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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Eudora Welty : Complete Novels: The Robber Bridegroom, Delta Wedding, The Ponder Heart, Losing Battles, The Optimist's Daughter (Library of America) » User review

Mistress of Southern Fiction

  • Dec 20, 2006
Each new volume from The Library of America, the non-profit publisher that has become the de facto literary hall of fame, is a cause for celebration. Its goal of preserving in an enduring format the best fiction and non-fiction is a significant bulwark against the encroaching tides of cultural relativism that attempts to render any value judgments meaningless, as well as a consumer society that insists that if it ain't new, it ain't good.

In the case of Eudora Welty, we're given two volumes: a collection of five novels ("The Robber Bridegroom," "Delta Wedding," "The Ponder Heart," "Losing Battles" and the Pulitzer-winning "The Optimist's Daughter"), and another of her essays, her memoir "One Writer's Beginnings" and her short stories. From her first published short stories, "Lily Daw and the Three Ladies" in 1937, to her last novel in 1972, Welty captures with her highly readable style and sharp eye and ear the varieties and eccentricities of Southern life.

But while the South claims Welty as one of its own, she may not necessarily return the favor. Teh cause is both geographic and a matter of choice. Although she was born in Jackson, Miss., in 1909 and lived there all her life, her father was from Ohio and her mother from West Virginia, a state created by the Civil War that went for the Union. This isn't Margaret Mitchell we're talking about here.

Then, in her essay "Place in Fiction," she stresses that while it is important for a writer to capture the feeling of an area, it is not the paramount goal in fiction:

"It is through place that we put out roots ... but where those roots reach toward ... is the deep and running vein, eternal and consistent and everywhere purely itself, that feeds and is fed by the human understanding."

But what pedigree does not provide, her environment probably did, for her work contains those elements poularly associated with Southern fiction. "Delta Wedding" celebrates the Southern family through the sprawling Fairchild clan and its passel of sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, great-aunts, nieces and nephews, all involved in each others' lives to a degree rarely seen today.

Many of her stories revolve around characters marginalized by society, struggling to exist and reach out to others: the simple Lily Daw who tries to evade the determination of the town's ladies to either marry her off or send her to the asylum; the generous, slightly retarded Daniel Ponder who would give away everything he has at the drop of a hat; the demented Clytie in "A Curtain of Green," who rushes about looking in people's faces until, seeing her reflection in a barrel of rainwater, dives in and drowns.

Eudora Welty was a sharp, perceptive writer, and her enshrinement by the Library of America is most welcome.

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More Eudora Welty : Complete Novels... reviews
review by . May 06, 2013
A tersely written novel whose value rises to the occasion once the book is fully read and absorbed.
The Optimist's Daughter was a subtle read. Yet, Welty expertly conveys the colorful nuances of New Orleans and Mississippi culture, especially Mardi Gras, the assorted southern mansions, a clownishly outfitted cat, the neighborhood as well as their compassionate yet busybody endless curiosity of their meddling behavior. That was just a small component of the novel. She really captures the essence of small town Mayberry life. It's sweet but also rather suffocating without diminishing the …
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Bill Peschel ()
Ranked #476
Bill Peschel was born in 1960 in Ohio, and grew up there and in North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in journalism. At The Avalon Hill Game Company … more
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This Library of America volume gathers all the long fiction published by the beloved Mississippi writer Eudora Welty. Throughout her long and storied career, Welty has been most famous, perhaps, for her short stories. But it's in her novels that she attempted some of her most ambitious and powerful creations: the idiosyncratic fable that isThe Robber Bridegroom, drawing on legends, local history, folktale, and myth; the underrated, wickedly funny short novelThe Ponder Heart; andLosing Battles, a familial epic 15 years in the making and begun in bits and pieces while Welty cared for her sick mother. In a strange inversion of the author's usual career trajectory, Welty's only attempt at aroman à clefcame late in life, with thePulitzer Prize-winningThe Optimist's Daughter, the quiet, moving, largely autobiographical story of a woman coming to grips with her father's death. The novels alone earn Welty a place as one of the finest writers our century has produced; taken together with the Library of America companion volume,Stories, Essays, & Memoir, it's a body of work that William Maxwell calls "beyond human power of praising." Welty rarely strayed for long from the place of her birth, but her fiction is as capacious as the human heart itself. Like Faulkner, she has taken her own corner of Mississippi and made it encompass the world.
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ISBN-10: 188301154X
ISBN-13: 978-1883011543
Author: Eudora Welty
Publisher: Library of America

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