The Optimist's Daughter

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

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The Optimist's Daughter

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

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679728832
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1990
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 122,561
  • Lexile: 880L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Eudora Welty

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.


Although she traveled extensively and lived in various places during her extraordinary literary career, short story writer and novelist Eudora Welty seemed always to return to Jackson, Mississippi, the beloved hometown where she spent most of her adult life and where she undoubtedly drew inspiration for her pitch-perfect regional fiction.

Born into a happy, close-knit family on April 13, 1909, Welty attended Mississippi State College, graduated from the University of Wisconsin, then moved to New York in 1930 to attend Columbia's business school for advertising. A year later, her father's death brought her home. She worked locally in radio, wrote articles for a newspaper, and served as a publicity agent for the WPA throughout rural areas of the state. (A gifted photographer, Welty shot a number of remarkable candids at this time which were later published in the 1978 collection One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression.) A few of her stories appeared in small literary magazines in the late 1930s, but it was not until the following decade that her career took off. Her first short fiction collection, A Curtain of Green, and a debut novella, The Robber Bridegroom, were published respectively in 1941 and 1942.

Although Welty has penned some wonderful full-length novels (The Ponder Heart, Losing Battles, The Optimist's Daughter), it is her short stories -- peopled with peculiar, colorful eccentrics who maintain an undeniable charm in spite of their grotesquerie -- that have cemented her reputation as one of our finest regional writers. During her long literary career she accrued dozens of honors, including multiple O. Henry Awards, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, France's Legion of Honor, and dozens of honorary degrees. On July, 23, 2001, she died peacefully in her home in Jackson, Mississippi. She was 92 years old.

Good To Know

  • Welty worked for a year at The New York Times Book Review, where she wrote about war-related topics under the pseudonym "Michael Ravenna."

  • In 1964, Welty published her one and only story for children, The Shoe Bird.

  • Culled from a series of lectures she delivered at Harvard, Welty's memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, was published in 1984.

  • So legendary was Welty's "niceness" that her agent Timothy Seldes told a wonderful, apocryphal story at her funeral. Supposedly, as the author lay on her deathbed, her doctor leaned over and asked "Eudora, is there anything I can do for you?" Her rumored reply? "No, but thank you so much for inviting me to the party."
  • Read More Show Less
      1. Date of Birth:
        April 13, 1909
      2. Place of Birth:
        Jackson, Mississippi
      1. Date of Death:
        July 23, 2001
      2. Place of Death:
        Jackson, Mississippi
      1. Education:
        University of Wisconsin

    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."

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    Customer Reviews

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    Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 14, 2004

      A Perceptive Journey

      To respond to the previous reviewer--I think that is the type of book that is better appreciated when the reader has experienced a similar situation to the one the author writes about. The central character, an adult, has to adjust to the loss of her proper mother and find out how she fits in her father's life after he remarries a shallow, self-centered woman. Having a similar situation in my own life, I was able to see humor in the novel and better understand my own feelings.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted May 23, 2009

      Truly a Classic

      Eudora Welty's, The Optimist's Daughter, is a superbly crafted glimpse at family dynamics and unconditional love and devotion. Welty's characters are richly layered without screaming for attention. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions as the plot unfolds.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted February 16, 2007

      Happiness Found In Sadness

      'The best book Eudora Welty has ever written.' said the New York Times. Eudora Welty's THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER is a very well written and interesting novel with a different setting and unusual characters, a well-developed plot, and connections for all readers. THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER tells the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, who grew up in Mississippi and has recently lost her father and who lost her mother a few years earlier. While at Laurel's childhood home after her father dies, she gets trapped inside her mother's old sewing room, which has been ruined by her father's second wife and now widow, Fay. While inside the sewing room, Laurel learns more about her parents and family than she had known in her entire life.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted June 21, 2006

      This is a classic?

