Eudora Welty by Various

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Welty, Eudora (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Welty, Eudora 1909–

A Southern American novelist and short story writer, Miss Welty's works include Delta Wedding, The Golden Apples, and Losing Battles. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 11-12.)

The literary career of Eudora Welty … has something in common with several of her best stories. Striking in either case is both the disarming simplicity of the external facts, the setting, basic actions, and style, and the richness and complexity of the inner reality inherent in that simplicity…. The detachment of Miss Welty's artistic vision, her habit of drawing her material from the outside world, and entering and meeting it with what is universal rather than personal and particular in her own private experience, keeps our eyes clearly focused on the stories; and in them, as in the person herself, we are struck not by poverty of experience, but by all the abundance of a life richly and fully lived. (p. 15)

Miss Welty knows she is mysterious and "obstructionist," but she is so because there is no other way for her to communicate what she must. She asks for a reader of "willing imagination" who will not insist on "a perfect Christmas tree of symmetry, branch, and ornament, with a star at the top for neatness," but will find "the branchings not what he's expecting,… not at all to the letter of the promise—rather to a degree (and to a degree of pleasure) mysterious."… Miss Welty's stories are largely concerned with the mysteries of the inner life. She explains that to her the interior world is "endlessly new, mysterious, and alluring."… The term "mystery" has here to do with the enigma of man's being—his relation to the universe; what is secret, concealed, inviolable in any human being, resulting in distance or separation between human beings; the puzzles and difficulties we have about our own feelings, our meaning and our identity. Miss Welty's audacity is to probe these mysteries in the imaginative forms of her fiction…. The stories tell us something about her philosophical vision, which might be identified (at the risk of giving her work the "tweak of fashion" she deplores) as pessimistic and existential. Through the experience of her characters she seems to be saying that there is no final meaning to life beyond the human meanings; there is no divine "surround," no final shape to total reality, no love within or beyond the universe…. Miss Welty is asking metaphysical questions, but she is attempting no answers. The only solution to a mystery is yet another mystery; cosmic reality is a nest of Chinese boxes. (pp. 27-37)

To the two extremes of what has been called the philosophical atmosphere or weather of Miss Welty's fiction, the traditional literary terms of "tragic" and "comic" might well be applied. The weather of Miss Welty's comedy has its own peculiar fluctuations, ranging from humor and merriment to satire and irony …. In some of its manifestations, Miss Welty's comedy lightly evokes the mood and spirit of the most ancient rites of comedy: the Dionysiac feasts, the fertility rites of primitive cultures, the folk ceremonies which marked the changes in season or the celebration of birth and marriage…. A second and more modern type of comedy which appears in Miss Welty's fiction concentrates upon eccentric characters who follow out their natures in humorous, repetitive action…. She is [also] likely to have an eye alert for the comic and satiric possibilities inherent in the manners and morals, social life and entertainment, of a highly organized and subtly stratified folk community…. The terror adjoining the comedy—Miss Welty herself has shown us this, along with such disparate writers as Chekhov, Kafka, Faulkner, and Samuel Beckett. However, the fact that among her stories we may find such diverse manifestations of the spirit of comedy as those of ancient ritual and mythology, of the "humorous" character of nineteenth-century fiction, and of southern folk humor—as well as the satiric, ironic, and...

(The entire section is 3,543 words.)