Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

1946. 326 pages. Paperback. Harcourt Brace.

[Image shown is from a different edition.]

From: I purchased this book.

For the challenge: Flashback Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Delta Wedding portrays the lives of a Mississippi Delta planter family in 1923 as they prepare for the wedding between their second eldest daughter, Dabney, and their overseer.

The Fairchild family, with nine children, is already large, but is made larger and even more chaotic with the arrival of extended family and their range of personalities.  The viewpoint shifts throughout the book between various female characters, but mostly rests with Ellen Fairchild, the mother of those nine children; Laura, a young cousin whose mother has recently died; and Shelley, the oldest, unmarried Fairchild daughter.

Review:

Delta Wedding is a story driven not by plot but by characters, dialogue and a deep sense of place.  I can often be bored when authors trot out dry descriptions of a room’s features.  In Welty’s hands, descriptions of rooms and houses drip with atmosphere and are suffused with the human personalities that inhabit them.

A spready fern stood in front of the grate in summertime, with a cricket in it now, that nobody could do anything about . . . At the other end of the room the Victrola stood like a big morning-glory and there, laid with somebody’s game, was the card table Great-Grandfather also made out of his walnut trees when he cut his way in to the Yazoo wilderness. p. 21

The characters in Delta Wedding are best appreciated as an ensemble.  Sure, I have my favorites, such as impish nine-year-old India and Shelley, the oldest daughter who keeps a journal.  Forthright Aunt Tempe reminds me so much of certain people I know.  The family is almost a character of its own, analyzed by themselves and by outsiders as a single entity.  The Fairchilds, whose cotton plantations sustain a small town named after them, are self-absorbed when they are all together at the family home of Shellmound.  It’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist and it is just their family.  Woe to those perceived as outsiders by the family.

The dialogue, especially between large groups of people talking over each other, is lively and often humorous, with India getting some of the best lines.

These are the aspects that I adore about Delta Wedding, and what made it quite accessible when I first read and loved it as a senior in high school.

However, Delta Wedding can also be a difficult book at times.  There are many passages where characters go into deep contemplation about their family, namely their Uncle George.  Uncle George is the hero of the family who also seems to buck expectations the most, particularly with his marriage to the ‘low-born’ Robbie Reid, who has just left him when the story starts.  To be honest, especially in this re-read, I got tired of all the ruminations about Uncle George.  These often impenetrable descriptions of his motivations and relationships were sometimes hard to follow or be invested in.

Still, the complexity of the narrative means that there are always new layers and aspects to consider in each re-read of the book.

For instance, this time around, I was particularly fascinated by the book’s depiction of the family’s black servants.  The black characters are present in most of the scenes, an integral part of the ensemble in terms of conversation and events.  However, as a writer named Tess Taylor aptly put in this essay, none of the white characters “see” black people.  The characters contemplate the motivations of the other family members, but never, that I can recall, on the servants who are in such close and constant proximity.  One character orders a young black girl out of a shelter into the hot sun, so that she herself can rest in the shelter.  Shelley witnesses the overseer using violence on a black field hand to assert his authority, but thinks little of it later.  Ellen is perturbed when a servant disagrees with her about roses.

Of course, these attitudes are consistent with the setting of the novel.  Still, even the writing, not just the characters, seems to leave the interracial dynamics unexamined.  It seems to beg for a passage or section that illuminates one or more of the servants’ perspective.  As it was, I liked to read the comments made by the black servants to the family and speculate on my own about they really meant.  For those who have read this book, I definitely would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject.

As mentioned earlier, I first read Delta Wedding in high school when I picked Eudora Welty for an AP English author project.  As part of this project, I also read her books The Robber Bridegroom, The Optimist’s Daughter, Losing Battles and some of her short stories.  Delta Wedding was by far my favorite.  I’ve found that Delta Wedding is a very rewarding book to re-read, as there are so many layers to explore.  I like how important revelations in the book are rarely telegraphed, but rather tucked in here and there for discovery and re-discovery.  I’ll be returning to this book again.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

  1. I love books that are as good or better read after read. How was Robber Bridegroom? I’ve almost picked it up a couple of times.

