Monday, February 13, 2012

Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding: A Family Celebration

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty was a joy to read, although sometimes the syntax took some getting used to. The style is brisk and breezy but not light. The second daughter of Battle and Ellen Fairchild is marrying Troy Flavin, the overseer of the Fairchild cotton farm on the Yazoo River in the Mississippi delta. It's a large family and there are aunts living with them and more uncles, aunts, and great aunts and cousins to descend upon the home for the wedding and fest to follow. The author is attentive to nearly all members of the family and highly-charged children dart in and out of the book's dialogue, just as they do whenever there are a lot of people in the house for a grand celebration. Everyone is there and we get to know most of them in some way at least, in Miss Welty's panoramas of the family scene.

There are glimpses into the inner thoughts of some. The excerpt below, concerning the bride's mother, Ellen, is one of the most solemn moments in a book that is otherwise as lively as the family it describes:

When Ellen was nine years old, in Mitchen Corners, Virginia, her mother had run away to England with a man and stayed three years before she came back. She took up her old life and everything in the household went on as before. Like an act of God, passion went unexplained and undenied--just a phenomenon. "Mitchen allows one mistake." That was the saying old ladies had at Mitchen Corners--a literal business, too. Ellen had grown up not especially trusting appearances, not soon enough suspecting, either, that other people's presence and absence were still the least complicated elements of what went on underneath. Not her young life with her serene mother, with Battle, but her middle life--knowing all Fairchilds better and seeing George [her brother-in-law] single himself from them--had shown her how deep were the complexities of the everyday, of the family, what caves were in the mountains, what blocked chambers, and what crystal rivers that had not yet seen the light.
Ellen sighed, giving up trying to make Robbie eat; but she felt that perhaps that near-calamity on the trestle was nearer than she had realized to the heart of much that had happened in her family lately--as the sheet lightning of summer plays in the whole heaven but presently you observe that each time it concentrates in one place, throbbing like a nerve in the sky.

Eudora Welty wrote Delta Wedding in 1946.

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