at all to work with you as do other writers on your list. I feel that whatever virtues the novel may have are very much connected with the limitations you mention. I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I writer will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from. I do not think there is any lack of objectivity in the writing, however, if this is what your criticism implies; and also I do not feel that rewriting has obscured the direction. I feel it has given whatever direction is now present.
In short, I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not be persuaded to do otherwise. The finished book, though I hope less angular, will be just as odd if not odder than the nine chapters you have now. The question is: is Rinehart interested in publishing this kind of novel?
Rinehart wasn’t, and Wise Blood was published by Harcourt, Brace three years later. Ignored by most critics, it has long since been recognized as a modern American classic, one of the comparatively few American novels of permanent interest to be written in the Fifties…but who knew? Imagine the self-assurance it must have taken for an unknown, unpublished author to have sent a letter like that to an editor at a major house.
Me, I can’t imagine it–but, then, I didn’t write Wise Blood, either.