  2. I haven’t read anything by Eudora Welty in many years. This sounds like a novel I’d love.

  3. Sounds fabulous – what an intriguing review. And to think I had never heard of this author before…

    • Her name might not come up internationally as she is so tied to the American South. I wonder if authors that are thought of as regional writers are less likely to be known by readers of other countries.

  4. Meg

    I studied Welty in college and remember enjoying her work, though it’s all dulled with time now (and this was jsut a few years ago!). I’m anxious to read her novels, as I believe I spent most of my time with her memoir(s)? Definitely need to revisit her!

  5. Martha

    Came here for the Delta Wedding review, but visited your blog first and really really enjoy it! I’m reading the novels of Eudora Welty now, and Delta Wedding was the first I read. Thoroughly enchanting. I have now also read “The Optimist’s Daughter” and “The Ponder Heart”. “Delta Wedding” continues to stick in my bones!!

  6. Enzo

    Hello, Christy! I´m from Brazil and i just love the writers from the south of USA! Above all Flannery O´Connor. My english is not very good, so I prefer to read translations and i even buy books from Portugal (The Violent Bear It Away, as an example, was not published in Brazil). In this friday i bought a compilation of Eudora´s short ficction (published in Portugal in 2008), because i am adoring Delta Wedding! I think Delta Wedding and The Optimist Daughter are the two books that we have of Eudora translated in Brazil (published in the 80´s!!).
    I love Virginia Woolf, especially To The Lighthouse, and i´m feeling something similar between this book and Delta Wedding – the sensation of a dream, of an elegy, of a beautiful and pale thing that a memory cant forget (our childhood, the protection and torments of our families). So thats why i came to your blog, because i want to know the relation between Eudora and this book, is there something biographical?
    I liked very much “The Heart is a lonely hunter”, of McCullers, too. And i dont´like Faulkner! Very soon i will receive “Judas Flowering” (published in Brazil only in 1934 and 1968), it will be my start in Katherine Anne Porter, i have no ideia how she is!
    And there´s is another writer of short stories (as you can see, i love it!) who really touched me: Evan S. Connell Jr. But i think he´s not from the south. I have here a book of his short ficction published in 1951, in brazilian portughese.
    As you can see, for the general public in the South America there´s no interesting (i cant even say “no more interesting”) in this writers, because their books did not received anothers editions – they are not entertainment. But if a person here loves literature, the name will came, and the search will start. The south of USA produced a group of writers different of the rest of the world. And Brazil has so much to learn about himself with this writers, because they are always new, and always reveals what we have in the heart of brazilian society – if the world thinks that we are happy and peaceful. We are just young and sleeping.
    Thanks for share!

    • Enzo – Thanks so much for your comment! I enjoyed reading all of your thoughts on southern writers. Eudora Welty did write an autobiographical book called “One Writer’s Beginnings” which I read a long time ago. I own it and should probably re-read it. I don’t remember if there were connections between her descriptions of her own childhood and Delta Wedding. I believe she lived in Jackson, Mississippi most of her life, so I think that I identify her with the little girl Laura. But I may of course be incorrect.

      I once took a class that was only about the two authors Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. I must say that I am the opposite of your own tastes, as I loved reading Faulkner but didn’t like O’Connor as much.

      I read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf for a class years ago so I can’t remember enough to compare but I love how you describe the shared atmosphere between Woolf and Welty’s books.

      I actually just started The Heart is a Lonely Hunter this morning. When you wrote the comment, I had the book checked out from the library already but hadn’t started reading it yet. I have never heard of Evan S.
      Connell Jr but now you’ve made me curious. Thanks for bringing that author to my attention. Happy reading to you!

      • Enzo

        Christy! How good is to make this bridge with you! About Evan S. Connell: you must read the short stories “Arcturus” and “The Condor and the Guests”. They are great visions and have enormous sense of humanity.

        About “the heart is a lonely hunter”: the deaf character is unforgettable; every page he appears is magical. But it´s a long story, and sometimes i get bored with others characters (as the doctor), but thank god i decided not to give up.

        Thanks for your reply!

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