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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

from dull to fascinating

Much of the first of the Welty biography reads like this:

"She saw a new exhibition of work by her Yaddo pal Karnig Nalbandian, longing to buy some of the beautiful pieces, then dined with him at Nona Balakian's. She spent one weekend with the Russells and another visiting the Robert Penn Warrens and the Cleanth Brooks in New Haven. She attended the opening of Lehman Engel's Mikado and went to a party at his apartment" (221).

Lots of names, no real personalities. Even her letters are accounts of who and what with no real commentary or introspection.

But, finally, an excerpt from one of her lectures shimmers with genuine Welty:

"...that Southerners do write--probably they must write. It is the way they are: born readers and reciters, great document holders, diary keepers, letter exchangers and savers, history tracers--and, outstaying the rest, great talkers. Emphasis in talk is on the narrative form and the verbatim conversation, for which time is needed. Children who grow up listening through rewarding stretches of unhurried time, reading in big lonely rooms, dwelling in the confidence of slow-changing places, are naturally more prone than other children to be entertained from the first by life and to feel free, encouraged, and then in no time compelled to pass their pleasure on. They cannot help being impressed by a world around them where history has happened in the yard or come into the house, where all round the countryside big things happened and monuments stand to the memory of fiery deeds still to be heard from the lips of grandparents, the columns in the field or the familiar cedar avenue leading uphill to nothing, where such-and-such a house once stood. At least one version of an inextinguishable history of everybody and his grandfather is a community possession, not for a moment to be forgotten--just added to, with due care, mostly. The individual is much too cherished as such for his importance ever to grow diminished in a story. The rarity in a man is what is appreciated and encouraged" (240-41).

And " must have something to do with this fury of writing with which the South is charged. If one thing stands out in these writers, all quite different from another, it is that each feels passionately about Place. And not merely in the historical and prideful meaning of the word, but in the sensory meaning, the breathing world of sight and smell and sound, in its earth and water and sky, its time and its seasons" (241).

Isn't that wonderful prose? Engaging, informative, and imaginative. I love it.

Just when I was about to close the book and move on, I find what I was looking for. From here on out, I will skim the itinerary and date book accounts and search for these lovely nuggets. Her letters improve at this point, too, seeming more thoughtful and personal--less saw ___, dined at ___, met with ___.

Ironically, golden boy is less engaging now.


  1. Thank you for this! As a fellow Southerner, I can understand and appreciate these views.

  2. Ah, I didn't realize you were a Southerner, Paris. Should have when I read your poem, though, shouldn't I?

    Welty gets next to you in those passages, doesn't she?