The Critical Response to Eudora Welty's Fiction

By Laurie Champion | Go to book overview

Persephone in Eudora Welty's "Livvie"

Peggy W. Prenshaw

Eudora Welty Livvie," the story of a young woman who is "carried away" from home and family by an aged husband to a remote house on the sunken Natchez Trace, calls to mind at once the myth of Persephone's abduction by Hades.1 Although many critics have examined Welty's use of mythic material in this and other stories, no one has explored the elaborate and insistent pattern of details identifying Livvie and the characters surrounding her with the Persephone myth.2 Perhaps what is most extraordinary about this story, and largely overlooked, is Welty's fusing of a realistic story set in the Mississippi countryside not only with the well-known episode involving Persephone, but with a motif of death and regeneration drawn from the related myths of Demeter and Dionysus, specifically, from the Eleusinian Mysteries.

A brief analysis of some of the main details of the story shows how explicitly Livvie is identified with Persephone. She is sixteen when she marries Solomon, "an only girl." The ambiguous words of the omniscient narrator suggest the youth and uniqueness associated with Persephone, often known as the Kore, Demeter's only daughter. Unlike Persephone, Livvie goes willingly with Solomon, but we are told "she had not thought she could not get back." Further, "where she came from people said an old man did not want anybody in the world to ever find his wife, for fear they would steal her back from him" (p. 153).

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone remains hidden from her mother for nine days when at last the Sun reveals her whereabouts. Livvie

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1
Livvie in The Wide Net and Other Stories ( New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1943). Subsequent page references are to Selected Stoder of Eudora Welry ( New York: Modern Library, 1954).
2
See especially Neil Isaacs, Eudora Welty ( Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1969), p. 4.

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