A friend and noted scholar of the graciously skilled Southern author fashions a beaming, hefty salute to her long, fruitful life.
Marrs (English/Millsaps Coll.) takes issue with Ann Waldron’s unauthorized biography (Eudora, 1998), which depicted the author as a “charming and successful ugly duckling,” and with Claudia Roth Pierpont’s equally reductive New Yorker portrait of “a perfect lady—a nearly Petrified Woman.” This weightily detailed volume emphasizes Welty’s restless vitality and openness to new experience. The author does not deal in psychoanalytical fine points. In her account, Welty (1909–2001) had a happy childhood in Jackson, Miss., sheltered by adoring parents with whom she would live well into her adult years, but broadened by travel, especially to New York City. Moving from photography, her first love, to fiction, Welty encountered success fairly early and by 1936 saw the publication of her first story, “Death of a Traveling Salesman,” along with an exhibition of her photographs at a New York gallery. She gradually built up a repertory of exquisitely crafted stories, published as A Curtain of Green in 1941, and garnered a close working relationship with the literary names that would mentor and sponsor her, such as Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Penn Warren, William Maxwell and loyal agent Diarmuid Russell. Welty overcame the crushing disappointment of never marrying her hometown beau, John Robinson, whose inferior literary talent and conflicted sexuality drove him from her by middle age. Gracious to younger talent, she was instrumental in promoting the work of others, such as Reynolds Price. Marrs tenderly asserts that Welty enjoyed an independent life characterized by “the presence of melancholy intertwined with joy.” However, her reluctance to make autobiographical suppositions about her subject’s work leaves this volume faintly dry and ethereal.
Readable, if incomplete, account of a national treasure.