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PEARL AMELIA McHANEY Georgia State University Eudora Welty: American Artist Abroad and “The Burning” WHEN EUDORA WELTY WAS A YOUNG GIRL SHE SAW VENICE: THE RIALTO Bridge, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Piazza St. Marco, and the Grand Canal. She saw the Perseus by Cellini and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Apian Way with its aqueducts outside Rome.1 She saw all this and more in her family’s ten-volume illustrated set of Stoddard’s Lectures. thatJohnStoddardhaddeliveredorallybetween1882and1897. But what Welty recalled for her lifetime, in her mind’s eye, was “Vesuvius erupting, Venice by moonlight, gypsies by their campfires” as she had seen in the family’s set of “Stoddard’s lectures, in all its late nineteenth-century vocabulary and vignettes of peasant life and quaint beliefs and customs, with matching halftone illustrations” (One Writer’s Beginnings 842). Welty offers this youthful vision in her 1984 lectures at Harvard University, remembrances that she softly reshaped as her autobiography One Writer’s Beginnings. Stoddard does not write with thechastisingsarcasmofMarkTwaininInnocentsAbroad, for example,2 but rather with lyrical optimism and wonder. Stoddard’s preface begins: A witty French abbé was once asked why he kept up a country-seat which he never visited. “Do you not know,” he answered, “that I must have some place, where, though I never go to it, I can always imagine that I might be happier than where I am?” . . . . We are always “going to our country seats.” It is the land we have not visited that is to give us our greatest happiness. If we have not yet found it in America, it is awaiting us in Europe; if not in Europe, surely in Japan. . . . Travel is attractive, if only as a means of acquiring that happiness which here seems so elusive. All of us hope to some day visit Europe and the Orient, and for that reason everything pertaining to their beauty, art, and history seems alluring. . . . This love of travel is not caused by ordinary restlessness. It springs originally from the universal craving of the soul for something different from its usual environment. 1 An early version of this essay was prepared for the Eudora Welty: A Centenary conference in Venice, Italy, 17-19 Nov. 2009, hence the particular interest in Venice. 2 The Welty family owned the Author’s National Edition of Twain; chapter twentytwo of Innocents Abroad (vols. 1 & 2) records Twain’s impressions of Venice. 504 Pearl Amelia McHaney It also comes from a legitimate longing for that broader education which only personal study of other races, civilizations and religions can bestow. And finally, it arises from a yearning for the joy and benefit of realizing history by visiting the ancient shrines of art, the homes or sepulchers of heroes, and the arenas of heroic deeds. (vol.1, 5) I must wonder whether before she came to Europe for the first time in the fall of 1949, Welty looked again into Stoddard’s lectures in anticipation of what she might find on her travels. She might have made a European tour after college, as did her friend Nash Burger, but instead she went to New York City and drank up the music, culture, art, and theater there. And then the Depression stuck and her father died. In Mississippi rather than in Italy, in Jackson rather than in Venice, Welty lived in her family’s home and sought every possible job. Her fictional characters went to Europe for her. Uncle Rondo had been in France in World War I, but, according to Sister, he seemed not to benefit from the experience (“Why I Live at the P.O.” 65). And “Long ago,” Mr. Marblehall, “went to France, but he didn’t like it” either (“Old Mr. Marblehall” 114); when Welty revised this story for A Curtain of Green and Other Stories, changing the voice and point of view to more directly address the reader, she added the history of an earlier Mr. Marblehall: “There has been an old Mr Marblehall in Natchez ever since the first one arrived back in 1818—with a theatrical presentation of Otway’s Venice, ending with A Laughable Combat between Two Blind Fiddlers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 503-523
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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