The Critical Response to Eudora Welty's Fiction

By Laurie Champion | Go to book overview

The Loving Vision

Robert Drake

"I have been told, both in approval and in accusation, that I seem to love all my characters," writes Eudora Welty in the preface to her Collected Stories. And she continues: "What I do in writing of any character is to try to enter into the mind, heart, and skin of a human being who is not myself. Whether this happens to be a man or a woman, old or young, with skin black or white, the primary challenge lies in making the jump itself. It is the act of a writer's imagination that I set most high." I think every imaginative writer worth his salt would subscribe to this latter article of faith, but it is to Miss Welty's original observation that I should like to devote myself now -- the love for her characters attributed to her. For that is precisely her attitude toward them, I've always felt -- the same as that of Katherine Mansfield, a writer whom Miss Welty has admired and whom she once described to me as very "tough," toward her own creations. This has nothing to do with whether an author likes his creations; but he must honor them as entities, not just manipulate them as puppets. And it all involves a good deal of piety, a good deal of respect for both the act of creation and the fact of life.

A case in point: Miss Welty surely could not like the monstrous harridans of "Petrified Man," the story Katherine Anne Porter called a merciless exposure of vulgarity, funny and grotesque though they may be. But I think, in a way, she must have loved them, loved the terrifying, perverse vitality they embody, to have realized them so splendidly. Because Miss Welty, like any first-rate artist, is always, has got always to be, on the side of life. To vote for life involves for artist or layman or whomever an enormous exercise of love.

Often her very theme has been love. Robert Penn Warren has observed that a recurring motif in her work is that of love and separateness, which

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