by Ann Waldron ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1998
An unauthorized (and the first full-length) biography of the grande dame of southern literature succeeds only partially in its daunting task: to shed light on the personal life of an intensely private woman who prefers that her work speak for itself. Faced with Welty's polite but firm refusal to cooperate, Waldron (Hodding Carter: The Reconstruction of a Racist, 1993) perseveres where several potential biographers quit. Shut out by Welty's friends, she gleans what she can from letters, other writers' biographies, and distant acquaintances. Welty's autobiographical writing--One Writer's Beginnings and prefaces to her photography collections--provides additional background already known to devotees. Waldron's main accomplishment is consolidating the writer's far-flung commentary on her work from newspapers and writing-anthology interviews. Waldron remains respectful, even when entertaining speculation about the unmarried writer's sexuality, including the nature of her intense friendship with British writer Elizabeth Bowen, or her difficult relationship with her mother. The literary influence of Katherine Anne Porter and agent Diarmuid Russell are detailed, as is Welty's antipathy for Carson McCullers. Revelations are generally minor (her first book, A Curtain of Green, was titled by her publisher's sales staff, for example), but there are genuine insights. Examining the society column Welty wrote in the 1930s for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Waldron sees ""flashes of the wit and the eye for detail, even the feeling for family, that would distinguish Eudora's fiction."" She finds it notable that, despite familiarity with upper-class society, Welty ""did not become the Edith Wharton of Jackson,"" a chronicler of belles and balls, but wrote about poor whites and blacks she met on her travels as a WPA publicist. The chapter on Welty's WPA work illustrates what is perhaps an unavoidable shortcoming (but a shortcoming nonetheless): Waldron's research yields barely three pages on this important formative period. A passable introduction to a hugely important writer--more a starting point than a comprehensive summing up.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998
Page Count: 416
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998
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