Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series One Writer's Beginnings Analysis
Because One Writer’s Beginnings centers on Welty’s memories of the events and persons that have influenced her, it is not a conventional autobiography. There is no chronological narrative of main events, though as a whole, the book is roughly chronological. Instead, she follows certain themes, showing their emergence in her experiences or tracing them to beginning points. While this book reveals much about Welty’s inner self, it is not a history of her life.
The book originated as a series of lectures, the first in the series of William E. Massey, Sr., Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University. Welty gave three lectures at Harvard in April, 1983, and these were edited and published by Harvard University Press in the following year. Although the lectures were written for and delivered to a university audience, they are of special interest to younger readers because Welty focuses on beginnings: how she began to see her world, what in this early experience led her to become a writer, and what she found most valuable to being a writer. Young readers who aspire to become professional writers or who are interested in how writers and artists think and develop will find Welty’s book interesting. They will also find the book accessible because Welty’s style, made for oral presentation, remains clear and simple even when her ideas are complicated and deep.
Welty speaks of her childhood world as ordered by her father’s concerns for stability and progress and her mother’s memories of past pains and fear of the future. Her father was an optimist who was ready for the worst, and her mother was a pessimist who always hoped for the best. Within the life that they created for her was a richness of experience in books and in family. Both parents...
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Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series One Writer's Beginnings Analysis
Much of the magic and popularity of One Writer’s Beginnings can be attributed to the personality of Welty herself—a grand lady who with quiet dignity and grace has, without involving herself actively in the New York literary world, practiced her art with honesty and conscientiousness. She is the model of the genteel Southerner—gracious, kind, hospitable, and, therefore, difficult to resist.
Also responsible for the memorable nature of the book is Welty’s ability to re-create the feel of small-town American life before the 1920’s began to roar. The memoir surely appeals to a widespread nostalgia for a simpler time—before television, before nuclear weapons, before computers, and before jet airplanes. It was a time when the family library contained Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, The Book of Knowledge, and the Lincoln Library of Information; when school began with the ringing of a brass bell; and when seeing a film meant Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Kops. Welty’s ear for the dialogue of the small-town South, her eye for the telling detail, and her uncanny memory for the precise look and feel of an era make this book fascinating.
Yet on a more basic level, the book addresses what is at the heart of all works that offer portraits of artists in their youth: What is it about the artist that sets him or her apart from others? What was it about Eudora Welty’s upbringing that made her into an artist? There are two ways in which Welty answers these questions. She provides the details of the important events of her life, and she offers her own meditative consideration of the story-making process.
Perhaps the key to Welty’s artistic nature, or at least as close as Welty comes in the book to identifying such a key, is her understanding of the difference between events as they happen in one’s life and events as they take on personal significance. Whereas the first is chronological, the second need not be at all, for events as they take on meaning follow what Welty calls a “thread of revelation.” Indeed, that is perhaps the best description of the structure of One Writer’s Beginnings—a continuous thread of individual moments of revelation.
Those moments that make up the thread of revelation for Welty include hearing her mother read stories to her and thus learning to “hear” every line read—not in her mother’s voice or even her own, but in what she calls the voice of the story itself, a voice that asks you to believe; consequently, when writing her own stories Welty hears her own words in that same voice that she hears when she reads—a voice she says she has always trusted. Hearing was also important when she listened to her mother and her friends talk. When she was a small child and a neighbor was invited to go on a Sunday drive in the car with the family, Welty would sit in the back seat between her mother and her friend and say, “Now talk.” In this way, Welty accounts for the source of the marvelous dialogue the reader hears in such stories as “The Petrified Man” and the almost perfect monologue of “Why I Live at the P.O.”
It was, however, learning to perceive the world as the stuff of story that most influenced Welty in her childhood. A...
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Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series One Writer's Beginnings Analysis
The central purpose of One Writer’s Beginnings is Welty’s exploration of what it is that makes a writer become a writer and what it is that sets a writer apart from others. Welty tries to answer these questions in two basic ways: by describing the actual events and details of her life that she transforms into the stuff of story and by meditating on the meaning of these sources of her fiction-making. The central key to the secret of the writer, Welty seems to suggest, is his or her ability to determine the difference between mere events and “significant” events. A relation of mere events may be simply a chronological retelling, while significant events follow what Welty calls a “thread of revelation.” That phrase perhaps is the best description of the structure of One Writer’s Beginnings, for the book develops a continuous related thread of individual moments of revelation and meaning.
Some of the important points along this thread involve Welty’s gradual awareness of what she calls “the voice of story.” She recalls hearing her mother read stories to her, but it is not her mother’s voice she hears; she says that when she writes she hears her own words in the same voice that she hears when she reads. Welty also recalls when neighbors were invited to go on a Sunday drive in the family car and she would sit in the backseat between her mother and a friend and say, “Now talk.” It was in this way that she...
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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
One Writer’s Beginnings is a personal memoir by one of the United States’ great modern writers, but its interest for readers, both younger and older, goes beyond satisfying curiosity about a famous artist. Although there is much interesting biographical information in this book that can enrich one’s reading of Welty’s fiction, there are also several other interests that the book can serve. Welty offers a picture of Southern, urban life early in the twentieth century, with memorable brief portraits of grandparents, uncles, teachers, librarians, neighbors, servants, and evangelists and with telling glimpses of social institutions of special interest to a girl growing up in this time and place.
Welty’s main purpose was to provide information about her development into a literary artist. She associates herself with many modern writers who have written artistic biographies—sometimes fictionalized, as in the case of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), but fairly often brief factual accounts, such as this one, given in response to the request of some part of an admiring public. Welty’s account of her artistic development stands out for its absence of strong opposing forces; she concentrates on those aspects of her experience that stimulated and nurtured her artistic talents.
One Writer’s Beginnings is the ideal source for a student to turn to in order to be-gin to know Welty after reading some of her stories, and it is a good book for young writers to read as they begin to think about the importance for their own writing of listening, seeing, and finding a voice.
Critical Context (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings is a firsthand account of a life lived in pursuit of story. As such, it is an almost irresistible personal testimony, a narrative which, as slight as it seems on the surface, is actually a profound document about the birth and development of an artist’s consciousness. When Welty first gave the lectures that make up this memoir, students stood in line and sat in the aisles to hear her speak. The book itself was just as enthusiastically received.
The remarkable reception of the lectures and the book suggests a belated appreciation of a lifetime of careful and caring artistic creation. It seems that the older Welty gets the more precious she becomes to those who know her work. During the 1980’s, she was interviewed, written about, lauded, and heaped with more academic accolades than she had ever received during the time she was doing her most celebrated work. Each Welty birthday becomes the occasion for pilgrimages to Jackson by her admirers and the excuse to publish new collections of appreciations and explications.
One Writer’s Beginnings is required reading for anyone who knows Welty’s fiction, for although it does not give specific sources for the material of her stories, it does provide the basis for all of her work—a keen eye for detail, a sensitive ear for the nuances of speech, and most important, a kind and noble heart. This memoir will remain a classic in American literature, for it is a deeply felt personal document about a most sensitive lady of letters.