During the 1940s, Welty wrote hundreds of letters to her friends Diarmiud Russell and John Robinson, two fellow gardeners who were also her first readers.1 Welty’s friendship with John Robinson, a high school classmate, had become romantic by the late 1930s. Her connection with Russell began in 1940, when Russell began to represent her in his new literary agency, and their business relationship soon developed into a warm friendship.2 Her letters afford readers a glimpse of the writer at work in the garden she and her mother maintained at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Welty’s lyrical, witty, and poignant discussions of gardening and nature are delightful in themselves; they are also figurative expressions of Welty’s views of her writing and her friendships. Taken together, these letters form a poetic narrative of their own, chronicling artistic and psychic developments that were underway before Welty was fully conscious of them.
During the period spanned by this selection, September 1943 to January 1944, Robinson was serving overseas in the Army Air Forces Intelligence. He had participated in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943; many of Welty’s other family and friends in the military were also in harm’s way. Her anxiety for their safety made it difficult for her to write fiction, but she continued to send reports from her garden, a haven that now seemed linked to all that Welty hoped would survive the war.
From Chapter III: September 1943–October 1944
September 1, 1943
A soft grey day—one little cardinal giving a few notes—not raining, but oh it might—first cloudy day since it was July—The potted plants set out, like so many little urchins’ palms in a row—There is a delicious smell of mist—The fall flower catalogues come in the mail—strange new irises, and amazing looking things coming out, big bells like roc’s eggs—(Erasmus ??) [End Page 27] the fox-tailed lily—so expensive—I think I still like hyacinths and the white daffodils best—
Today a big beautiful amaryllis opened many flowers—the white kind with pale pink lines, and rose stamens with gold hoods on them, and the most delicious fragrance, like a cool magical something you could drink—
A little wind blows—the porch floor is misted over and is reflecting the sky—the swing makes a creak like the note of a bass viol—A little white tail is going down the street like this [drawing of the tail wagging above a line] over the terrace—I know this tail, have seen it often and some day I am going to raise up and look at the owner—I think it may be one of those short-legged dogs with long white hair and intent little faces.
Judge Lyell3 just phoned and told me a joke he was sending to the Lions Club paper. Mother is playing bridge at Mrs. Fox’s. I stayed home to read stories by Sylvia T. Warner4—Dry. And to watch for my little desk.5 Henry Volkening sent fond wishes to you—He was writing on his vacation, out on a hill, watching a little dancing leaf, way up in Pa. [Pennsylvania]. 8 Canadians bought “The Robber B”6 according to royalty statement today. Who do you suppose they were? I see them as all together—like a party in a bar all deciding they’ll try something—This is a wonderful afternoon to play music—so quiet—nothing to hurt the eyes—the long glare gone (for you too?) Now rain—maybe—
Love to you—
September 12, 1943
After following after Amaryllis Belladonna7 I find it is a native of S. Africa as we should guess, and my bulb book lists 4 kinds—elata, deep rose—major, pink—rosea maxima, dark rose—and speciosa purpurea, purple-rose with white center. A place in California lists them and I ordered 1 doz. major, they sounded so beautiful there. My bulb author says you have to grow them...