The Critical Response to Eudora Welty's Fiction

By Laurie Champion | Go to book overview

Circe suggest Elpenor's epitaph be His tomb was love in The Wand." In "Circe" she proposes the more cynical version, He died of love (536). She anticipates the lesson Alice Walker's Gloria offers in At First: "'Really, / You've got to be kidding. Other / women have already done this / sort of suffering for you, / or so I thought'"(15). Foreknowledge may in fact be better than the last word and the goddess who laughs last laughs a medusa's laugh. 16


NOTES
1
114-23. Yaeger's wide-ranging study offers a lucid and profound consideration of women writers and their relation to language/speech/dominance. Yaeger seeks to "define an alternate mythology of feminine speech" (4), finding subversion, victory, terror, espionage, resistance and liberation implicit in texts we have too quickly accepted as documents of oppression. Though Welty A Piece of News serves Yaeger as an illustration of a process and is not her principle subject, she discovers heretofore unappreciated drama in the story and reminds us of Welty's persistent doubling aesthetic -- them is never just surface, however compelling the surface may be.

Carey Wall's call for papers for the American Literature Association in 1990 asked for readings of Welty's fiction that demonstrated power and creativity despite patriarchal oppression, readings that discovered resources in female figures that accounted for their singular vitality amidst often unsatisfying, even miserable circumstance. Since my presentation of an earlier version of this essay at this conference, I discovered Yaeger's amazing book, and much of my revision is indebted to what I learned from it.

2
Kenneth Burke A Rhetoric of Motives ( Berkeley: U of California P, 1969). In his discussion of the etymology of "glamour," Burke links the word to the corrupted "gramarye," which meant magic and stemmed from days when the power to read and write granted status. Burke's focus is the "hierarchic motive" that influences perception and may grant "radiance due to . . . place in the social order." As he extends connotations for the word, he ties it to weakness of sight, charms that alter sight, even "a kind of haze in the air, causing things to appear different from what they really are; any artificial interest in, or association with, an object, through which it appears delusively magnified or glorified" (210). I invoke Burke as a way to remedy the syndrome Virginia Woolf identified whereby women "reflect the figure of man at twice his natural size." If this is what the cultural practice of glamorizing maleness has done (inflation), feminist readers must mad and resist the aura; in effect, they must counter the distorting tradition with a compensatory and liberating blurring of the dominant images and investing "deviant" female activity with now versions of glamor. I am grateful to Daryl Palmer for alerting me to Burke's reading of glamour.
3
Though there is dispute as to whether or not Irigaray's writings "qualify" as legitimate feminism or philosophy, I have found her perspectives on desire, philosophical dissent, and sexuality essential. For application of her insights to a canonical author see my essay on Faulkner Eula Varner in Mississippi Quarterly, 42.3 ( 1989): 281-97. For a lucid and engaging reading of Irigaray's career and thought act Margaret Whitford Luce Irigaray: Philosophy of the Feminine ( London: Routledge, 1991).
4
Irigaray goes on to argue that "feminine pleasure is the greatest threat of all to masculine discourse" (157). Functioning only as a commodity in this masculine economy, women, according to Irigaray, may disrupt the power in such a system by expressing their own desires going "to market alone" (158). Ruby, of course, sings, talks, and even takes herself to "market' with the driver of the car with lucky Tennessee plates. Irigaray's analysis of what threatens male pleasure proves a dark corollary to Atwood's discovery that above all men fear being laughed at by women.
5
Yaeger observes that Ruby's "dampness" at the story's opening is the only interesting feature in a minimal opening (135); but she does not particularly pursue the role of water, since her central argument focuses on Ruby's relationship to the newspaper, and her subsequent use of it to give "birth to herself" (117). I find Hollenbaugh's view of the weather and Ruby's "intense experience of self" more satisfying on this point (63). W.U. McDonald, Jr.'s invaluable collation of Welty's revisions of this story stresses that the emergence of the storm is a specific device by which Welty has made Ruby more "vulnerable and sensuous" (235); but McDonald shares the view of Ruby as ultimately lonely and sees Clyde, though not the focus of the story, certainly more "stolid" and "dignified" than I, in this far less generous reading of him, do. I resist Schmidt's view that Welty revised Clyde to make him more "ironic" as well (36).

-352-

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