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The Optimist's Daughter
The Optimist's Daughter

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PROPHETS & POETS: Eudora Weltywatch clip
Eudora Welty's THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER first appeared as a story in THE NEW YORKER in 1969. Expanded and published as a short novel three years later, it follows Laurel, a middle-aged widow in Chicago, as she returns to the South, where she was born and raised. She journeys to New Orleans to visit her ailing, hospitalized father, who is also attended by his second wife, Fay. Laurel and Fay's encounter, and the manner in which they deal with their beloved's death and its aftermath, form the heart of the narrative. Welty, in a feat of concise storytelling, establishes a series of conflicts between tradition and modernity that are simultaneously iconized by the two women and complicated by their precisely drawn, idiosyncratic natures. As Welty shows how the cultural divide between old and new is both real and ambiguous, she also explores the emotional effects of that other divide, between the living and the dying -- which will always, eventually, be crossed. Most remarkable is how full the novel feels, especially given its brevity; beyond social commentary and personal tragedy, it also has moments of comedy and even farce. Welty's unfailing ear for dialogue knits all these elements into a tale whose scope easily transcends its size.

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