Flannery O'Connor's passionate correspondent Hazel Elizabeth Hester also wrote frequent letters to British author Iris Murdoch, according to an article by Nicholas Kohler posted this week on the New Yorker's web site.
A clerk at the Atlanta company that turned into Equifax, "Betty" Hester was identified as "A" in "The Habit of Being," the noted collection of O'Connor's letters. O'Connor's letters are considered major spiritual and literary works.
Deep Questions About Art, Religion
Hester in her letters to O'Connor asked searching questions about theology and writing that O'Connor answered with deep consideration.
The two also became close friends, with Hester part of O'Connor's Atlanta circle that included the scholar Sally Fitzgerald and William Sessions, O'Connor's biographer. Kohler's article includes recollections of Hester by Sessions. (See previous Southern Bookman post.)
Lunch Encounter with Iris Murdoch
As Kohler's piece outlines, Hester reached a similar relationship with Murdoch, even meeting her for lunch on a trip to London. Murdoch's letters to Hester are included in a collection recently published by Princeton University Press.
Hester continued writing to Murdoch even after she began to succumb to Alzheimer's disease, which caused her death after a long period of mental and physical decline.
The letters from Hester to O'Connor and Murdoch don't survive, although Emory University has a collection of Hester's papers that includes letters posted on the university's web site.
Known as a catalyst for some of O'Connor's most searching meditations on art and religion, Hester also engaged Murdoch at the highest levels of thought.
Betty Hester joined a quiet life with a fully enflamed mind and heart.