- Tracing a Literary and Epistolary Relationship:Eudora Welty and Her Editor, Robert Giroux
In January 1949, Robert Giroux became Eudora Welty’s editor and most likely would have remained so for the rest of her publishing career had he not resigned from Harcourt, Brace in late March 1955 for reasons that Welty possibly never suspected. As a passing acquaintance of Welty and close friend of Giroux, who had edited my Walker Percy: A Life,1 I gradually learned of the professional relationship of Eudora and Bob mainly from the numerous conversations he and I had and from my access to his personal papers and the archives of Harcourt, Brace. My first hint that Bob felt a certain uneasiness with Eudora started in 1990. About a month after Walker Percy died on May 10, 1990, Bob, Percy’s editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, invited me to lunch at his apartment in Jersey City. As we reflected on Percy’s literary legacy, Bob suggested that we organize a memorial service for him in New York. We made up a list of those who could speak authoritatively from different perspectives. I phoned Mrs. Mary Percy. She was pleased with the idea of such a service and suggested two or three of her husband’s friends who might speak, including Eudora, who was already on our list.
I asked Bob if he would like to phone Eudora, but he hesitated and then asked if I would do so, since I had visited her recently in Jackson, Mississippi. I was puzzled that Bob did not want to call Eudora himself, since he had told me on a number of occasions that he knew her and had edited some of her works. When I reached her the next day, she readily agreed to participate. I told her that Bob and I had talked about organizing the service at Saint Ignatius Church on Park Avenue in mid-fall.
During the late afternoon of October 24, with 1,200 in attendance, Shelby Foote, Stanley Kauffmann, Mary Lee Settle, Wilfrid Sheed, Eudora, Bob, and I spoke briefly about our memories of Percy (see Foote et al.). That evening a small group, invited by Roger and Dorothea Straus, attended a dinner at the Century Club on West 43rd Street. Though I had talked to Eudora a number of times—in New York, at her home, at an awards banquet in the Art Museum in Jackson, as well as at Cornell University and [End Page 69] Louisiana State University—it was the first time that I had seen her together with Bob. They seemed friendly and comfortable in each other’s presence.
Over the years, from the mid-1980s until just before his death in early September 2008, Bob and I would have lunch or dinner at least once a month. As I interviewed him both formally and informally, he often talked with great gusto about the authors and works he had edited or co-edited, including Eudora’s The Golden Apples, The Ponder Heart, and The Bride of the Innisfallen and Other Stories, in addition to Short Stories (a New Year’s gift to “friends of the author and publisher,” first published January 1, 1950, that was a heavily revised version of her essay “The Reading and the Writing of Short Stories”).
Bob, however, was not Eudora’s first editor, nor would he be her last. When John Woodburn came through Jackson in the spring of 1940 on a scouting expedition on behalf of Doubleday, Doran, he met Eudora and eventually suggested that she approach Diarmuid Russell to become her agent. Woodburn indicated, too, that his firm would like to publish Eudora’s seventeen early stories in a volume eventually entitled A Curtain of Green. A contract was offered to Eudora in late January 1941 with a publication date set for November 7, 1941 (Polk 441–44). On October 23, 1942, Doubleday, Doran published The Robber Bridegroom, likewise edited by Woodburn (Polk 446). After Woodburn wrote Eudora on Thanksgiving Day of that year that he had taken a job at Harcourt, Brace, she agreed to switch publishing houses and continue with him as her editor (Polk...