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The Optimist's Daughter (1972)

by Eudora Welty

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,664915,586 (3.56)315
Fiction. Literature. This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel tells the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who has left the South and returns, years later, to New Orleans, where her father is dying. After his death, she and her silly young stepmother go back still farther, to the small Mississippi town where she grew up. Along in the old house, Laurel finally comes to an understanding of the past, herself, and her parents.… (more)
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English (81)  Spanish (6)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (90)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
Laurel returns to her small Mississippi town from Chicago in time for her father to die after eye surgery. Her own husband died in the war a year earlier. Her mother has been dead for years after going blind.

Her father's clueless and stupidly cruel second wife, Fay, is Laurel's age. While Laurel embraces the past, her family's past, Fay shuns it. "The past isn't a thing to me. I belong to the future, didn't you know that?" The future doesn't look good to Laurel. She returns to Chicago after burning her mother's letters, her past life gone. ( )
  Hagelstein | Jan 26, 2024 |
This won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I'm guessing I would not have loved this as much if I had read it in print. Eudora Welty reading it herself with all of the proper cadences and inflections made the story come to life for me. It's a character study in grief that is anchored in the Deep South and resonates with what it is to be human. ( )
  Crazymamie | Jan 8, 2023 |
This novella has a much heavier, darker mood than I have become accustomed to from Welty. There is little that could be mistaken for humor, and I felt a total abhorrence for the character, Fay, which is also a departure from what I have come to expect from Welty. Her characters are generally likable at some level.

Of course, the subject matter, death and its aftermath, is so serious and Welty addresses it head on. I felt so sad for Laurel and the complete loss she experiences. Even in light of all the kind people who care for her in the town, she has suffered a loss that cannot be lightly comforted.

Perhaps, having lost my own parents, I felt this at a visceral level. I am grateful, and have always been, that I was not an only child, that my loss was shared completely and wholly by others and that my memories were still shared in a way that no outsider could ever have known.

She is a remarkable writer. There is a reason she received the Pulitzer, although this would not be my choice for her best work. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
This is a beautifully written quiet little book. The descriptions especially are very evocative, and certainly I know these people, having grown up in the South myself. I'm not sure how much I connected to the story or these characters, though--I felt, as I read, like a disinterested observer, admiring the craft but not getting emotionally involved. Perhaps it is because I feel like I have read the Southern novel so many times over that it has become too shopworn for me by now, which is probably more a fault of mine than of this author's. ( )
  sturlington | Aug 6, 2022 |
This is a slim novel that is a slow read. (at least for me). I think I have read some of Welty's short stories over the years - but came upon this when I decided to randomly choose a Pulitzer prize winner for my next read, something I have never done before. (as an aside - I happen to be going through PVD right now and there is a worry of a retinal tear and can not believe that I happened to choose a book that begins with a retinal tear. I told my Ophthalmologist and she said she has never read a fiction book about a retinal tear - what are the chances? ). Anyhoo, I think I understand why this won the PP. It is such a deep study of people - the themes are big and hard to ignore. Vision being the most prominent - and memory. I think I am glad I read it - even though the timing was weird for me. ( )
  alanna1122 | Jul 23, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 81 (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.
 

» Add other authors (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eudora Weltyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Briasco, LucaPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dowers, ShonnaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fefè, SimonaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
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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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Fiction. Literature. This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel tells the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who has left the South and returns, years later, to New Orleans, where her father is dying. After his death, she and her silly young stepmother go back still farther, to the small Mississippi town where she grew up. Along in the old house, Laurel finally comes to an understanding of the past, herself, and her parents.

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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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