The Critical Response to Eudora Welty's Fiction

By Laurie Champion | Go to book overview

The Continuity of Love

James Boatwright

Admirers of Eudora Welty work have had a busy time of it since their first sight of The Optimist's Daughter. It was published in The New Yorker in the spring of 1969. At that time I was putting together an issue of Shenandoah as a tribute to Miss Welty, to which Reynolds Price contributed a detailed reading of the story, calling it her "strongest, richest work" -- which was saying a lot but not, in my opinion, too much.

But that was before the publication, in April 1970, of the comic and epic Losing Battles, a long novel overflowing with both youthful energy a serene, impartial wisdom. It was a book that a writing career and a body of work even as distinguished as Miss Welty's had hardly prepared us for. With the exception of Delta Wedding, her work had been essentially miniaturist: much in little, the perfectly controlled and executed novella and short story. As John Aldridge noted in his review, Losing Battles challenged Faulkner on his home ground, in ambitiousness and scope.

Then Random House published last year Miss Welty photograph album of her Mississippi neighbors in the 1930s, One Time, One Place. An object lesson in the proprieties of photographing other human beings, it showed us definitively that the documentary camera is not necessarily a savage or a sentimentally condescending eye but can have the complexity and truthfulness of vision of a gifted novelist. The preface, written over 30 years after the taking of the pictures, tells the reader as much about Miss Welty and her fiction -- but indirectly, obliquely -- as it does about the photographs.

Now, to further complicate our responses, to disarm our complacent notions about what the proper limits of energy and invention are, The Optimist's Daughter appears in book form, with deceptively understated information that it "appeared originally in The New Yorker in a shorter and different form." To be specific, she has added 10,000 words to the original

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