Thursday, August 23, 2012

Non-understandable Advice from Eudora Welty

For the last three weeks I've been slogging through The Eye of the Story, which is a collection of essays, critical reviews, and writer career evaluations by Eudora Welty. I must admit to never having read anything of hers; at least I don't remember doing so. For sure I've never read one of her novels, but I suppose it's possible that I read one or more of her short stories during my school years. If so, they didn't make a lasting impression on me.

I first read her short memoir One Writer's Beginnings, which I found quite informative. No two writers' paths are the same, so I didn't read that to serve as a model for anything, but rather to learn something about this icon of American 20th Century literature about whom I knew nothing.

Then, when I saw The Eye of the Story and saw what it was about, I bought it. Used, of course. The first part of the book, the shortest, is five essays about the literary careers of five writers. The middle part, the part that most interests me, is essays on the writing process. The third part is Welty's literary criticism of specific works, maybe as many as fifteen of them.

I thought I should read the book from the beginning, rather than jump right into the writing advice part. However, I found the writing almost impossible to follow. The sentence structure is fine—you would expect nothing less from a Pulitzer winner. But I read the sentences and don't have a clue what she's trying to say. I got through two and a half chapters of that, and decided I would skip ahead to the writing advice part.

Unfortunately, I found this to be just as difficult to understand. Welty must have been an uber-intellectual. This non-fiction sure reads that way. I wish I could adequately describe it. I'm writing this from work; the book is at home. I don't know why I didn't pick it up this morning and bring it with me, knowing I was going to write this blog post. Maybe tonight I'll edit some examples in.

It didn't help trying to read this sitting next to my wife while she wanted the television on. But this last week, while she's been gone, I tried reading it in the quiet of the evening. I tried in the quiet of the morning, when my mind was fresh. Nothing seemed to help.

For now, I'm going to put this on the shelf. I'm not giving up on it fully. I think Welty has something to say to me, if I can ever figure out what it is.


Elaine said...

I found this blog after googling something along the lines of "why the hell is Eudora Welty so hard to understand." I have read quite a bit of her fiction - that's not the problem. But even a short essay of hers on plot, or worse, trying to glean concrete or practical advice from "One Writer's Beginnings" (as lovely a memoir about her childhood as it is!) has left me feeling dumb.

Anonymous said...

You are not alone, Elaine, and I'm glad I'm not either. I have read further into "The Eye of the Story", and found it got somewhat better as it went along. The third part is a series of criticism on various specific works, not on a writer's full body, as was the first part. It's better than the first part. I also discovered there's a fourth part, which is a series of short items such as descriptions of something in her native Mississippi. It's okay, but nothing that really interests me. I think Sunday or Monday I'll be posting more on this book.

Glad you found the blog, and I hope you'll return.

David A. Todd said...

I'm not sure why that last post showed up as by Anonymous, since I was logged it. It's by David Todd, blog owner.