Welty, Eudora (Vol. 14)
Welty, Eudora 1909–
Welty, an American novelist, short story writer, and nonfiction and juvenile writer, is considered a Southern regionalist and is frequently compared to William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Caroline Gordon. Her stories revolve around the relationships within families, focusing on the emotional complexities which face the individual. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
[Miss Welty has not] sought to create a region of her own, as Faulkner has done with his Yoknapatawpha County, and to that extent she is a less self-conscious regionalist than he. She has merely taken her material where she found it—i.e., not far from home….
When A Curtain of Green appeared, in 1941, some reviewers quickly concluded that the author was one more Southern realist with a penchant for squalor….
But if one reads carefully, it is apparent that Miss Welty is not preoccupied with violence and horror, in the way that Erskine Caldwell so often is and not even to the extent that William Faulkner sometimes is. The meaning of the story is never in the violence, nor is the abnormality of the characters their important quality. (p. 70)
Squalor, violence, and decadence have in themselves no importance for Miss Welty. They are merely facts, and facts, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are no more than means to an end. What matters in her stories is never the thing that happens but the effect of the thing on human beings. Her concern, in other words, is with states of mind, and her emphasis falls upon those emotional states that cannot be easily articulated. (p. 71)
Miss Welty knows how, if ever an author did, to let facts speak for themselves, but she does not systematically refrain, in the Hemingway manner, from the direct account of emotional states. Although her later...
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Robert Penn Warren
[The] stories of The Wide Net represent a specializing, an intensifying, of one of the many strains which were present in A Curtain of Green. All of the stories in A Curtain of Green bear the impress of Miss Welty's individual talent, but there is a great variety among them in subject matter and method and, more particularly, mood…. The material of many of the stories was sad, or violent, or warped, and even the comedy and wit were not straight, but if read from one point of view, if read as a performance, the book was exhilarating, even gay, as though the author were innocently delighted not only with the variety of the world but with the variety of ways in which one could look at the world and the variety of things that stories could be and still be stories. Behind the innocent delight of the craftsman, and of the admirer of the world, there was also a seriousness, a philosophical cast of mind, which gave coherence to the book, but on the surface there was the variety, the succession of surprises. In The Wide Net we do not find the surprises. The stories are more nearly cut to one pattern. (pp. 156-57)
[On] the first page, with the first sentence, we enter a special world: "Whatever happened, it happened in extraordinary times, in a season of dreams …" And that is the world in which we are going to live until we reach the last sentence of the last story. "Whatever happened," the first sentence begins,...
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The optimist of Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter is a Mississippi judge named McKelva, and his optimism is hearty enough, foolish enough, generous enough, to lead him to marry in his old age a young wife, a woman from Texas whom he had met at a Bar Association convention. Wanda Fay Chisom is her name. Had she come to the attention of Faulkner, her name would be Snopes, and if Flannery O'Connor had created her, she would be named Shiflet. She is, in the pecking order of the South, white trash.
Miss Welty has been fascinated before by these rapacious, weak-witted, pathologically selfish daughters of the dispossessed, and likes to bring them into sharp contrast (as in The Ponder Heart) with the decrepit chivalry and good manners of the Mississippi gentry. The result, however complex and sensitive Miss Welty's handling of the misalliance, is always a wail of grief that an older generation is being replaced by barbarians.
Miss Welty's art modulates finely between satire and tragedy. She relishes the absurd and the incongruous, and has the canny gift of being able to translate them into tragic understanding. The power behind this rare ability is a firm moral sense of human conduct. Miss Welty's values might seem at first inspection to be Christian and Humanist, but they are yet broader in a curious sense. They are archaic. They are as old as civilization itself.
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John A. Allen
The characters in Eudora Welty's fiction are fortunate indeed, for they are conceived in kindness, justice and compassion by the imagination that creates them. In Miss Welty's work, the strong and the weak, the magnanimous and the mean alike, in every circumstance retain their human dignity. "I don't have an ounce of revenge in my body," Edna Earle Ponder assures her auditor, and the words may aptly be applied to the author of "The Ponder Heart." The reader, too, enjoys Miss Welty's evenhanded bounty. On every page she tacitly gives him credit for being adequately prepared to face the shock of truth, sufficiently enamored of the real to relish its unexpected faces, rational enough to know that reason yields in the end to mystery. Her view of life is not idealized, nor is it tough in the sense of denying mortal existence its proper and inalienable graces. We are safe, in reading a Welty novel, from being dinned at, scolded, hoodwinked, lectured, flattered or condescended to. Secure from malice, anger or contempt, we enjoy a vision of the world depicted with an objectivity which is enriched by warmth and charity. If Eudora Welty has a bias, it springs from affection for the human race. (p. 605)
For Eudora Welty, showing the action of a novel through a woman's eyes is not an act of aggression but of illumination.
To be sure, Miss Welty delights her readers with the heroic antics of certain male characters: Uncle Daniel,...
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The introduction to her snapshot album of depression-era Mississippi, One Time, One Place, helps explain why [Welty's] home state has been her locale. No professional photographer, no outsider, could ever have captured the naturalness of her subjects, but she was "part of it, born into it, taken for granted." From this unique vantage point, unseen as the fly upon the wall, Welty has been able to write about all that is neither typical nor taken for granted in the life of the South. Originality of both subject and technique has been her one constant.
