Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Place and the Displaced in Eudora Welty's "The Bride of Innisfallen."

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Place and the Displaced in Eudora Welty's "The Bride of Innisfallen."

Article excerpt

Eudora Welty's short story collection Bride of the Innisfallen disoriented critics when it was published in 1955. More than half of the stories in this volume are set outside Welty's native Mississippi, and the "sense of place" that is missing from these stories may be the key reason they so bewildered Welty's readers. Today, however, that absent sense of place seems at the heart of the stories' power. In an essay which in 1986 inaugurated the Eudora Welty Chair of Southern Studies at Millsaps College, Walker Percy argued that "the virtues attributed to the Southern Renascence," "the virtues of rootedness in place and time," though they may have been stifling as well as life-enhancing, no longer characterized the South,(1) and in making this argument Percy might well have been pointing to the key distinction between Welty's earlier work and her 1955 volume of stories. In The Bride of the Innisfallen Welty continues to find sources in contemporary experience or in Mississippi history or in Greek mythology, but in writing about her travel experiences in the 1950s or about mythological beings, Welty does not suggest, as she had so often before, that place is essential to identity. Instead she deals with the way individuals can live and create meaning for themselves without being rooted in place and time. In particular, she focuses upon the nature of women's identities as they exist apart from any defining place. When the South is absent from these stories, Welty depicts travellers in a mythic landscape, in the no man's or no woman's land of a train or ship, or in transit through strange, non-Southern lands that can neither define nor shield them.(2) In "Circe," "The Bride of the Innisfallen," "Going to Naples," and "No Place for You, My Love," characters are not like the Fairchilds of Delta Wedding (1946) or the families of Morgana in The Golden Apples (1949)--they do not find their identities in the home place and they do not suspect people from "off." Yet despite the rather alien nature of place in these new stories, the characters are more often contented than tormented. They are not "roaming, like lost beasts," as Cassie Morrison believes Virgie Rainey and Miss Eckhart to be in "June Recital"; they are not destroyed as Jenny Lockhart is in "At the Landing." They, at times even joyfully, embrace the unknown and unpredictable.

Certainly, Welty's increased sense of self-confidence as a writer was a determining factor in the new patterns her stories would follow. And certainly, travel, for extended periods and to faraway lands, influenced her fiction in dramatic ways. Travel clearly served to confirm the sense of independence and contentment that Welty felt as a writer and as an individual and that she would make the central focus of The Bride of the Innisfallen. In One Writer's Beginnings (1984), Welty writes that "Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it." And she immediately adds, "This is, of course, simply saying that the outside world is the vital component of my inner life."(3) In making this assertion, Welty stresses the importance of observation and the passing of her "self-centered childhood." But travel is also tied to "the fierce independence" Welty attributes to herself (p. 60), for the traveller is one freed from the everyday, demands of home life, the traveller is one who literally chooses his course.

To some extent the home she loved so much posed a threat to Welty's fierce need for freedom. In the 1930s or 1940s she had sought to find a retreat where she could write, a Mississippi place away from Jackson, from family and friends. Her attempts to purchase a house in the small town of Learned, Mississippi, were foiled because the locals were reluctant to see a single woman buying into their community, located about twenty-five miles southwest of Jackson.(4) The quest for a room of her own was not over, however. …

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