Welty, Eudora (Vol. 5)

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Welty, Eudora 1909–

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A Southern American short story writer and novelist, Eudora Welty is one of this country's most notable regionalists. Her stories of family life in small towns in the Deep South are built around what Paul Marx has called "the complex network of judgments, misjudgments, and rejudgments," sometimes taking on the elusive quality of dreams. Ms Welty is a quintessential storyteller. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Eudora Welty's long-awaited novel—her first since The Ponder Heart (1954)—might well be cited as evidence that most writers of authoritative fiction are often severely limited in the stories they choose—or are forced—to tell…. In any case, Losing Battles is in many ways the Welty "mixture as before": the family, the community—the blood ties of heart and home, and the teasing paradoxes they pose for those who can see the least bit around or outside them. Here is again what Robert Penn Warren years ago called the love and the separateness in Miss Welty's work: the individualism, the identity which must be cherished—even fought for—in the face of the pre-emptive and often devouring claims of the group, with all its traditional sanctions. And the tension between these two "pulls"—these twin allegiances which may be likened to the two faces of love itself—has constituted one of Miss Welty's principal thematic concerns. (p. 766)

It will be said that this novel has an extremely dense texture, that its many characters and thematic motifs—in all their permutations and combinations—weave in and out in a seamless philosophical and social garment. And so they do, almost to the point of constituting an embarrassment of riches—to say nothing of disproportionate thematic development. One feels somehow disappointed here—perhaps most so during the birthday reunion scenes, where there is a good deal more self-conscious, mannered sentiment (and consequent stylization, even affectation, in the prose) than the narrative can assume and support. There are just too many "blessed sweethearts" and too much family pet-naming and verbal cuddling. And it's so sad to see (or rather to hear) Miss Welty's ear succumbing to what often sounds factitious and even—God forbid—quaint and folksy. She's at her best when she remembers her characters'—and perhaps her own—real grounding in the lusty, robust Faulknerian humor of the old southwest, when she lets them all go to it without further ado. "Arty" tendencies have manifested themselves in her earlier fiction—in certain stories in The Bride of the Innisfallen (1955) and The Golden Apples (1949); and one always hoped that she would suppress them in light of her great gift for the real, the elemental thing. They were held well in check in Delta Wedding, where the characters and their social position would admit of more ambitious things. But they are, I believe, out of place here: one sighs for the real authority of voice found in The Ponder Heart and some of the earlier stories.

Nevertheless, though I cannot place Losing Battles in the front rank of Miss Welty's fiction, I admire the wonder, the reverence, the joy she has once again brought to her great, her inevitable theme. Her style, her art may occasionally have played her false here; but she has never really been false to the truth of the compelling story she has told again and again. She remains one of the most distinguished of 20th century American writers of fiction. (pp. 766-67)

Robert Drake, "Miss Welty's Wide World," in The Christian Century (copyright 1970 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the June 17, 1970 issue of The Christian Century), June 17, 1970, pp. 766-67.

Miss Welty's sense of inevitable loneliness and the mysteries of the human heart purge her fiction of sentimentality. Her humor—ranging from slapstick, farce and W. C. Fields-like satire to subtle...

(The entire section contains 2221 words.)

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Welty, Eudora (Vol. 22)