08 December, 2015

The Optimist's Daughter

BY Eudora Welty
Book Information1Trade/1/0/US/RH/1972/?  •  215x148x22  •  414  •  Pulitzer'73


Through the diametrically opposite characterizations of Laurel, the mellow and obliging daughter, and Fay, the callow for age stepmother, Eudora Welty presents an elegiac discourse on age, loss and the pileup of memories through this compendious story. Laurel, in her 40s, was a gregarious soul who found strength in familial ties but was, unfortunately, left to nurse the grief of deaths - of her mother, then her husband, and finally, her father, Judge McKelva. Fay, also in her 40s but younger than Laurel, was the stepmother who married the aged Judge McKelva for the inheritance, and who claimed that her own family spilt after the passing of her mother, only for the old lady, along with her band of siblings, to unravel this lie when they attended the Judge’s funeral unwittingly.

Judge McKelva was the sort of big, confident man who was also compassionate, having helped Doctor Courtland, his eventual physician, through medical school during the Depression. The first part of the book painted a delicate picture of the Judge's impotency that came with age: the physical impotency illustrated by how he, weakened from a recent operation, could only wait helplessly for a loitering recovery, and the mental impotency by his injudicious decision to marry Fay - a poorly chosen surrogate for Laurel - as "he mightily enjoyed having him someone to spoil”. These impotencies were costly – an apparent altercation with Fay finally broke the old man and killed him.

Throughout the funeral, Laurel found solace through reminiscences – memories of her mother, of her youth and friends, and of the general neighborliness. In contrast, Fay continued to be difficult and resentful, and sometimes vindictive towards that Southern hospitality that never quite warmed up to her. She returned to Texas with her family after the funeral before showing up again to claim the remuneration - she inherited Judge McKelva's house - for her service: the companionship rendered to the aged and fun-less Judge. This commoditization of love, or more accurately, of marriage was probably contemptuous in the 1970s but hardly causes a stir today, and that’s probably the biggest lament reading this 1973 Pulitzer winner today.


This is the first trade edition first printing with the first state dust jacket that is unclipped, reflecting the correct price of $5.95. The book is bound in cream clothed board with gilt lettering to spine and gilt motif of clock face and flow on front board, and has brown top stain. The book is printed on thick paper. The copyright page should state "First Edition" with a full number line from 9 to 2.

This book is not very scarce and VG copies can be purchased from eBay or Abebooks from $100 onwards. This is a VG+ copy with a VG+ dust jacket with some minor rubbing and stains to the back, and a NF book that is tight and clean. There is a 300-copy signed limited edition that is the true first edition, and it typically retails at around $1,000.

















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