Eudora Welty by Various

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Welty, Eudora (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Welty, Eudora 1909–

A Southern American novelist and short story writer, Miss Welty is the author of Delta Wedding, Losing Battles, and The Optimist's Daughter. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Inevitably [Miss Welty] has become associated with William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and that distinguished company of writers who, like Katherine Anne Porter, "have blood knowledge of what life can be in a defeated country on the bare bones of privation." Although she claims Yankee blood on her father's side, she was born in Jackson, Mississippi, not far from the borders of Yoknapatawphaw County, and belongs there in the way that Emily Brontë belongs to the Yorkshire moors. Her close association with the South as a traditional way of life, under pressure and, perhaps, in decay, has been felt to confer on her as a writer special advantages and peculiar limitations, as if she were both the beneficiary and the victim of her background. No one, and certainly not Miss Welty herself, would wish to deny the importance of "place" to a writer, although it could be argued that it is the writers of the South who have made it a place, rather than a point on the compass, just as frontier legend made the West.

Naturally, in her work Miss Welty draws for her material largely on the world of the South, familiar and immediately to hand, but it is human nature and the human dilemma that are explored, and her art is distinctive. Only the most provincial reader confuses the writer with the raw material of his art. Certainly the South seems to lend her an assured sense of personal identity…. But indeed, even among the writers of the South, she is the only one to have acknowledged the autonomy of the imagination. Behind her work there lies a fragile, profound and essentially lyrical imagination strengthened by characteristic wit and shrewdness. Thus her art brings together the delicate, introspective refinement of Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, and Virginia Woolf and the tough, American know-how of Mark Twain, Stephen Crane and Ring Lardner….

[Above] all else [her stories] portray a wide variety of attitudes and peoples living in a recognizably human world of beauty and corruption, tenderness and hate, wonder and boredom. The stories are concerned largely with single moments of personal crisis and move towards and explore the nature of conflict as the characters struggle to clarify their choices, to come to terms with themselves and the world around them. Although a strong sense of an ordered community binds the settings of the stories together, it is the dark, inner lives of the characters that interest her more than their public faces. She is more concerned with individual self-deception than with social hypocrisy.

She has, too, the storyteller's gift of compelling attention, of capturing her reader's interest in what happens and, more particularly, in what happens next. Moreover, although her subject is often fabulous, bizarre and in itself improbable, she has the unfailing ability to maintain what she has called "believability"—to establish that imaginative confidence between reader and writer which constitutes a mutual act of poetic faith….

The stories are often concerned with those who are in some way deprived and living on the very edge of life but they see deprivation not as a social question but as a human one, a matter not of income and status but of love and loneliness. They cover the social range from faded gentry to sharecroppers and Negroes, yet their concern is always with the human dilemma, with man's failure or success in dealing with his own nature, with the realities of the life within him and the needs of those around him….

[One] of Miss Welty's outstanding characteristics as a writer is her Tennysonian ability to sustain an atmospheric mood. The world of the imagination is so fully realized in terms of the sensuous and ordinary that it is accepted without question. Although [her]...

(The entire section is 3,851 words.)