Thursday, August 2, 2012

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

"There were moments of life when it did not matter who she was—even where. Something, happiness—with Troy, but not necessarily, even the happiness of a fine day—seemed to leap away from identity as if it were an old skin, and that she was one of the Fairchilds was of no more need to her than the locust shells now hanging to the trees everywhere were to the singing locusts" (40). 

Oh, I am a sucker for a beautiful line, and Eudora Welty's 1945 novel "Delta Wedding" is full of them. I must have marked twenty pages of contenders for my favorite.

The line above comes from Dabney, but the novel wends its way through the consciousnesses of many women of the Fairchild family during the days surrounding her wedding. Shellmound Plantation, Uncle George, Uncle Battle, deceased Uncle Dennis, the Yazoo River, the bayou, the great abandoned house, Marmion, and the Fairchild family itselfall exert inescapable, mysterious influence.

Each woman's encounter with the power of family and place is at the heart of Welty's gorgeous prose and her enduring portrait of the early twentieth-century Deep South. (At least, it's enduring to my mind. I've never been to Mississippi, but if I someday get the chance, I will be hoping for white cotton fields, hot blue skies, rivers with whirlpools, banana plants, crepe myrtles, and enormous old families, big white houses always full of noise.)

There is nine-year-old cousin Laura, whose mother has recently died, desperately wanting to feel part of the Shellmound clan. There is Dabney, gay and rather frivolous, marrying 'beneath' her station, delighting in maintaining and breaking family boundaries. There is her mother, Ellen, a Virginian never been quite at home in Mississippi, pregnant again. There is Shelley, the first daughter, sober and thoughtful with no marriage prospects, unsure of what her life might become. And there is Robbie, Uncle George's wife, who runs away and returns without knowing how to live with the fact that her husband will always put the Fairchilds first.

What I like best is that despite all the family noise, the demands for attention, all the things to be done, each woman portrayed is called by some mystery, some deeper meaning in life, and each finds a place quiet enough to reflect, appreciate, wonder.

P.S. One more line I love, this time from Shelley: "The house was charged with life, the fields were charged with life, endlessly exploited, but the bayou was filled with its summer trance or its winter trance of sleep, its uncaught fishes" (256).

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