- Eudora Welty: Eye of the Storyteller, and: Serious Daring from Within: Female Narrative Strategies in Eudora Welty's Novels, and: Erskine Caldwell Reconsidered
These three books with different strategies and different methodologies and appearances command for the projects that they reflect, and they help us to see the complexity of the work of two very different authors. The first, subtitled "Eye of The Storyteller," reminds readers that the artist makes new through artistic vision; yet we are reminded as well that craft molds vision, and that artists learn to see because of the pressures that are placed upon them.
The complexity of Eudora Welty's storytelling reverberates because of her intuitions and systematic decision as an artist who sees (and makes) beauty that becomes a new complexity. In the books edited by Dawn Trouard and written by Franziska Gygax, we are reminded of the uncompromising vision of an artist who saw she would make art of the materials surrounding her. Erskine Caldwell's prodigious literary outpouring, in part, reflects a similar awareness, yet (as we can piece together from the various contributions to the Arnold collection) distractions of life, love, money, and a separation from the region that nurtured his vision made it extremely difficult for Caldwell to sustain his artistic vision. Although not exactly fairly, we might compare Welty's half-century of writing to the practiced playing of a Celtic harp whereas with Caldwell we seem to hear different kinds of melodies (as he adapted, perhaps too frequently, to new concerns and distractions) while always motivated by a need to write. Both artists achieved a considerable amount. For Welty, sophisticated scholarly reconsideration is in process; for Caldwell in this gathering we have a plea for fair reconsideration.
The Trouard collection is the most interesting of these books because it utilizes seventeen voices to examine the complexity of Welty's work. These pieces were originally the basis for a conference on Welty at the University of Akron in 1987. What comes across in these diverse essays is Welty's strength as a disciplined artist who refuses by means of her technique and vision to allow a simplicity of view to cloud her storytelling.
A criterion for selection of pieces for the Trouard volume was whether each critic opened up new ways of analyzing Welty texts. The sixteen essays chosen do succeed. Each provides new ways to apprehend the complexity of a storyteller who defies easy categorization through analysis of early writing and comparisons with folk art (Ruth Weston); through acknowledgement of the "highly orchestrated methods of Morgana's systematic structuring of meaning forced from the language and necessities of communitas" (Carey Wall); through a Bakhtinian analysis of Losing Battles (Susan Donaldson); and, finally, through a careful stylistic analysis of "The Demonstrators," a late story, the four opening articles demonstrate that language and culture intermingle. Painting, destruction and creation, opposing modes of discourse, and "interrelated verbal patterns" show us that for Welty no scene is easy—and no scene is "dominated wholly by death and destruction, for her own vision is incorrigibly, mercilessly hopeful." [End Page 754]
In subsequent sections of this gathering of papers, "Women," "Visible Connections," and "Endurance and Change" are the subject headings. The essays about the fictional treatment of women argue successfully about the complexity of the storytelling in "Kin," in The Ponder Heart, in stories about sibyls, and in Welty's first person stories. Welty's range of accomplishments, which grew out of the boldness of her art, is well demonstrated. Perhaps the most insightful essay in the second section is Peter Schmidt's, which suggests parallels between "sibylline prophecy" and art's relationship to culture. One thing is sure: Welty's vision (as woman, of women) is a "way of parting a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between each person's presence, each...