So we look to [The Eye of the Story, a] collection of essays, reviews, and personal pieces … to see what it reveals about her artistic creed and affinities. And lo, in addition to her canny insight into the work of her peers and masters and her great gift for pinpointing a writer's inspiration for coming to writing at all, many of these studies seem to be as much about Eudora Welty as about anything else. (pp. 37-8)
[If the essays on her favorite authors] were all there was to this volume—a series of touchstones for understanding Welty's stories—it would be quite enough. But as it happens, there is also a second dimension, another and more splendid gift from Welty to her readers. For in her studies of individual writers and in the more abstract section "On Writing"—which includes her defense of regional writing ("Place in Fiction") and of Faulkner,...
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In this invigorating selection of her reviews and essays ["The Eye of the Story"], Eudora Welty constantly touches the painful place where literary critic and creative writer meet. They are, she seems to suggest, essentially at cross-purposes…. The writer does not seek to solve the "mystery of language" but rather to take advantage of it. Criticism tries to solve the mystery, by translating fiction into another language….
The pieces in this book about the climate of the fiction writer's mind should be prescribed reading for all literary critics. Also included here are some essays of reminiscence, from her childhood on…. She believes—and as a Southern writer this is something on which she has been challenged—that novelists should not be political crusaders….
A long section is given over to book reviews, and here Miss Welty, given her views on academic criticism, stands in the eye not only of the story but of the storm. She stands calmly, because she is sure of her ground. She writes not so much as a critic as a sensitive reader. She makes the relationship between reading and writing extraordinarily close. The literary critic is in a way a code-breaker, and therefore an antagonist; Miss Welty is all receptiveness. She uses the words "pleasure" and "sweetness" without embarrassment or sentiment.
Not that she is without her moments of asperity. She picks out for castigation two modern...
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Robert B. Shaw
When a novelist can articulate what he knows by feel, he calls criticism down out of its self-generated clouds. This is the welcome service rendered by Eudora Welty's selection of essays and reviews, The Eye of the Story. It could as justly have been called The Eye of the Storyteller. In criticism as in fiction, Miss Welty's observations are blessed with a dazzling accuracy; her sight penetrates to the point of insight….
Miss Welty's appreciations [essays on her favorite writers] prove that a sympathy with the subject need not blur the critic's discernment, and may in fact focus it on what is central to the achievement under study….
The book reviews are in many cases as keenly perceptive as the longer essays, and in all cases but one they are as positive in their judgments. The exception is Arthur Mizener's biography of Ford Madox Ford, which Miss Welty finds hard to forgive. Characteristically, she identifies the biographer's chief problem as a settled incompatibility with his subject, a bias as damaging to the book as its "coarsegrained prose." (p. 765)
I must admit that I found myself perversely wishing, especially in the book review section, that Miss Welty had allowed herself such astringency more often. It would have provided this part of the collection with a not unwelcome variety of tone and texture. But I gather that her usual policy has been to let bad books sink of their...
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Welty, I think, offers [in The Eye of the Story] a truer, more adroit vision of fiction than either that of a language-functionary like Gass, whose protocols are ensured against outside tampering, or that of a lifelikeness-affirmer like Gardner, who, frustrated by the intransigent surprise of the world, disgustedly spits in the soup because it's already too thin.
"Great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behavior but how to feel." As simple—and enormous—as that. Also a statement not to be taken too lightly: it only looks mild. Right hopes and goals, right speech, fine—but where and what is right sensation? Welty knows—and her fiction knows more deeply—that by setting them out on a loose leash, the lenient novelist riskily allows his characters the harsh freedom to land themselves in their own particular holes, to suffer the same discrepancies, inconveniences, even unbearable situations—unsolved by either language or good intentions—that we do. Like us, they "find out and keep hold of who they are, often by feeling where it hurts or how it pinches." They can be flummoxed, slipped-up, even dead wrong. Yet there's a difference, the big one: unlike our own, the errors and shortcomings of fictional characters tremble always with "the possibility that they may indeed reveal everything."
Which is why "we come looking in fiction with more longing than in any experience save love."...
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Lewis A. Lawson
To hear Eudora Welty tell it [in Eye of the Story] she was born to read….
Miss Welty has never gotten her fill of fiction. In a beautiful image she describes the effect of fiction on her life: as a child she was taken into the darkness of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave; when the guide struck a light she was dazzled by all the splendor of the rock formations that had been around her all along. So fiction lights up the experience that would otherwise slip by us unnoticed. That is to say, Miss Welty regards fiction as an exploration of reality, each new fiction "some fresh approximation of human truth." She would not dismiss that reality consisting solely of material objects, a view of the world so entrancing these days, but she clearly thinks that a superior reality derives from the morality which resides in human relationships. That reality is most clearly revealed to us by fiction, which can intensify our personal response by suffusing it with the accumulated insight of the race.
"Making reality real is art's responsibility," Miss Welty asserts in her famous "Place in Fiction," and she has held fiction—for her the most realistic of art's forms—severely to account. But if she has had high expectations for fiction, she has been quick to praise when her expectations have been met. (p. 215)
Eudora Welty early discovered that, as instructive to her soul as another's fiction might be (and this is the...
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