Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Losing Battles was published to the great anticipation of those discriminating readers who had valued Welty’s short stories and novels since the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Few American writers with a relatively small body of work such as Welty’s have been so honored by their literary peers. Although Welty had published several novels before Losing Battles, her reputation rested (and still rests) on her short stories, and only in the 1970’s and 1980’s has she gained a wide readership commensurate with her critical standing.

Losing Battles, her first long novel, is radically different from the style and structure of her short stories. It does not have the tight mythic and symbolic pattern of the stories or their usual metaphoric structure. It is rather epic in intent, focusing less on the individual lives of her Southern grotesques than on the collective life of the culture from which they all spring. Thus, it is diffuse rather than tight; moreover, its attempts to replicate the oral culture which it both celebrates and laments make it seem idiosyncratic and therefore inaccessible to the general reader.

Losing Battles was enthusiastically received by many critics and praised as a masterpiece; some reviewers, however, suggested that it was a masterpiece that would remain largely unread. Misunderstanding the values of the rural culture from which it springs, many critics tended to identify with...

(The entire section is 517 words.)