Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Up in Tishomingo County: Eudora Welty's Passion "To Part a Curtain"

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Up in Tishomingo County: Eudora Welty's Passion "To Part a Curtain"

Article excerpt

Dear Members of the Nobel Prize for Literature Committee: Under separate cover I am sending you copies of Eudora Welty's novels, her recently collected stories and essays, and four recent volumes of criticism of her work. I would urge you to pass them around, beginning with her fiction and proceeding then to Mr. Kreyling's book which so ably defines the theme of connection, communication--love--that dominates her work. (I am also enclosing an earlier study by Ruth Vande Kieft which the Kreyling book complements.) Frustrated that you folks can't know what you ace missing in not inviting Miss Eudora for a visit--she loves Maine so I'm sure she'd come, I'm also including a videotape of her 1978 educational television appearances. It should give you some idea.

This gesture in the interest of due recognition of Miss Welty's work (and saving you further embarrassment in continuing to overlook her compelling claim to your notice) may be unorthodox. I have no idea how you proceed, though certain motives seem evident: one of the fine American Jewish writers, a writer in Yiddish, an Iron Curtain emigre.... But with all appropriate motives in mind, let me note that Miss Welty is just now the South's, the nation's, perhaps the world's pre-eminent woman writer. Actually, I know no fiction writer today, of any sex, who is her equal. These critical volumes will, I am confident, lead you to share that view.

Please forgive my presumption, but somebody had to ...

With due respect for the work of all those critics who have read Eudora Welty's work well, in Michael Kreyling's Eudora Welty's Achievement of Order her fiction has found a reader who joins perception, respect, and humility in the required degree to do justice to her accomplishment. The only pity is that his name is not Brooks or Heilman or, better, Howe or Kazin. Perhaps in Stockholm they would take notice.

Kreyling observes that Welty's art, like all good art, teaches us how to read it. What he finds in his lessons is a writer whose world "is naturally rich in nuance and allusion, suggestion and mystery; it possesses the coherence and the integrity of a living thing." At times, he acknowledges, "the integrity of her vision stays beyond the reach of analysis." The work is, as Welty says, an "achievement of order, passionately conceived and passionately carried out." In every case, it requires of the reader as well as the writer imagination, sensibility, and vision. The reader becomes a partner, "working toward the same moment of communication for which the author strives."

Welty's theme, Kreyling concludes, is love, which embraces both separation and union. Another time he says, "Welty's constant theme is communication itself, the state of human existence in which individuals, because of some connection with each other in the natural world, become more than the simple integers they might seem. Every hero and heroine, from Mrs. Larkin to Laurel McKelva Hand, leaving the private, silent world of memory, grief, or dream, crosses a threshold into a real world that is enriched by that very entry, by that self so long withheld."

Kreyling's journey takes him through her exceptional uses of myth, imagery, symbol, and point of view that serve to reveal "the still moment in the flux" that has, from the start, been Welty's vocation: "... Away off one day up in Tishomingo County, I knew this, anyway: that my wish, indeed my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight."

For an explanation of the order Welty gives her experience in A Curtain of Green, Kreyling turns to her own photographic metaphor: "I learned quickly enough when to click the shutter, but what I was becoming aware of more slowly was a story-writer's truth: the thing to wait on, to reach there in time for, is the moment in which people reveal themselves. …

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