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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
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The Optimist's Daughter (original 1972; edition 1990)

by Eudora Welty

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1,732694,083 (3.52)195
Member:marinajuric
Title:The Optimist's Daughter
Authors:Eudora Welty
Info:Vintage (1990), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Read in 2012, Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:None

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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (1972)

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» See also 195 mentions

English (62)  Spanish (5)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (69)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
I had trouble getting in to this, then I discovered an audiobook version read by Welty herself and that fixed it. She just makes it all come alive. Mostly a character study (and also a study of a family and the community it's a part of) in the sixties in the south after a small family tragedy. Good stuff, and sparked lots of interesting conversation at book club, which is made up of women from the south, the north, the midwest, and the west (and all living in southwest Viriginia now) and all varying ages. ( )
  lycomayflower | May 7, 2016 |
A one-sitting read with perfect characterizations and a twist on Faulkner's "The past is never dead..." Welty says the past is "impervious, and can never be awakened" but that memory "can be hurt, time and again". Somehow, I think they are both right. But I would have taken the bread board.
Reviewed in 2007 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Apr 30, 2016 |
I can appreciate Welty's writing, but this book just didn't capture my attention. It's a slim novel (under 200 pages) and won the Pullitzer prize for fiction in 1972. Not much happens, but then, I suppose that is the point. When you can sum up a person by stating "I know his whole family," what else is there? ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 9, 2016 |
Funny, sad, true. Welty's characters speak like real people and she shows us life. And how death is dealt with by the living. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Moments of brilliance, moments of confusion. At times, it's like a stranger walking in on a conversation that has been going on for decades. I think Welty meant for it to be like that. ( )
  memlhd | Jan 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
The best book Eudora Welty has ever written, "The Optimist's Daughter" is a long goodbye in a very short space not only to the dead but to delusion and to sentiment as well.
 
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Poignant, wise, and economical, The Optimist's Daughter was written for the New Yorker in 1969 and then revised and extended to its present form in 1972, when it won the Pulitzer Prize.
A nurse held the door open for them.
Quotations
When Laurel was a child, in this room and in this bed where she lay now, she closed her eyes like this and the rhythmic, nighttime sound of the two beloved reading voices came rising in turn up the stairs every night to reach her. She could hardly fall asleep, she tried to keep awake, for pleasure. She cared for her own books, but she cared more for theirs, which meant their voices. In the lateness of the night, their two voices reading to each other where she could hear them, never letting a silence divide or interrupt them, combined into one unceasing voice and wrapped her around as she listened, as still as if she were asleep. She was sent to sleep under a velvety cloak of words, richly patterned and stitched with gold, straight out of a fairy tale, while they went reading on into her dreams.
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Book description
For a long time Judge McKelva was seen as a reassuring figure by the many who knew and liked him. They looked at him, with his wife Becky and daughter Laurel, and they felt good: that was how well-bred people in Mount Salus, Mississippi, ought to be. When, ten years after his wife's death, the Judge marries silly young Fay everyone is disconcerted: but a lonely old man can be allowed at least one folly. For Laurel, however, her father's remarriage is a difficult and puzzling betrayal. Years later, circumstance brings Laurel back from Chicage: first to New Orleans, then to Mount Salus and the old house of her childhood. It is only here, alone with her memories, that Laurel can finally come to an understanding of the past, herself and her parents.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067972883X, Paperback)

The Optimist's Daughter is a compact and inward-looking little novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner that's slight of page yet big of heart. The optimist in question is 71-year-old Judge McKelva, who has come to a New Orleans hospital from Mount Salus, Mississippi, complaining of a "disturbance" in his vision. To his daughter, Laurel, it's as rare for him to admit "self-concern" as it is for him to be sick, and she immediately flies down from Chicago to be by his side. The subsequent operation on the judge's eye goes well, but the recovery does not. He lies still with both eyes heavily bandaged, growing ever more passive until finally--with some help from the shockingly vulgar Fay, his wife of two years--he simply dies. Together Fay and Laurel travel to Mount Salus to bury him, and the novel begins the inward spiral that leads Laurel to the moment when "all she had found had found her," when the "deepest spring in her heart had uncovered itself" and begins to flow again.

Not much actually happens in the rest of the book--Fay's low-rent relatives arrive for the funeral, a bird flies down the chimney and is trapped in the hall--and yet Welty manages to compress the richness of an entire life within its pages. This is a world, after all, in which a set of complex relationships can be conveyed by the phrase "I know his whole family" or by the criticism "When he brought her here to your house, she had very little idea of how to separate an egg." Does such a place exist anymore? It is vanishing even from this novel, and the personification of its vanishing is none other than Fay--petulant, graceless, childish, with neither the passion nor the imagination to love. Welty expends a lot of vindictive energy on Fay and her kin, who must be the most small-minded, mean-mouthed clan since the Snopeses hit Frenchman's Bend. There's more than just class snobbery at work here (though that surely comes into it too). As Welty sees it, they are a special historical tribe who exult in grieving because they have come to be good at it, and who seethe with resentment from the day they are born. They have come "out of all times of trouble, past or future--the great, interrelated family of those who never know the meaning of what has happened to them."

Fay belongs to the future, as she makes clear; it's Laurel who belongs to the past--Welty's own chosen territory. In her fine memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, Welty described the way art could shine a light back "as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you've come." Here, in one of her most autobiographical works, the past joins seamlessly with the present in a masterful evocation of grief, memory, loss, and love. Beautifully written, moving but never mawkish, The Optimist's Daughter is Eudora Welty's greatest achievement--which is high praise indeed. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:45 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Laurel Hand, long absent from the South, comes from Chicago to New Orleans, where her father dies after surgery. With Fay, the stupid new young wife of her father, Laurel returns to her former Mississippi home and stays a few days after the funeral for reunions with old friends. In a night alone in the house she grew up in, she confronts elements of the past and comes to a better understanding of it and of herself and her parents.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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