- Of Memory, Place, and Friendship:Eudora Welty’s Unpublished Review of Bowen’s Court
To say that Eudora Welty was a successful writer of short stories and novels is to state the obvious and to overlook a number of her other talents. Not only did Welty possess a spark of creative genius that led to her success as an author and photographer, but she also had a keen critical eye and a talent for reviewing a staggering variety of important works, including “first novels, best-sellers, southern novels, translations, short story volumes, collected stories, essays, histories, criticism, biographies, memoirs, travel books, journals and letters, photography, children’s books and fairy tale collections, even a book on growing healthy house plants” (McHaney xiv). Welty was a prolific reviewer, and beginning in September 1942, she published sixty-seven reviews of seventy-four books from some of her most famous contemporaries: William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, E. B. White, Ford Maddox Ford, J. D. Salinger, Katherine Anne Porter, and Elizabeth Bowen all came under her careful consideration (McHaney xiii).1 Welty enjoyed both professional and personal exchanges with a number of her distinguished peers, through formal published reviews, friendly letters, and in-person meetings. One of the most inspirational and enduring friendships she forged, however, was with Elizabeth Bowen.
The following text is a transcription of Welty’s previously unpublished review of Bowen’s 1942 historical narrative, Bowen’s Court, which traces Bowen’s genealogy and long-standing connection to the family estate. Her family’s history and home function as a microcosm through which Bowen could examine the Anglo-Irish ascendency and the political and cultural climate of Ireland beginning in the mid-1600s. Welty owned three copies of Bowen’s Court: one copy of the first edition; one copy of the Ecco Press edition from 1979; and an unrevised, unpublished proof of the Ecco Press edition (Prince). Both versions of the Ecco Press edition would have contained the afterword Bowen added to the 1964 second edition, which provides an account of important contemporary events concerning the fate of the Bowen’s Court estate. It is likely that Welty wrote and revised the following review on the occasion of the book’s republication by Ecco in 1979, as she indicates in a hand-written note included with drafts of this review: [End Page 13]
The re-issue of Bowen’s Court should be cause for particular welcome: it has long stood as a book of sources. The sources are double. They are two sources, and connected. They began together: the family in Ireland from whom Elizabeth Bowen, its only writer, sprang; and Anglo-Irish history, the source of the tragedy that has never come to an end, that we see still being played out today. Elizabeth Bowen was uniquely endowed to write this book.(Note)2
In this note, Welty connects Bowen’s family to their home and to Anglo-Irish history at large. More importantly, and perhaps tellingly, Welty places her longtime friend at the center of her critical literary assessment.
The review materials, located in box 74 (folders 3–7) in the Eudora Welty Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, Mississippi, consist of fifty-seven pieces, including a fifteen-page “typescript draft with handwritten corrections, cross-throughs, and an addition on an adhesive attachment” in folder 4, followed by “a photocopy of that corrected typescript with a variant last page [folder 5, 15 pieces]”3 (Notes for Reviews). Also contained in the box are loose pages of the “original and carbon draft pages [folder 6, 15 pieces],” which “vary from the more complete versions above, bearing different handwritten corrections, taped and pinned page or strip attachments, few page numbers, and the date ‘Oct. 1’ on the first page [p. 31]” (Notes for Reviews). The drafts and corrected typescript are followed by “more fragmentary material [folder 7, 11 pieces]: two pages with multiple handwritten corrections; an apparently extraneous New York Times Book Review instruction slip; a typed strip and partial pages of draft; and five pages [pp. 52–56] of handwritten notes,” some of which concern a documentary on William Faulkner (Notes...