This novel, though slight in length, delivers an abundantly beautiful and lasting emotional message. It is the story of the illness and death of the optimist referred to in the title, and of the effect it has on his daughter, Laurel. At its heart the novel captures the complexity of relationships, the impossibility of truly knowing anyone (at one point, Laurel makes this observation as she looks in on her self-centered, sleeping, step-mother: “Is there any sleeping person you can be entirely sure you have not misjudged?” I love that line.), and most importantly the hold that our memories, often fleeting, yet powerful, have on us: “Memory lives…in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams.” This story awakened and filled my heart with memories from my own past, and has stayed with me in a haunting way, becoming part of my living memory.
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.
About the Author
Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mis-sissippi, in 1909. She was educated locally and at Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin, and the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. Her short stories appeared in The Southern Review, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Bazaar, The New Yorker, and other magazines. She lectured at a number of colleges, held the William Allan Neilson professorship at Smith and the Lucy Donnelly Fellowship at Bryn Mawr, and was a lecturer at the Conference of American Studies at Cambridge University. She worked under grants from the Rockefeller and Merrill foundations and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and held a Guggenheim Fellow-ship. She was given honorary degrees from Smith, the University of Wisconsin, Western College for Women, Denison University, the University of the South at Sewanee, and Millsaps College in Jackson. She also received the M. Carey Thomas Award from Bryn Mawr, the Brandeis Medal of Achievement, and the Hollins Medal; her novel The Ponder Heart was awarded the Howells Medal for Fiction by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Eudora Welty died in 2001.