Eudora Welty 1909–
American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
Welty is a southern regionalist frequently compared to William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Caroline Gordon. Her stories of family life in small towns in the Deep South are built around what Paul Marx has called "the complex networks of judgments, misjudgments, and rejudgments," and sometimes take on the elusive qualities of dreams.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 5, 14, Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed., and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2: American Novelists since World War II.)
Eudora Welty admires Jane Austen and owes much to her and indeed stands in the same relation to fellow-Mississippian William Faulkner that Austen stood to [Walter] Scott. With little interest in history or social themes, she concentrates on the ordinary people of her country who go about the business of loving and hating and talking about their neighbors as if there were nothing more important in the world. But within this close range, she scrutinizes her subject and registers its vibrations with a tenderness of attention that places her closer to the heartbeat of her region than Faulkner himself.
If she shows greater variation than her eighteenth-century predecessor, it is not because her aim is different but because she lives in another age and her work inevitably shows it. Like Miss Austen, she remains aloof from social and political events of her time, but with one important difference. In spite of the French Revolution and Napoleon, England was confident and self-contained, and the Catherines, Elizabeths, and Emmas could go on flirting and finding husbands in a way of life that was apparently immutable. After two hundred years, even though Miss Welty's village remains intact, the world outside is not, and disturbing voices are beginning to be heard. Instead of writing about home and social ties, the old standbys of the English novel, young writers today are peering, in Miss Welty's words, through "knot-holes of isolation."
She does not take much to isolation—as no one could who believes in the family as she does—but feels very keenly the plight of the individual who pursues his own dream, never quite going the whole way perhaps but suffering from loneliness even while playing his part in the family life. Thus in the midst of what appears light comedy, she shifts abruptly to the subjective, and at times in fact appears uncertain where her main interest lies, with the individual or the social circle he belongs to. She veers from characters like Miss Eckhart and Miss Julia Mortimer and the other seekers of "the golden apples" to the village at large, loud with the clatter of ordinary life. Jane Austen's interest could not have been so divided because her audience would not have tolerated the private eye in fiction. She keeps passion offstage, concealed in a social mode, and so achieves a synthesis that Miss Welty's fiction lacks.
The gulf between "June Recital" and "Why I Live at the P. O.," for example, is very great indeed. One is in the major, the other a minor key. Miss Eckhart, Virgie Rainey, and Cassie Morrison are tragic figures, while in the other story Miss Welty is out for fun and the reader is not asked to consider what lies behind the old maid's spiteful antics. These disparities, however, are more apparent than real. In the long view, as one takes leave of a Welty story, the private voice is lost in the hubbub of family or community at large: the vision is essentially social. Whatever problems the individual may have—and they are sometimes very great indeed—can best be dealt with among those he knows best in some sort of conformity to the general pattern.
This public rather than private view sets her work in perspective, frames it in time and space and, like Miss Austen's, adorns it with the particularities of her culture, which to the outside world at least seems almost as remote as eighteenth-century Hampshire…. Of all the Southern writers,...
(The entire section is 8,387 words.)