Welty, Eudora 1909–
Welty, an American novelist, short story writer, and nonfiction and juvenile writer, is considered a Southern regionalist and is frequently compared to William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Caroline Gordon. Her stories revolve around the relationships within families, focusing on the emotional complexities which face the individual. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
[Miss Welty has not] sought to create a region of her own, as Faulkner has done with his Yoknapatawpha County, and to that extent she is a less self-conscious regionalist than he. She has merely taken her material where she found it—i.e., not far from home….
When A Curtain of Green appeared, in 1941, some reviewers quickly concluded that the author was one more Southern realist with a penchant for squalor….
But if one reads carefully, it is apparent that Miss Welty is not preoccupied with violence and horror, in the way that Erskine Caldwell so often is and not even to the extent that William Faulkner sometimes is. The meaning of the story is never in the violence, nor is the abnormality of the characters their important quality. (p. 70)
Squalor, violence, and decadence have in themselves no importance for Miss Welty. They are merely facts, and facts, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are no more than means to an end. What matters in her stories is never the thing that happens but the effect of the thing on human beings. Her concern, in other words, is with states of mind, and her emphasis falls upon those emotional states that cannot be easily articulated. (p. 71)
Miss Welty knows how, if ever an author did, to let facts speak for themselves, but she does not systematically refrain, in the Hemingway manner, from the direct account of emotional states. Although her later work is never so explicit as "Death of a Traveling Salesman," she does not hesitate to tell us what is going on within the mind of a character when it serves her purpose to do so. With beautiful adroitness, of which only a deliberate analyst can be conscious, she slips from the objective to the subjective, at just the moment to achieve the maximum of revelation…. So far as technique is concerned, her characteristic quality is [to maintain a] perfect balance between the objective and the subjective.
In another sense her work is remarkably objective…. Each story is an excursion of her imagination into the minds of others, and one finds in the two collections an extraordinary variety of subject matter…. [Her] emotional range stretches from the poignant to the overwhelming, and from humor to the blackest tragedy. Nor do her stories always conform to the patterns that have been discussed. There is, for example, "Powerhouse," an enigmatic story of a Negro orchestra leader with a strong, wild rhythm in it, or there is "The Wide Net," with its fine colloquial style and country humor. Miss Welty's versatility baffles the pigeonholers.
Yet in all this variety there are, of course, persistent themes. The first is the mystery of personality, which Miss Welty perceives in two forms—the mystery of others and the mystery of self. The failure of human beings to understand one another, one of the perennial themes of literature, she treats often as tragedy and sometimes, as in "A Piece of News" and "The Wide Net," as comedy, though always with serious overtones. The mystery of identity, central in such a story as "Old Mr. Marblehall," figures in some degree in almost every one of her tales.
Closely related to this first theme is her second, the problem of what brings people together and what holds them apart. (p. 72)
The flat, poker-faced narrative [of The Robber Bridegroom] is enriched by a dry humor that delights in the absurdities that are being described, and it is interrupted by descriptive and meditative passages of great beauty and by colorfully fantastic episodes in which historical and legendary figures … take part….
(The entire section is 6,918 words.)