The Critical Response to Eudora Welty's Fiction

By Laurie Champion | Go to book overview

American Fairy Tale

Lionel Trilling

Eudora Welty's little fairy-tale novel has been greeted with considerable reserve. The reviewers have given it the respect obviously due a book by the author of "A Curtain of Green", and they have expressed great admiration for its prose. But most of them have been disappointed, and some of them have attributed Miss Welty's lack of success to the impossibility or the impropriety of what she has tried to do. For "The Robber Bridegroom" translates the elements of European fairy tales into the lore of the American frontier -- its princess is a Mississippi girl who gathers pot herbs at the edge of the indigo field, its mild father-king is a planter, its bridegroom with a secret that must not be pried into is a river bandit, its giant is the fabulous flatboatman Mike Fink, its Rumpelstiltskinesque creature of earth is a whitetrash boy, its spirits of air are Indians.

It seems to me that we cannot judge on principle the possibility or the propriety of this transmogrification. To be sure, there is a hint of quaintness in the conception; still, if it were well done it could be done, and if it has not been well done by Miss Welty it might yet be done by someone else who thought it worth trying. But what I find disappointing in the book is not its conception but its manner -- exactly that element which has been generally exempted from blame, Miss Welty's prose. This is in the fashion of sophisticated Celtic simplicity -- the jacket blurb speaks accurately of its connection with "the Crock of Gold" -- and it aims at an added piquancy by introducing American idioms. It is sometimes witty, it is always lucid and graceful, and it has the simplicity of structure that is no doubt the virtue of modern prose. But its lucidity, its grace, and its simplicity have a quality that invalidates them all -- they are too conscious, especially the simplicity, and nothing can be falser, more purple and "literary," than conscious simplicity. This is prose whose eyes are a little too childishly wide; it is a

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