      Oh my gosh, I basically speed-read the last half of this book just to get it over with. I don't get what all the hoopla was about. I mean the critics go on and on over what a great book this is. I was told it was an American classic and a good read. I don't think so. Thank God it was a short book. Willa Cather, now there's a classic American writer.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted March 10, 2006

      the loving daughter

      Reading the optimist's daughter at first under whelmed me. I, at the very beginning, started to complain and say '' What a bore! a Boring story! Boring characters! Utterly devoid of any interesting or meaningful moments''. However, I changed my mind totally by finishing it as a whole. When I knew how Laurel went on her life, I realized how things went a whole lot deeper. I realized that Eudora Welty was really talking about how through one's own strength, he can preserve thru any changes sent his way. She wants to say that life is much easier if one casts his burden into someone whom he loves or trusts. Relatives and friends are willing to help one and as they say ' a friend indeed, a friend in need''. In fact, this novel assures the fact that life is nothing without the people whom we really love. Laurel's character reflects this pure love towards one's parents.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 15, 2003

      it's ok

      i don't think it was her best work but it was a good story. The Robber Bridegroom was great!!!

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 14, 2003

      Heart-warming story

      Although the plot was simple, there was so much more to the book than the storyline. With a little thought and contemplation, you will see that this book teaches us about contending w/ death, humanity, and honoring the deceaesd. It is entirely worthy of the pulitzer prize it won in 1973.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 26, 2002

      A bunch of words on a page

      This was the worst and most boring book I've ever read. I read it as an independant reading book, and now I must write an essay about its conflicts, and theme. This book was very hard to get into; it did not flow at all. Thoughts came and went, like the characters; they just appeared with know explanation. It was absolutly boring, and at times confusing. Please don't waste your time with this book.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted October 29, 2002

      Slow, Boring, Hard to Follow

      It took me more than a month to read this book. I had to read the first chapter twice because I did not understand it. It started off slow and continued to get more boring as the story went on. I am now finished with the book, but I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly what this book was about. Eudora Welty kept adding too many characters, and it was hard to keep track of them. And Welty spent too much time explaining everything, it was boring. Do not read this, it will be a waste of your time.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 13, 2002

      Beautiful writing

      Welty's book, The Optimist's Daughter, is beautifully written to showcase the use of the written language and that of the spoken dialect in small town Mississippi. It's a joy to read and it easily transports the reader to the South and back to the mid-1900's. The story unfolds very slowly. It opens at a somber time for the McKelva family, but we are encouraged as Judge McKelva is an optimist. The limited action picks up speed with additional characters and their interaction. The the real story is not the action, but the self reflection by Laurel, the optimist's daughter. We learn her history and follow her process of letting go. It's difficult to write a story that makes "inaction" the "action" and Welty did a wonderful job of it. It's fair to say that if the story was changed to current time, the ending might have been different -- which would make a great group discussion.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 25, 2002

      Don't waste your time...

      I had to read this book as a summer reading assignment for my freshman year of high school. Maybe it's just the age I was in while reading it, but this book just about put me to sleep after 5 seconds. It was HORRIBLE! No plot, no climax, no excitement. HORRIBLE! I had to come on here and let you all know the truth: Don't waste your time. Trust me..

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 27, 2002

      Optimist's Daughter

      As a northener, I felt this book was very sectionalist and regionalist showing ordinary Southern people as heroic individuals. Very difficult reading for a fellow New Yorker with its dense Southern dialect. The optimist in the novel is Judge Mckelva, who undergoes major eye surgery. The Optimist's Daughter lacks a climax and moves at a tortoise like speed. It is not the best book ever written but certainly not the worst.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 27, 2002

      Optimist's Daughter

      Optimist's Daughter is a slow paced, narrative sort of book. It appears to be an autobiographical account of Eudora Welty's life. A Pulitzer Prize winner, it is considered by many critics to be one of her best and most famous works As a typical Southerner, she tells detailed stories at the drop of a hat, a simple question usually turns into a long drawn-out story. Most of Welty's works seem to draw upon inner beauty of the southern characters. I won't go into specific details of the novel, but I will say it makes for great reading and is difficult book to put down.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 28, 2001

      A nice story

      The story centers on Laurel McKelva. She's a sensible young woman whose father recently died after undergoing a minor eye operation. She travels with her flighty and selfish stepmother Fay, back to the small town in Mississippi where she grew up. Once she is alone in the old house she makes some revelations about her past, her parents and herself. This is a very well-written book. Perfect if you like stories with little or no action. The most action in the book occurs when Fay returns to the house where a slightly heated confrontation occurs, but even that is short and subdued. How much you enjoy this book will depend on how much you like Laurel since she is the center of the story. Personally, I liked her, she has strong character, a strong sense of self and isn't afraid to put her foolish and overbearing stepmother in her place. Overall, a very good book.

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      Posted July 2, 2011

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      Posted June 25, 2009

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