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Reviewed by:
  • Jill Fennell
Serious Daring: The Fiction and Photography of Eudora Welty and Rosamond Purcell. By Susan Letzler Cole. Fayetteville: U of Arkansas P, 2016. xviii, 142 pp. 37 Plates. Hardcover $34.95.

Serious Daring takes on the difficult task of examining with critical clarity the mystery—a recurring word throughout the text—of humanity represented through art. While Susan Letzler Cole makes clear that her goal is juxtaposition, when this juxtaposition moves to commentary, Cole's claims are often difficult to parse out because of a lack of development. Cole knows who to cite, and cites often, but she rarely builds on the existing body of scholarship on Welty in meaningful ways. Perhaps this lack of clarity stems from Cole's deep appreciation of Welty's and Purcell's talents, but this appreciation also obfuscates her claims. While Cole's claims are interesting, they are either one of two options: 1) so specific to her project of juxtaposition with Purcell as to be unhelpful in any other project, or 2) too general or too deferential to other scholars to offer a new understanding of Welty's work. Serious Daring is part comparative literary/photographic biography and part description. Concluding the work, Cole writes that she "placed Eudora Welty and Rosamond Purcell in unexpected juxtaposition and allowed that juxtaposition to throw light on each," claiming that she "hope[s] to have shown in Serious Daring the power of juxtaposition itself" (116). These ending sentiments can help Cole's readers better appreciate her project: one that charts how Welty's turn away from photography and turn toward fiction is a mirrored inverse of Purcell's turn away from fiction and turn toward photography.

As Cole charts and juxtaposes these journeys, she highlights how the art form each artist leaves persists in certain ways within the form each ultimately pursues. Cole notes that Welty's fiction remains influenced by, and full of, pictures and photographers as well as a skilled use of dark and light imagery. She notes too that Purcell's photography takes text as its subject and uses techniques that, Cole argues, create visual effects like Welty's ability to construct a scene and shift perspectives in the narrative form. Key phrases for Cole are "the photographic eye" and "the visualizing [End Page 115] mind." Cole claims that as Welty develops as an artist, her photographic eye develops into a visionary imagination, and that this is best exemplified in "The Burning" (as compared to "A Memory"). Cole reinforces this claim by suggesting that in "The Burning," Delilah's vision undergoes a metamorphosis that allows her to reject reflected images and "become a prophet and a visionary" (32). Cole follows this claim with a closing paragraph comparing Delilah with Tennyson's Lady of Shalott wherein she points out that Delilah is more of "a fierce survivor" than is Tennyson's protagonist (33). Yet, whereas other Welty critics have emphasized strong women in Welty's cannon to make claims concerning politics and feminism, Cole does not develop her claim past her general observation.

Ultimately, Cole's claims lack clarity because they are underdeveloped. While she never outrightly defines her terms, the visualizing mind seems to refer to an artist's ability to push past the given to create animacy from the inanimate, the dead, or that which memory has obscured. In a sentence that, perhaps, has more romance than substance (but accurately reflects the tone of the project), Cole writes, "The visualizing mind allows us to see the unshown," to explain to readers how "the visualizing mind" is more artistic than "the photographic eye" (80). The past, the dead, and the in/animate function as unifying themes of Cole's study. In the chapters on Purcell's photography (six through eleven), Cole argues that Purcell's photographs of primarily inanimate, dead, and decaying objects (some examples include termite-eaten books, a rusted typewriter, and the skull/skeleton of a hydrocephalic child) push past their inanimacy and invoke liveliness, echoes, and disorientation. For example, Cole claims, "Creating a visual effect like that of Welty's shifting perspectives in Losing Battles, Purcell photographs a page of musical notes interspersed with words, some upside...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-266x
Print ISSN
1947-3370
Pages
pp. 115-118
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-19
Open Access
No
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