Eudora Welty Review
In an interview published in Comment Magazine in 1965, Eudora Welty said of W. B. Yeats: "I used to like the early poems when I was young, but now I love all the poems. I can see what he did continually with his gift. He made of himself a second poet out of the first" ("An Interview" 25). The scope of Welty's engagement with Yeats's work bears out this statement. She summons the energy of words in her early work, as Yeats does in his poetry, rebuilds thematically Yeats's "The Song of Wandering Aengus" and "Leda and the Swan" in The Golden Apples, and dismantles his "Sailing to Byzantium" in her final volume of stories, The Bride of the Innisfallen. Much, rightly, has been made of Welty's use of Yeats's poetry in The Golden Apples. Indeed, thematically Yeats's work is rich ground for discussion of Welty's later stories. However, Yeats scholars find his poems of the period of "The Song of Wandering Aengus" at least as—if not more—compelling in technical experimentation than in presentation of themes and plot. Considering Welty's work in the context of technical poetic achievement shows her interest in the materiality of language, a materiality epitomized by early Yeats, and underscores Welty's use of the techniques of lyric poetry as tools to engage the body. I will discuss Welty's early poetry in the context of Yeats's technical work in his early poetry, and show how she transfers the elements of prosody from her poetry to one of her earliest stories, "Magic."
I will then return to the thematic consideration of Yeats and Welty that has proven to be such a rich topic in discussions of The Golden Apples. The proximity of The Bride of the Innisfallen, Welty's final volume of stories, to The Golden Apples presents the possibility that Welty there mines further the rich ground she found in Yeats's poetry in the earlier collection, even though his poetry has rarely been included in the conversations about The Bride of the Innisfallen. I will argue that Yeats's late poem "Sailing to Byzantium" deeply informs the two European stories in The Bride of the Innisfallen: the title story and "Going to Naples." "Sailing to Byzantium" frames Welty's meditation on the Yeatsian masculine dichotomy of physical and artistic sensuality. For Welty, the dichotomy becomes one between the material sensuality embodied in the rhythm and sound of language and the female sensuality that masculine language cannot express.
In both The Golden Apples and The Bride of the Innisfallen, Welty goes beyond revising Yeats's masculine myths right up to the point of replacing masculine language altogether. The French theorist Luce Irigaray argues that female experience remains unrepresented in language and thus is in effect not experienced. Language is masculine and comprises masculine representations of female experience arising from the masculine imaginary. For three particular women in Welty's stories—Virgie Rainey in "The Wanderers," the American woman in "The Bride of the Innisfallen," and Gabriella in "Going to Naples"—female experience construed in the masculine imaginary using phallocentric economies appears to foretell the prospect of their morose aloneness without husbands. The almost rapturous language of the final paragraphs in each story, however, belies Welty's compliance with the masculine assumption of what happens when women are without husbands. I will argue that Welty does approach Irigaray's conception of the female imaginary, beginning with the language with which Virgie Rainey ends "The Wanderers," the final story in The Golden Apples. However, seeing The Bride of the Innisfallen through the lens of Yeats's concern with poetry and immortality shows that Welty ultimately does not create l'Ecriture Feminine that is necessary to communicate the female imaginary.
Johnston, Carol Ann. "Eudora Welty and the Poetry of W. B. Yeats Before and After The Golden Apples." Eudora Welty Review 3 (2011): 63-86.