Place and Time: The Southern Writer's Inheritance.1

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Author: Eudora Welty
Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,083 words

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[(essay date 1954) In the following essay, first published in 1954, Welty discusses some general characteristics of Southern literature and praises the work of such modern novelists as William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Peter Taylor.]

As this was being written, the new book by William Faulkner is about to come out in America--a long novel entitled A Fable. One never knows ahead what a new work by Mr. Faulkner will be like--that is one of the joys of living contemporaneously with a genius. Now in the prime of his life, in the mid-fifties, he may well be giving us his major work; the talk is that he himself has an inkling that this is so. We shall have it here before long, and meanwhile the American critics are all giving cry. They ought to know by now, though, that Faulkner's work is a whole, that cannot be satisfactorily analysed and accounted for, until it can be predicted--Lord save the day. That prose is indestructibly itself and alive, something passionate and uncompromising, that will never sit still and wait on what anybody thinks; it will never be a possum in the tree. It sheds its light from higher up than any of the boys can shoot it down.

In the present surge of writers coming out of the South, Faulkner is the Man--pride and joy and show piece. Still, Mr. Edmund Wilson has put himself on record as wondering why on earth Mr. Faulkner doesn't quit all this local stuff and come out of the South to write in civilization. He asks how writing like that can possibly come out of some little town in Mississippi. The marvellous thing is that such writing comes. Let Mr. Wilson try calling for some in another direction, and see how long it takes. Such writing does not happen often, anywhere.

In America, Southerners are always being asked to account for themselves in general; it's a national habit. If they hold themselves too proud, or let themselves go too quickly, to give a reasonable answer, it does not really matter--at least it does not matter to the Southerners. Now that the "Southern Renaissance" is a frequent term, and they are being asked to account for that, some try and others just go on writing. In one little Mississippi town on the river, seventeen authors are in the national print and a Pulitzer Prize winner edits the paper. It is also true that nobody is buying books in that town, or generally in the South. It seems that when it comes to books they are reading the old ones and writing the new ones. Southerners are, indeed, apart from and in addition to the giant Faulkner, writing a substantial part of the seriously considered novels, stories and poems of the day in America, and the most interesting criticism. One might just think that they are good at writing, and let it go at that.

There has always been a generous flow of writing to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100045949