Book Meme: Mel’s Day Nine

Book Meme Challenge:

Book You Thought Wouldn’t Like You Ended Up Loving

Hurrah! Finals are complete; my current insanity might be receding. And mayhap my awareness of spelling and parts of speech will return!

Today’s contestant is . . .

Delta Wedding

By Eudora Welty

Sometimes the context in which I read certain things overly influences the way that I appreciate them. In this case, my class went straight from reading Katherine Anne Porter to reading Eudora Welty, and I was sent reeling from the contrast.

I love Porter. She has gorgeous diction, can create stunning atmosphere, demonstrates a  poetic style, and has symbolism welling out of all that she writes.

And then immediately we began to read some short stories of Welty, and I balked. The two are so completely different from each other.

Porter takes common place situations – like having a purse stolen – and draws out epic and soul-searching implications. Welty sets up a potentially epic drama – like a pregnant wife potentially drowning herself – and gives it a cool, casual air.

Porter foregrounds the feelings and confusions of the characters by making the atmosphere present rather than naming it out right, like drawing out the entangled feelings of a girl towards a Mexican rebel. Welty develops a sense of the feelings, and then promptly identifies the exact term and pigeon-hole for such situations, like “patronizing”.

Porter builds her plot into a crescendo of crashing catharsis or self-knowledge or action. Welty keeps a quiet control over anything that could veer off into tragedy.

But the most striking difference that I found was their respective styles of description. I found that Porter could make me feel the  heat beating on my neck or see the candlelight flickering off the walls. And in comparison, Welty’s depictions left me feeling dry and uninterested; they were catalogues  rather than communications of the image.

And so I did not like Welty’s short stories. (Partlyfor the same reason that I cannot stand the movie “What About Bob?”; I identify and empathize  too much with the antagonizing characters to be willing to laugh at them.) The thought of ploughing through a Welty novel made me slightly apprehensive.

But when I tried to explain this distaste to a friend in the same class, she was surprised. In fact, she found exactly the opposite than I did. She thought that Welty was the one with the wealth of imagery and Porter to be rather dry in description. She pointed out that Welty provided more actual detail and character experience in her portrayals.

For instance, a  Porter scene from “Maria Concepcion”;

The leaning jacal of dried rush-withes and corn sheaves, bound to tall saplings thrust into the earth, roofed with yellow maugey leaves flattened and overlapping like shingles, hunched drowsy and fragrant in the warmth of noonday. The hives, similarly made, were scattered towards the back of the clearing, like small mounds of clean vegetable refuse. Over each mound hung a dusty shimmer of bees.

And an example of Welty’s descriptions from Delta Wedding,

She put out her arms like wings and knew in her fingers the thready pattern of red roses in the carpet on the stairs, and she could hear the high-pitched calls and answers going up and down the stairs. She thought of the upstairs hall where it was twilight all the time from the green shadow of the awning, and where an old, lopsided baseball lay all summer in a silver dish on the lid of a paper-crammed plantation desk, and how away at either end of the hall as balcony and the little square butterflies that flew so high were going by, and the June bugs knocking. She remembered . . . .

Had I not been coming from Porter high, hopefully I wouldn’t have compared and would have at least acknowledged Welty’s skill a bit more. But as it was, expecting very little, (or at least something rather different,) Delta Wedding blew me away.

It took me little while to adjust, but the characters of novel yanked me out of my comfort zone and forced me into the story. Ellen, the mother and aunt of the story, commands my respect as a woman and as the center of the home and the narrative. The child Laura tugs at my heart until I forget that she is a fictional character and long to give her a hug. Dabney needs a good smack of reality, and I would like to share a melancholy cigarette with Shelley.

And once I started to concede, this book simply swept into my soul and nestled into the cockles of my heart. What in my arrogance I had perceived as sparseness was, in reality, intimacy. What I felt was overly simplistic was actually humanistic. What I had been appalled at as insensitive was really quite humorous. What I had labeled as stark was complex with symbolism. What I had found to be bland was exquisitely beautiful.

Katherine Ann Porter’s epic sweeps and tragic casts still entrance me, (I am Melpomene, after all, ) but Eudora Welty  has a grace and vision that shake me as well. While I am still not very fond of Welty’s short stories, Delta Wedding has a wealth of meaning, humanity, and dignity that made me fall in love.

This is a book that can “relieve the heart’s overflow”.


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