The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Optimist's Daughter

The Optimist's Daughter

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by Eudora Welty

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This story of a young woman's confrontation with death and her past is a poetic study of human relations.


This story of a young woman's confrontation with death and her past is a poetic study of human relations.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
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Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)
880L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

A nurse held the door open for them. Judge McKelva going first, then his daughter Laurel, then his wife Fay, they walked into the windowless room where the doctor would make his examination. Judge McKelva was a tall, heavy man of seventy-one who customarily wore his glasses on a ribbon. Holding them in his hand now, he sat on the raised, thronelike chair above the doctor's stool, flanked by Laurel on one side and Fay on the other.

Laurel McKelva Hand was a slender, quiet-faced woman in her middle forties, her hair still dark. She wore clothes of an interesting cut and texture, although her suit was wintry for New Orleans and had a wrinkle down the skirt. Her dark blue eyes looked sleepless.

Fay, small and pale in her dress with the gold buttons, was tapping her sandaled foot.

It was a Monday morning of early March. New Orleans was out-of-town for all of them.

Dr. Courtland, on the dot, crossed the room in long steps and shook hands with Judge McKelva and Laurel. He had to be introduced to Fay, who had been married to Judge McKelva for only a year and a half. Then the doctor was on the stool, with his heels hung over the rung. He lifted his face in appreciative attention: as though it were he who had waited in New Orleans for Judge McKelva--in order to give the Judge a present, or for the Judge to bring him one.

“Nate," Laurel's father was saying, “the trouble may be I'm not as young as I used to be. But I'm ready to believe it's something wrong with my eyes."As though he had all the time in the world, Dr. Courtland, the well-known eye specialist, folded his big country hands with the fingers that had always looked, to Laurel, as if their mere touchon the crystal of a watch would convey to their skin exactly what time it was.

“I date this little disturbance from George Washington's Birthday," Judge McKelva said.

Dr. Courtland nodded, as though that were a good day for it. “Tell me about the little disturbance," he said.

“I'd come in. I'd done a little rose pruning--I've retired, you know. And I stood at the end of my front porch there, with an eye on the street--Fay had slipped out somewhere," said Judge McKelva, and bent on her his benign smile that looked so much like a scowl.

“I was only uptown in the beauty parlor, letting Myrtis roll up my hair," said Fay.

“And I saw the fig tree," said Judge McKelva. “The fig tree! Giving off flashes from those old bird-frighteners Becky saw fit to tie on it years back!"

Both men smiled. They were of two generations but the same place. Becky was Laurel's mother. Those little homemade reflectors, rounds of tin, did not halfway keep the birds from the figs in July.

“Nate, you remember as well as I do, that tree stands between my backyard and where your mother used to keep her cowshed. But it flashed at me when I was peering off in the direction of the Courthouse," Judge McKelva went on. “So I was forced into the conclusion I'd started seeing behind me."

Fay laughed--a single, high note, as derisive as a jay's.

“Yes, that's disturbing." Dr. Courtland rolled forward on his stool. “Let's just have a good look."

“I looked. I couldn't see anything had got in it," said Fay. “One of those briars might have given you a scratch, hon, but it didn't leave a thorn."

“Of course, my memory had slipped. Becky would say it served me right. Before blooming is the wrong time to prune a climber," Judge McKelva went on in the same confidential way; the doctor's face was very near to his. “But Becky's Climber I've found will hardly take a setback."

“Hardly," the doctor murmured. “I believe my sister still grows one now from a cutting of Miss Becky's Climber." His face, however, went very still as he leaned over to put out the lights.

“It's dark!" Fay gave a little cry. “Why did he have to go back there anyway and get mixed up in those brambles? Because I was out of the house a minute?"

“Because George Washington's Birthday is the time-honored day to prune roses back home," said the Doctor's amicable voice. “You should've asked Adele to step over and prune 'em for you."

“Oh, she offered," said Judge McKelva, and dismissed her case with the slightest move of the hand. “I think by this point I ought to be about able to get the hang of it."

Laurel had watched him prune. Holding the shears in both hands, he performed a sort of weighty saraband, with a lop for this side, then a lop for the other side, as though he were bowing to his partner, and left the bush looking like a puzzle.

“You've had further disturbances since, Judge Mac?"

“Oh, a dimness. Nothing to call my attention to it like that first disturbance."

“So why not leave it to Nature?" Fay said. “That's what I keep on telling him."

Laurel had only just now got here from the airport; she had come on a night flight from Chicago. The meeting had been unexpected, arranged over long-distance yesterday evening. Her father, in the old home in Mount Salus, Mississippi, took pleasure in telephoning instead of writing, but this had been a curiously reticent conversation on his side. At the very last, he'd said, “By the way, Laurel, I've been getting a little interference with my seeing, lately. I just might give Nate Courtland a chance to see what he can find." He'd added, "Fay says she'll come along and do some shopping."

Meet 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.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
April 13, 1909
Date of Death:
July 23, 2001
Place of Birth:
Jackson, Mississippi
Place of Death:
Jackson, Mississippi
University of Wisconsin

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