M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Daring Life: A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown

A Daring Life:  A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown (to be published August 2012)

A Daring Life:  A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown (University Press of Mississippi) is a very fine biography of one of the best short story writers in the world who also won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel, The Optimist's Daughter.  Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson Mississippi (in the southern portion of the United States) and she died there in 2001.   She was very rooted in Mississippi and many of her stories deal with racial strife of the era and the mental state behind it.   Brown does a very good job of explaining how much courage it took for Welty to expose the prejudices of the time in her stories but beyond this she acted on her belief in racial equality in her lectures and personal life.

Welty had what will at first seem to many a boring life to chronicle compared to writers like Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield,  and Babara Baynton.   She had no tumultuous romances, no bouts with madness, she did not die a tragic early death,  she did not suffer any great poverty or experience great riches.   The life of Welty was in her closeness to her family and friends and in her brilliant and free roaming mind.   She was very much a lover of the reading life.   Welty was a great daughter, sister and friend to many  writers but that was not all.  In  one very telling detail, Brown relays to us how when Welty met a mentally challenged man who, though he never had gotten any mail his whole life, went to the post office everyday to check his mail, began sent him regular post cards for the rest of her life.   Welty was a very kind and good person who does not seem possessed of a darker side.   This for sure could not be said of Woolf or Mansfield.  There are no scandals in the closet, maybe this is bit of a sad thing as well as a good one.

Brown does a very good job of explaining how Welty got interested in becoming a writer and her initial struggles to get published.  It was The New Yorker that helped to put Welty on the literary map and Brown explains this very well.   Brown talks about Welty's perhaps romantic interests but it appears nothing ever happened.   There are unanswered questions here.   It was great to read about Welty's friendship with Elizabeth Bowen and her visit to Bowen Castle in Ireland.  I was wonderful to read about Bowen's visit to Mississippi at one of the emotional low points in Welty's life.   One would love to have a recording of their conversations.

Welty lectured at many of the best known schools of the USA such as Harvard and additionally at Oxford.

Brown tells us about Welty's time as a photographer during the depression era in the USA.   There are lots of very interesting photographs included in the book.   There are lists of all of her published works, an appendix on her art work and her house and famous garden, which is now a museum.

A Daring Life:  A Biography of Eudora Welty by Carolyn J. Brown is a very detailed biography of Welty that also places her in the social context in which she developed and lived.   Welty traveled over much of Europe, read thousands of books, was friends with great writers like fellow Mississippians  Katherine Ann Porter and William Faulkner but you cannot understand her stories without understand what Jackson, Mississippi  was like and Brown gives us this understanding.  

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Welty and think it should be part of the budget of all libraries in the USA and UK.  that can place it there.    It will become an important work in understanding her work.  

Where does Welty rank among the great female short story writers?  I would say just a bit below Katherine Mansfield and Flannery O'Connor.

Here is a link to my prior posts on some of Eudora Welty's short stories

In the interests of full disclosure I received a pre-publication E-Book of this from the University Press of Mississippi via Net Galley.

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