Kooped Up with Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor departed from this earthly life 92 years ago today. I find myself far more interested in her arrivals. FOC is arriving in my inbox an awful lot these days as I review syllabi for the upcoming Fall semester. There she is again on another row for Introduction Literature, Beginning Fiction Writing, Survey of American Literature. To encounter Flannery O’Connor on the page is to begin again. And her name always seems on the verge of breaking out of that Word Table box.
I recently visited the site of FOC’s beginnings: her childhood home in Savannah, Georgia. It’s a narrow building on East Charlton Street with narrow, high-ceilinged rooms. Walking in, I was immediately drawn to the wicker perambulator that bore her initials. This domestic artifact offers mute testimony to infant confinement. Upstairs in the master bedroom I found something I’d never seen before: a Kiddie-Koop. Patented in the early 20th century, this domestic wonder promised fretting mothers a safe, sanitary, versatile container for wee ones. It was a combination bassinet, crib, and playpen. A Tardis for tots, the Kiddie-Koop traveled from nursery to backyard as the child moved forward in time.
For me, the Kiddie Koop explained a lot about Flannery O’Connor’s beginnings. What must it have been like to be confined in such a ridiculous contraption? The wire mesh and wooden frame seemed more suitable for the chicken yard–it had a lid, for goodness’ sake. (Parents could lower the floor and flip the lid as baby grew.) Indoors or out, the child was on display like the freak show characters in FOC’s stories. The wheels could just as easily move a carnival wagon. FOC’s Kiddie Koop reveals the sheer strangeness of American childhood without leaving the premises.
The New Yorker critic who reviewed O’Connor’s debut story collection found that her characters are “fluttering feebly first around the trap that is to break and kill them, and then into the trap” (1955). But O’Connor herself flew the Koop. Lit from above by the window, it seemed a fitting incubator for the twisted plots and warped characters lurking within: waiting to begin. –MB