|"Elizabeth, I will for sure stop back on March 16
for Elizabeth Bowen Day during Irish Short Story
The Reading Life Staff Offers a special welcome to all University of Mississippi Students-please feel free to leave any questions or comments you might have-you can truly be proud of Eudora Welty-a world class author!
"The Petrified Man" is the second short story by Eudora Welty that I have posted on this year. Prior to this I read and enjoyed very much her famous story about family life in small town Mississippi in the early 1940s, "Why I Live at the P.O." Welty (1909 to 2001) traveled extensively but she lived all of her life in Jackson, Mississippi. Welty was mentored in her literary career by a fellow Mississippian, Katherine Anne Porter. She even visited Elizabeth Bowen at her manor house in Ireland. Welty had won a Guggenheim fellowship that allowed her to travel to Ireland and The UK. While in England she guest lectured at Oxford and that is where she met Bowen Welty won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel The Optimist's Daughter.
I have said before that overall I am not a big fan of literary works that make use of "rural dialects" in conversations of characters. I do not like it slows down my reading speed, it often seems patronizing to the characters and culture the story is about, and is it very hard to do well. Welty does the conversations beautifully without the slightest hint of condescension. "The Petrified Man" is set in a beauty parlor in small town Mississippi in the early 1940s. The people in the story either work in the parlor or are getting a hair treatment. All of the characters are women, either workers or customers.
"The Petrified" man is told almost entirely in conversation. Welty shows huge talent in keeping the story flowing forward. I really felt like I was a fly on the wall in that beauty parlor. (And I am betting there were real flies buzzing around!) The women talk about intimate details of their lives in passing conversations. I got the feeling the beauty parlor was kind of the "nerve center" for the women of the town. Of course one of the big topics of conversation is the men in their lives. Another big topic of conversation is a traveling carnival passing through the area. Most such carnivals has what at the time were called "Freak Shows". One of the people in this show is a man who is supposedly partially made of stone. He calls himself "The Petrified Man".
This story can be read online here.
"The Petrified Man" is really a lot of fun. It is what I would call a friendly story. It is not hard to read, just go a little slow. Welty's work is not yet in the public domain. I have found two more of her short stories online on the web pages of the magazines where they were originally published. I will post on them together soon. I will also, in my next post on Welty, also take a look at Harold Bloom's view of Welty, which I found very interesting and illuminating.
If you have any suggestions for short stories I might like, especially ones that can be read online, please leave a comment.