I don’t know where to start. Do I tell you about the genius that was Eudora Welty? Do I explain to you the unfamiliar fairytale, The Robber Bridegroom? Or do I just drive right into telling you about this book and hope I intrigue you enough that you will go look up Welty and the fairytale on your own?
Okay, I figure at this point, you are well acquainted with my tendency to ramble, so I’m going to try to briefly (that made me giggle a bit) touch on Welty and the fairytale, then dive into the book. Is that okay? If not, skim folks.
So, Eudora Welty. Queen of Southern Literature, in my oh so humble opinion, was a downright brilliant author. And what I find the most fascinating about her, is how long she lived. She was born in 1909 and she died in 2001. I kid you not. Think of all the things she saw. She won the Pulitzer (for The Optimists Daughter). She lectured at Harvard. She sat on the New York Times Book Review. Received a Guggenheim Fellowship. And I’m pretty sure you cannot get out of school in the South without reading something written by her. For me, it was her short story A Worn Path and excerpts from her novel Delta Wedding. I don’t remember much about Delta Wedding, probably because we didn’t read the whole thing, but her story A Worn Path stays with me to this day. In reading about her, I’ve found she loved fairytales. A woman after my own heart! Why it took so long, somehow, despite always meaning to read more of her work, it took me 12 years out of college to finally read her again, I’ll never know. Let’s just say I was stupid. Let’s just ask the question, what took me so damn. long? I won’t take me that long again.
The Robber Bridegroom (the fairytale) has several incarnations. I’m going to give you a shortened Grimm version. There was this miller, once upon a time, who had a daughter. When she comes of age, of course he wants to get her married. At least he wants to get her a respectable husband. Wants to. He just doesn’t try very hard. The first man who pops up is by all appearances very rich and finding no fault with him (there is no mention as to how hard he tried, I’m betting not very hard) the father promises his daughter to him. Time passes, and the daughter never visits her intended (do you blame her??). You see, she didn’t like the look of him, didn’t trust him, and the very thought of him, “she felt within her heart a sense of horror.”
Take about gut instinct.
Her intended calls her out on it and she replies that she doesn’t know where he lives. He tells her it is in the dark woods and she returns basically with the reply that there is no way on God’s green Earth that she’s going out there. Undeterred, he tells her to come on Sunday, he’s already invited guests and he will leave a trail of ashes for her to find her way. Ashes. Invokes a wee be of unease, yes? She goes, leaving a trail for herself of peas and lentils and finds her way to his house. His empty house. Empty except for a black bird that tells her “Turn back, turn back, you young bride. You are in a murderer’s house.” Have I got your attention now?
Up to this point, Eudora follows the story mostly. She changes the father, his story is much more, well, more and the groom has a name and an occupation. He’s a handsome scoundrel. The daughter is an idiot, in my opinion, because she acts like a complete airhead. And she has a wicked stepmother now! After she finds the house, things change. In the fairytale, she finds an old woman who hides her from the men who would murder and eat her (yes, eat her) and helps her escape. In Eudora’s story, she does something completely different.
No, I’m not going to tell you what. Although, if you look at the cover verrrry closely, you may get an idea.
In the fairytale, the old woman and the young bride escape and expose the bridegroom at the wedding. He and all his cohorts are put to death for their crimes. In the book, well, again, it’s very different. Again, not going to tell you how. You have to read it people.
And read it you should. I love love love Welty’s way with words. The way she takes the South, the Deep South, and mythologizes just sends me to the moon with love for this book. She takes this fairytale and mixes it with the South and creates something new, something slightly crazy, something slightly manic, something completely fascinating. The only thing I didn’t like was the attitude towards blacks and Indians, which, knowing the time period the story is set… well, I know it’s the way it was, but it doesn’t make it easier. At least I know Phoenix from A Worn Path is out there in Welty’s canon. If you haven’t tried Welty’s work, what are you waiting on? I’m definitely going to be reading more, very soon.
I bought this from Barnes & Noble as an ebook. If I was you, I would avoid this ebook at all costs. It looks like a 3rd grader typed it.
This counts for the Classics Club challenge and also my personal challenge of reading more classics in July.