West Virginia Touches in Eudora Welty's Fiction

By Tedford, Barbara Wilkie | The Southern Literary Journal, Spring 1986 | Go to article overview

West Virginia Touches in Eudora Welty's Fiction


Tedford, Barbara Wilkie, The Southern Literary Journal


Eudora's Welty's native state of Mississippi provides the setting for most of her fiction, but it is evident that her mother's home state of West Virginia made a significant impression upon her, too. References to West Virginia occur in The Optimist's Daughter (1972) and perhaps in her other fiction as well. It is apparent that Welty has drawn from her memories of trips to visit relatives and from stories her mother, Chestina Andrews Welty, must have told her about life in the mountains of Clay County, West Virginia. She writes in One Writer's Beginnings (1984), "I think when my mother came to Jackson [Mississippi] she brought West Virginia with her. Of course, I brought some of it with me too" (55).

The extent of the influence of Welty's family upon her life has been thoroughly told in One Writer's Beginnings. She confirms what her readers have suspected, that she listened carefully as a child to what her family and other adults around her were saying. Her mother's family's penchant for anecdotes and tall stories must have contributed a great deal to the development of Welty's comic genius. Much of the humor of the storytelling in The Ponder Heart (1954) and Losing Battles (1970), as well as in The Optimist's Daughter, lies in an angle of vision related to the position of the family in small rural towns. Family pride causes her characters to relish anecdotes that depend for their comic effect on recognition of class distinctions.

Welty's memories of her mother's West Virginia upbringing form an important thread in The Optimist's Daughter, as the character Laurel, surviving her parents in the 1960's, remembers what her mother, Becky Thurston McKelva, has told her about life "up home." Like Welty's own mother, Becky was a school teacher before her marriage and move to Mississippi. In the novel Becky used to ride horseback to school at Beechy Creek seven miles over Nine Mile Mountain at the turn of the century. In One Writer's Beginnings, Welty describes how her own mother rode a horse part way to the one-room school where she taught before her marriage in 1904: "She left home every day on her horse; since she had the river to cross, a little brother rode on her horse behind her, to ride him home, while she rowed across the river in a boat. And he would be there to meet her with her horse again at evening. All this way, to pass the time, she told me, she recited the poems in McGuffey's Readers out loud" (52). (There is a Beechy Creek in Clay County, too, although this may nor have been where Chestina Andrews taught.)

Laurel is named after West Virginia's state flower, the big laurel, or rhododendron. A map of Clay County also shows a Big Laurel Creek, a Laurel Fork, and a Laurel Run--all common Appalachian place names, of course. The county is filled with mountains, and Welty states that her grandfather had built his house "to stand on the very top of the highest mountain he could find" (One Writer's Beginnings 47). (Clay County deed books reveal that E.R. Andrews bought property in that county in 1884, 1887, 1889, and 1890. He bought a 100-acre tract plus ten acres in 1890.) Laurel's grandfather, like Welty's own Grandfather Ed Andrews (she calls him "Ned"), was a lawyer who lived on a mountain "five times as high as the courthouse roof, straight up behind it, and the river went rushing in front of it like a road. It was its only road" (The Optimist's Daughter 138). This is the Elk River, running through the narrow valley over Queen's Shoals, mentioned in the novel, although Welty has moved these shoals a little upstream for her purposes. They sound, she says, "like a roomful of mesmerized school-children reciting to their teacher" (The Optimist's Daughter 137).

There were no bridges across the Elk River before the 1920's, when Welty's mother was bringing her little girl to West Virginia to visit the relatives in the summers. Arriving by railroad at what was probably Dundon, they would ring the bell to summon the ferry, a johnboat, to take them across the river. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

West Virginia Touches in Eudora Welty's Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.