In This Article Eudora Welty

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Archives and Collections
  • Reception

American Literature Eudora Welty
by
Pearl Mchaney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0125

Introduction

During her lifetime, Eudora Alice Welty (b. 1909–d. 2001) published more than forty short stories, five novels, a collection of essays and reviews, an autobiography, and two major books of photographs taken primarily in the 1930s and 1940s. Welty was the first living writer to have her work collected in the Library of America series, with Stories, Essays, and Memoir and Complete Novels (1998). She was born and lived most of her life in Jackson, Mississippi, and her home is now a national historical site, The Eudora Welty House and Garden, which includes a separate visitor and education center. Welty often resided in New York City for weeks at a time, however, and she had two extended stays in San Francisco, and also traveled to Europe and England for both long (four months and eight months) and short (three weeks) periods. Her first story, “Death of a Traveling Salesman” (1936), was accepted for publication in Manuscript, a little magazine in Ohio. That same month she exhibited forty-five photographs in a photographic gallery in New York City. The next year, 1937, she published seven more stories, had a second photograph exhibit, and saw six photographs published in Life magazine. The stories won awards; the photographs did not. In 1940, Welty and Diarmuid Russell began a lifelong relationship as author and agent, as described in Author and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell (Kreyling 1991, cited under Correspondence). With Russell’s efforts, Welty’s work gained national attention. In rapid succession she published A Curtain of Green and Other Stories (1941), The Robber Bridegroom (1942), The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943), Delta Wedding (1946), The Golden Apples (1949, a cycle of stories), The Ponder Heart (1955, a novella adapted for Broadway in 1956), and The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories (1955). After a hiatus of lecturing and caring for her aging mother, Welty published two more novels: Losing Battles (1970) and the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Optimist’s Daughter (1972). With One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression: A Snapshot Album (1971), she collected 100 of her 1930s photographs. The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays and Reviews (1978) and The Collected Stories (1980), which included her two 1960s civil rights stories—“Where Is the Voice Coming From?,” based on the murder of Medgar Evers, and “The Demonstrators”— seemed to cap her work. In 1984, however, she published One Writer’s Beginnings, her autobiography, and in 1989 she published Photographs, with 235 images. Beginning in 1938, Welty had four stories included in Best American Stories and eight in the O. Henry Prize annuals, with two first place and two second place awards. She was honored with the Gold Medal for Fiction of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1972), the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1986), the French Chevalier de l’Order des Arts et Lettres (1987), the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (1991), and the French Legion d’Honneur (1996).

General Overviews

Vande Kieft 1987 (first published in 1962) provided the initial interpretation of Welty’s fiction, including the early uncollected stories, by theme (innocence to experience), style (comedy), or title (The Golden Apples), providing the comprehensive study called for by John Edward Hardy in 1952 (See Hardy 1986, cited under the Robber Bridegroom, Delta Wedding, and The Ponder Heart). Prior to Vande Kieft, only a dozen or so critical essays of ten pages or more addressed Welty’s work. Most of the many critical books on Welty published since 1962 provide a focused thematic reading. Kreyling 1980 extends Vande Kieft’s conservative readings in a formalist study of patterns and styles, title by title, and Kreyling 1999 succinctly and elegantly reviews the composition, publication, reception, and critical issues of each work, adding fresh insights for even the senior scholar. Marrs 2002, by the author of the most comprehensive Welty biography, reads the fiction with biographical and historical evidence. Schmidt 1991 provides the best comprehensive analysis of the short fiction. Pollack and Marrs 2001 and Pollack 2013 collect essays that significantly revise 20th-century readings of the work. Weston 1994 presents an excellent study of Welty’s narrative style in comparison with the major 19th-century Romantics.

  • Kreyling, Michael. Eudora Welty’s Achievement of Order. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

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    Essential reading. Formalist study of Welty’s fiction in the context (patterns, style, images) of her peers, rather than a thematic or regional study. Lucid and thorough without forcing a unified or singular meaning. Excellent for initial study of the author and for experienced scholars to reread.

  • Kreyling, Michael. Understanding Eudora Welty. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

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    Chapters review the composition, publication, reception, and critical history of each of Welty’s collections of stories, novels, and autobiography, as well as outlining major themes. A useful guide to students and nonacademics, with occasional new insights for experienced scholars.

  • Marrs, Suzanne. One Writer’s Imagination. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.

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    Chronological study of the fiction, with consideration of the familial, historical, local, and national events, revised from multiple published essays. New analysis of impact of WW II, politics, racism, and romantic relationships evident in the fiction. Draws on personal relationship with Welty, interviews, manuscript drafts, and correspondence. For advanced students and scholars.

  • Mortimer, Gail L. Daughter of the Swan: Love and Knowledge in Eudora Welty’s Fiction. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    From psychoanalytic object-relations, mythology, poets ranging from Coleridge to Yeats, comparisons with Faulkner, images of domes, moons, circles, and labyrinths, the author teases out an analysis of Welty’s personal and fictional understanding of knowledge in a multitude of contexts. For advanced students and scholars.

  • Pollack, Harriet, ed. Eudora Welty, Whiteness, and Race. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013.

    E-mail Citation »

    One revised and eleven original essays extend the examination of the author’s fiction and photography analyzed in Pollack and Marrs 2001 with a focus on racial politics, racialized whiteness, and race as performance. In addition, Griffith 2013 and McWhirter 2013 (cited under Novels and Short Fiction Combined), Marrs 2013 (cited under Biographies), and Watson 2013 (cited under Photography) provide especially significant perspectives on Welty and race.

  • Pollack, Harriet, and Suzanne Marrs, ed. Eudora Welty and Politics: Did the Writer Crusade? Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

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    Ten essays prove that, despite Welty’s assumed political silence, her writing and photographs (fourteen printed here) are indeed political, responding to race, education, filial piety, modernism, New Nationalism, the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, McCarthyism, or the Rosenberg trials. See Prenshaw 2001 (cited under Novels and Short Fiction Combined) for a significant overview, and Harrison 2001 (cited under “Where is the Voice Coming From?” and “The Demonstrators”) on “The Demonstrators.” See also Baris 2001 (cited under the Robber Bridegroom, Delta Wedding, and The Ponder Heart) and Mark 2001 (cited under Losing Battles and The Optimist’s Daughter)

  • Schmidt, Peter. The Heart of the Story: Eudora Welty’s Short Fiction. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

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    Significant and mostly successful reading of the entirety of Welty’s short fiction within the literary traditions of myth, tragedy, comedy, and American women’s literature. Especially useful in Schmidt’s considerations of manuscript drafts and revisions. Extends readings in Vande Kieft 1987.

  • Vande Kieft, Ruth M. Eudora Welty. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1962, this was the first book-length consideration of the author’s oeuvre. It established Welty as an author to be studied in the academy and provided the standard reading from which other analyses followed in agreement, expansion, diversion, or disagreement. Revised edition includes reconsideration of “The Bride of the Innisfallen” and publications since 1955. Important for advanced students and beginning scholars to understand the genesis of Welty criticism.

  • Weston, Ruth G. Gothic Traditions and Narrative Techniques in the Fiction of Eudora Welty. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.

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    Dismisses the simplistic reading of Welty as a gothic writer through consideration of the historic and literary innovations and traditions of the gothic style throughout Welty’s fiction. Contextualizes Welty with the 19th-century Romantics. The best book-length study of Welty’s narrative style.

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