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Losing Battles (1970)

by Eudora Welty

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610827,602 (3.5)80
Three generations of Granny Vaughn's descendants gather at her Mississippi home to celebrate her 90th birthday. Possessed of the true storyteller's gift, the members of this clan cannot resist the temptation to swap tales.



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English (7)  Spanish (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Truly my favorite of all of her novels. I had trouble putting the book down as it almost had a soap-opera quality to it. Can Gloria escape the clutches of this bizarre Southern family (and take Jack with her)? Who is Gloria's father? What will happen to the judge's car (or rather Mrs. Judge's car)?

The battle being waged is against ignorance and poverty and all of life's tribulations that try to suck you into their depths. Somehow this cast of colorful characters manages to prevail over it all. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 22, 2014 |
This is one of the best books i have read. Being a northerner, it took me a while to appreciate this Southern writer. I had read this in my youth without caring for it. For some reason, I now relate to that time and the values of that time. Very subtle humor that I missed first time round. Very funny! ( )
  kerrlm | Jan 24, 2010 |
LOSING BATTLES, a raucous novel set in Boone County, MS during the 1930s, chronicles a family reunion at the 90th birthday of Granny Vaughan. All her grandchildren and great -grandchildren gather to feast, to rehearse their family history, and to await the return of Jack Jordan Renfro, the beloved young scion of the family who's spent the last two years in Parchman prison. The novel is by turns hilarious and compassionate with a touch of pathos in the recounting of the life and death of Miss Julia Mortimer, the crusading schoolteacher, who failed to convince any of the family members of the value of education. At the center of the novel are Jack and Gloria, determined to restart their lives and look to the future with their infant daughter, Lady May. As with all of Welty's novels, there are glorious descriptions of nature, wonderful dialogue, memorable characters and a thoroughly humane core. ( )
2 vote janeajones | Jul 31, 2008 |
I had a hard time reading this. Perhaps I wasn't in the right space. I'll try it again in a year or two.
  brokensnowpea | Apr 24, 2008 |
I grew up surrounded by Southern women: my devout grandmother, my reticent mother, grown sisters, teachers, teachers, teachers, church ladies, neighbor ladies, the librarian lady. I learned early on to say “Yes, ma’am,” and “No ma’am,” and to listen. I knew Miss Daisy well, and I loved her more than I knew.

Then I read Losing Battles by Eudora Welty, and Southern Ladies outgrew their stereotype. There are struggles among them, genuine struggles. Some dominate; some submit; some resist; and some resist passively. Some win most every battle, but never declare victory; some lose but never admit defeat. Men are dominant in this Southern society: the judge, the minister, the “man of the family,” the young roustabout, a favorite son. But women are dominant in the family, or at least in this family.

Welty’s novel takes place during the one day of the Vaughn/Renfro family reunion, which actually extends over into the next day. The action seems to focus on the favorite son/grandson Jack, who has just escaped from the penitentiary so as not to miss Granny Vaughn’s ninetieth (or is it her ninety-first?) birthday. But, of course, the actual thematic focus is on the tensions among Granny, her daughter Beulah, and Jack’s young wife Gloria. Furthermore, one of the most prominent characters in the novel is the school teacher, Miss Julia Mortimer, who appears only in the stories told by others. Her funeral is the off-stage event competing with the Vaughn reunion for attention. Of all the “losing battles” recounted in the book, and there are many, Miss Julia’s is probably the most manifest and the source of the most ambivalence.

One critic has contended “that the form of language used by . . . Julia Mortimer and Granny Vaughn, serves as a challenge to the ‘male-authored decrees’ found throughout the book,” and I agree. “Julia's idioms are ‘teaching, writing, and books,’ while Granny Vaughn, on the other hand, uses oral language to transmit family history. While Julia's province is one of ideas and abstraction in the written word, Granny Vaughn's stories are concrete, empirical, and rooted in actual events and real people. How these two methods of questioning male authority are used by the two characters” comprises the heart of the novel.

But these tensions lurk just beneath the surface of the novel. What Losing Battles is really. clearly about is Southern storytelling. If you are delighted by the voices of storytellers in their element, you will feel entirely welcome at the Vaughn reunion, from first to last. If you are not frustrated that no story ever quite gets completely told, that there are still unanswered questions or answers that you have to infer, then you can relax, laugh along with the tellers, and enjoy the long day’s festivities.

This is Eudora Welty’s only long novel. She made her reputation with short stories, like “Why I Live at the PO,” and novellas, like The Ponder Heart. Because Losing Battles is about telling stories—Welty’s kind of stories—one has the sense that this was her signature novel. Personally, I list it as one of my top ten favorite novels of the 20th century, probably #1 in a list limited to USAmerican novelists of my lifetime.

But remember, I grew up learning to say “Yes, ma’am” and “No ma’am,” and to listen. ( )
2 vote bfrank | Jul 18, 2007 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Welty, Eudoraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Church, HenryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the memory of my brother,
Edward Jefferson Welty
Walter Andrews Welty
First words
When the rooster crowed, the moon had still not left the world but was going down on flushed cheek, one day short of the full.
When the mire of the roads had permitted, the aunts and girl cousins had visited two and three together and pieced it on winter afternoons. It was in the pattern of "The Delectable Mountains" and measured 8 feet square, the slanty red and white pieces running in to the 8 pointed star in the middle, with the called for number of sheep spaced upon it. Then Aunt Beck had quilted it on her lap with her bent needle.
"Possum, then what would she have had you do?" "Teach, teach, teach!" Gloria cried. "Till I dropped in harness! Like the rest of 'em!"
"Oh, books! The woman read more books than you could shake a stick at," said Miss Beulah. "I don't know what she thought was going to get her if she didn't."
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Three generations of Granny Vaughn's descendants gather at her Mississippi home to celebrate her 90th birthday. Possessed of the true storyteller's gift, the members of this clan cannot resist the temptation to swap tales.

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Book description
On the hot dry first Sunday of August, three generations of Granny Vaughn's descendants gather at her home in Banner, Mississippi, for a family reunion in celebration of her ninetieth birthday. The action covers two days, but in memory many decades, for the members of this enormous family are wonderful raconteurs. Through a myriad of raised voices we enter their world - -both present and past - and as this magnificently orchestrated novel rises to its crescendo, Eudora Welty subtly reveals that battles seemingly lost can also be secretly won.
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