- Eudora Welty and the Short-Story Cycle:A Report on My Research at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History
As the recipient of the 2015 Eudora Welty Research Fellowship, I stayed in Jackson and researched at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History from May 18 to 30, 2015. In this report, I would like to demonstrate how the primary resources at MDAH helped me to elaborate my plans for my project. My dissertation focuses on the short-story cycle as a genre in terms of the historical and cultural context of the American South. A short-story cycle, sometimes referred to as a story sequence or a composite novel, is a collection of short stories in which each story is independent, but simultaneously interrelated to one another. Southern writers have produced many masterpieces of the short-story cycle, including Cane by Jean Toomer, Georgia Boy by Erskine Caldwell, Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, and, of course, The Golden Apples by Eudora Welty, and—if we find the book not merely a collection of stories but a work that should be read as a whole—Welty’s The Wide Net and Other Stories. The reasons each writer has used the form differ, yet we might say the form has been an apt medium with which to represent a complicated, hybrid, southern society. In my dissertation, I will examine the ways in which the short-story cycle has provided a unique generic framework for representing and investigating the complex interplay of contending forces that constitute what we think of as “the South.”
The MDAH holdings that helped me to get a fuller sense of Welty’s notion of connected short stories include: Series 1: Uncollected Stories; Series 5: The Golden Apples and Related Works; and Series 29: Correspondence. Series 1: Uncollected Stories includes “The Children” and “Beautiful Ohio,” which become respectively “At The Landing” and “The Winds” in The Wide Net. Studying the ways in which Welty changed the subjects and techniques through these works allowed me to understand how she made the stories in the volume connect to one another. “The Flower and the Rock,” which is included in Series 5: The Golden Apples and Related Works and later published as “Music from Spain,” is very important for my project. Welty wrote “The Flower and the Rock” before she realized its [End Page 159] connection with the other stories that would become The Golden Apples. Comparing these two stories, I tried to articulate what Welty accomplished by adopting the form. Finally, Welty’s letters to her editors and friends collected in Series 29: Correspondence gave me an insight into Welty’s interpretation of the short story, novel, and short-story cycle.
Series 1: Uncollected Stories—“The Children” and “Beautiful Ohio”
Although The Wide Net and Other Stories is, as its title shows, a collection of short stories, a few scholars have considered the book to be a short-story cycle. Susan V. Donaldson notes, for instance, Welty “suggests in The Wide Net’s sequence of stories the possibility of a new aesthetic of short fiction, one for which questioning, openness, and transformation constitute both subject and technique” (99). As Welty and Russell discussed a “Natchez Trace collection,” they questioned where and how to collect or publish The Robber Bridegroom (Kreyling 62).
Since there are many differences between the settings, plots, and characters in “The Children,” an unpublished typescript held by MDAH, and “At The Landing,” it is difficult to tell how Welty changed the former into the latter in order to collect the story in The Wide Net. As Mary Hughes Brookhart and Suzanne Marrs note, however, one of the biggest differences between the two stories is that in “‘At The Landing’ Welty’s use of setting provides an infinitely more complex vision” (89). In “The Children,” the garden, the setting for the story, seems to have no relation to the heroine Nora’s love for Thomas and his disinterest in her. On the other hand, in “At The Landing,” Welty chooses the setting of the story as The Landing, a landing in name only, now that the water...