Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Eudora Welty: Some Notes on River Country (copy)

Eudora Welty was born April 13, 1909, in Jackson. To help celebrate her centennial, I am reading her works all during the year. This week I picked up Eudora Welty: Some Notes on River Country.

The book is a reprint of her 1944 essay that first appeared in Harper's Bazaar. This rambling essay starts with the history of River Country—land south of Vicksburg to and including Natchez and the Natchez Trace—then ends with the flora covered landscape of the area. After the essay, readers thumb through a set of 32 photos, most snapped by Welty. These include the ruins of Windsor, the mighty Mississippi River, the ghost town of Rodney, cemeteries, and other River Country landscapes.

The afterword by Hunter Cole gives insight into Welty’s writing through these notes. For example, Cole takes a quote from Welty as told to Dr. Peggy Prenshaw in Conversations with Eudora Welty. Welty said, “Why, just to write about what might happen along some little road like the Natchez Trace—which reaches so far into the past and has been the trail for so many kinds of people—is enough to keep you busy for life.”

Welty kept busy alright. According to Cole, she set her book The Robber Bridegroom and six short stories: A Worn Path, Asphodel, First Love, A Still Moment, Livvie, and At the Landing, in River Country.

Cole continues, “It is known that she read Audubon’s diaries, J.F.H Claiborne’s Mississippi narratives, and Robert M. Coates’s The Outlaw Years: The Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace and wished to verify the history these told.”

It was apparent while reading Welty’s essay that I lack basic Mississippi history. She nonchalantly wrote, “Deep under them both is solid blue clay, embalming the fossil horse and fossil ox and the great mastodon, the same preserving blue clay that was dug up to wrap the head of the Big Harp in bandit days, no less a monstrous thing when carried in for reward.”

What! Yuck! Is this really true and why haven’t I heard of said Harp, Big or Little?

Now I want to know more about the Harps, Mike Fink, Lorenzo Dow, John Murrell, John Law, Aaron Burr, Harmon Blennerhassett, and John James Audubon’s search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in Mississippi thanks to this essay. Maybe I should get busy and add the books Eudora read to my reading list this year, too.

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