Welty, Eudora (Vol. 22)
Eudora Welty 1909–
American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
Welty is a southern regionalist frequently compared to William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Caroline Gordon. Her stories of family life in small towns in the Deep South are built around what Paul Marx has called "the complex networks of judgments, misjudgments, and rejudgments," and sometimes take on the elusive qualities of dreams.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 14, Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2: American Novelists since World War II.)
Eudora Welty admires Jane Austen and owes much to her and indeed stands in the same relation to fellow-Mississippian William Faulkner that Austen stood to [Walter] Scott. With little interest in history or social themes, she concentrates on the ordinary people of her country who go about the business of loving and hating and talking about their neighbors as if there were nothing more important in the world. But within this close range, she scrutinizes her subject and registers its vibrations with a tenderness of attention that places her closer to the heartbeat of her region than Faulkner himself.
If she shows greater variation than her eighteenth-century predecessor, it is not because her aim is different but because she lives in another age and her work inevitably shows it. Like Miss Austen, she remains aloof from social and political events of her time, but with one important difference. In spite of the French Revolution and Napoleon, England was confident and self-contained, and the Catherines, Elizabeths, and Emmas could go on flirting and finding husbands in a way of life that was apparently immutable. After two hundred years, even though Miss Welty's village remains intact, the world outside is not, and disturbing voices are beginning to be heard. Instead of writing about home and social ties, the old standbys of the English novel, young writers today are peering, in Miss Welty's words, through "knot-holes of isolation."...
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In reading "The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty," there is a particular pleasure in following her performance over the years. Her range is remarkable—her way of telling us that stories are as different as human faces, that beyond the common features of plot and narrative, there are discoveries to be made each time…. Now, with all the stories gathered together, we can see with what vigilance she has continued to watch the world around her. She has transformed that early obsession into the vision of a magnificent American artist. (p. 1)
It is not the South we find in her stories, it is Eudora Welty's South, a region that feeds her imagination, and a place we come to trust. She is a Southerner as Chekhov was a Russian, because place provides them with reality—a reality as difficult, mysterious and impermanent as life.
From the first volume included here, "A Curtain of Green and Other Stories" …, we can see the demands that Miss Welty put upon herself as a writer. Each tale finds its own pace and its own design. The characters are so fully realized that the imprint of their life is upon the page…. These early stories are filled with dreamers, deaf-mutes, wanderers, the old—people who live outside of society. We are told what in their fantasies, or in fact, sets them apart, but we are made to wonder about the real world that cannot contain them.
There is so much virtuosity in "The Collected...
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[In her Collected Stories] Eudora Welty's real self percolates into a generous fiction that wastes very little time on disapproval. She wanders, marveling, over the landscape of soul and senses, never allowing the smallest fluctuation in either to escape her, but she is not a moralist. She has no vocation for rectitude, and one can search in vain among dozens of her springy, piquant, often irascible characters for those implications of psychological delinquency that give such dramatic tension to the stories of Henry James. Yet she is no less a psychologist; she simply is more interested in our efforts and longings than in our guilts and weaknesses. (p. 3)
Whenever she discerns a fault in someone, she leaves room for an advantage or a felicity. In "Lily Daw and the Three Ladies," three biddies of an age to wear widow's black and get hot easily are about to plump a slightly retarded young lady into an institution for the feeble-minded, presumably for her own happiness. When they find her at home packing a hope chest (so far she has collected one bar of soap and a wash rag) and preparing to get married to a traveling xylophone player, the ladies are aghast—in good part because she has outwitted their pessimism and shattered their complacency. This ignoble sentiment would no doubt be the chief disclosure for some other writer, but it is their sheepishness and hesitation that Miss Welty wants to call to our attention…....
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More than thirty years after writing the stories in A Curtain of Green, Welty gave the best introduction to their theme and technique in her foreword to One Time, One Place. She spoke of the experience of being invisible behind her Kodak…. (p. 5)
This photographic metaphor for the artist's vision—the snapping of the shutter, the slow process of development, the examination in objectivity and solitude—may also be the best way of reading these early stories. And insofar as the impulse to make an image, to border and thus to define amorphous experience, is the impulse to discover an order in experience, the same metaphor indicates the theme. (pp. 5-6)
[In several of the stories in A Curtain of Green] a main character with some defect, physical, psychological, or moral, is universalized, and a point about the nature of individual human existence is made. The grotesque occupies the foreground and lingers in the mind as the general impression from a first reading. But a large body of explication and criticism of these stories testifies to the existence of another aspect of them. "Clytie" resonates with the Greek tragedies of family; "Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden" with Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner."… (p. 9)
A majority of the stories in A Curtain of Green, however, are not about certifiable cripples, mental or physical. The technique in most of the stories...
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