Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Famed American writer Eudora Welty is known for her many short stories, but she also wrote a handful of novels, including The Optimist’s Daughter, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973. Her novel Delta Wedding, published in 1946, was written when her publisher suggested that she turn some of her short stories into a novel.
There isn’t much story or plot to Delta Wedding. The Fairchilds own a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta called Shellmounds. It’s September 1923 and their second-oldest daughter, seventeen-year-old Dabney, is marrying her father’s overseer, Troy Flavin. Troy is thirty-four years old and rough around the edges; most of the Fairchilds believe that, in marrying Troy, Dabney is marrying “beneath” herself.
Dabney Fairchild is “spoiled,” as are all the Fairchild children. The Fairchilds are moderately rich and have given all their children a good life, a life that hardly seems to have been touched by the real world. A Fairchild cousin who has recently lost her mother, Laura McRaven, has arrived on the Yellow Dog (the name they’ve given the train), for a visit. Much of what goes on at the Fairchilds is seen through Laura’s eyes.
In addition to all the Fairchild children (another one on the way), there are lots of aunts: widowed aunts (it is just a few years after World War I), spinster aunts who never married, great-aunts who remember the Civil War, a crazy aunt and a deaf aunt, etc. There are so many characters that, at times, it’s hard to keep everybody straight. Ellen and Battle are the parents of all the Fairchild children. Their children are Shelley, Dabney, Orrin, India, Little Battle, Bluet, and Ranny. Outspoken Aunt Tempe is Battle Fairchild’s sister. She has a husband, but he seems to be away on business all the time. Sisters Jim Allen and Primrose live together and never married. They live in a place called the Grove, which is owned by their brother, George. George is the most beloved of all the Fairchilds and has a rather troubled marriage to Robbie Reid. The Fairchilds look down on Robbie Reid and believe she isn’t good enough for George. Ellen, we learn at the end of the book, has a secret yearning for George but she will make sure nobody ever knows about it.
While Delta Wedding is about the events leading up to a wedding, it is, more than anything, a portrait of a large, close family in a simpler time. It’s all goodness and light, to the accompaniment of piano selections played endlessly by Mary Lamar Mackey. I’ll turn the ice cream freezer while you take the buggy into town and pick up the groceries. It’s so hot tonight I think I’ll sleep on the sleeping porch. When I wake up in the morning I’ll be as happy as I am now and there’ll be a wonderful breakfast waiting for me downstairs and I’ll be surrounded by all the people I love most in the world. They all love me, too, and, when it comes to my faults, they won’t talk about them or even acknowledge that I have any. What a family!
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp