What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell

What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell

by Suzanne Marrs


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547750323
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Pages: 499
Sales rank: 549,325
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

SUZANNE MARRS is the author of Eudora Welty: A Biography and One Writer's Imagination: The Fiction of Eudora Welty and a recipient of the Phoenix Award for Distinguished Welty Scholarship. She is a professor of English at Millsaps College.

Read an Excerpt


Letters, reading them and writing them, claimed the rapt attention of
Eudora Welty and William Maxwell throughout their adult lives, and books
of letters by fellow authors—Lord Byron, Anton Chekhov, Roger Fry, William
Faulkner, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H. L . Mencken, for instance—
they found particularly engaging. In 1983, Maxwell collected and edited a
book of his friend Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters, and eight years later
Welty included many letters when she coedited The Norton Book of Friendship.
In the introduction to that book, she noted:

 All letters, old and new, are the still-existing parts of a life. To read them
 now is to be present when some discovery of truth—or perhaps untruth,
 some flash of light—is just occurring. It is clamorous with the moment’s
 happiness or pain. To come upon a personal truth of a human being
 however little known, and now gone forever, is in some way to admit
 him to our friendship. What we’ve been told need not be momentous,
 but it can be as good as receiving the darting glance from some very
 bright eye, still mischievous and mischief-making, arriving from fifty or
 a hundred years ago.1

 For both Welty and Maxwell, letters provided a way of expanding the
range of their friendships. Letters provided a more comprehensive sense of
the person who, whether or not that person was someone they had actually
known, stood behind the stories, poems, and essays they valued or found interesting.
Although Welty and Maxwell awarded letters a modest place in
the hierarchy of literary genres, it was a place of importance to them. So
it is not surprising that in 1976, when a second volume of Virginia Woolf’s
letters came into print, both Welty and Maxwell, two longtime admirers of
Woolf and two of America’s most distinguished fiction writers, separately reviewed
the book.
 These reviews (by two old friends whose literary opinions rarely diverged)
struck dissonant tones but had a common focus. Welty opened her
review by quoting from Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room: “Life would split asunder
without letters.” That statement, Welty went on to suggest, described
the role correspondence played not only for Woolf’s characters but also for
the writer herself. “A need for intimacy,” Welty asserted, “lies at the very
core of Virginia Woolf’s life. Besides the physical, there are other orders of
intimacy, other ways to keep life from splitting asunder. Lightly as it may
touch on the moment, almost any letter she writes is to some degree an expression
of this passion, of which the eventual work of art was The Waves.”2
To Welty, even letters filled with lacerating wit were a way of reaching for
 Maxwell did not fully agree with this assessment. Instead of discussing a
desire for intimacy in Woolf’s letters, he described a lack of self-assurance:
“Even though Virginia Woolf was, I think, a writer of the first rank, she
could not rest secure in the knowledge of her talent; the prevailing tone of
the letters written in her maturity is disparagement.” Particularly distasteful
to Maxwell was Woolf’s habit of ridiculing others, and he felt that “strangers
get off lightly compared to what happens when she is writing about
friends.” Though he sought to avoid moral judgments based on material
not intended for publication and though he recognized that no friendship
is without its prickly moments, Maxwell felt that Woolf could take “pleasure
in being cruel.” Still, there were letters of a different sort, and Maxwell
particularly lauded one that Welty also admired. In that 1922 letter, Woolf
acknowledged her own vulnerability to doubt and sent encouragement to a
young, then unpublished Gerald Brenan.3
 The Virginia Woolfs who emerged from the Welty and Maxwell reviews
were strikingly different people, but undergirding both reviews was a belief
that letters should be a way of embracing, supporting, and uniting with
friends and that letters communicate most profoundly when they do not
mask vulnerabilities. This shared belief is everywhere evident in the letters
Eudora Welty and William Maxwell themselves wrote. “Orders of intimacy”
other than the physical are often tragically missing from the lives of
characters in their stories and novels. There the powerful need for friendship
is typically defined by its lack. Not so in their correspondence.
 Welty shared intimate and voluminous exchanges of letters with many
friends, including her agent Diarmuid Russell; fiction editor Mary Louise
Aswell; childhood friend Frank Lyell; and the two men she loved over the
course of her life, John Robinson and Ross Macdonald. Welty and these
friends saved the letters they exchanged, and as her friends faced death,
they stipulated that the letters Welty had written be returned to her. Although
Welty at one point considered destroying these two-sided correspondences
she came to possess, she ultimately willed them to the Mississippi
Department of Archives and History.
 Maxwell’s correspondence with friends was as extensive and generous
as Welty’s. He corresponded with fellow writers such as Frank O’Connor,
Sylvia Townsend Warner, John Updike, John Cheever, and Larry Woiwode.
He allowed his correspondence with Warner and O’Connor to be published.
In the late 1990s, he gave his alma mater, the University of Illinois,
a huge collection of his papers, including many letters from Eudora Welty.
His estate has made his remaining letters from Welty available for this book,
and Maxwell’s letters to her are preserved as digital scans at the Eudora
Welty House, a museum in Jackson, Mississippi.4
 For more than fifty years, Welty and Maxwell wrote to each other, sharing
their worries about work and family, their likes and dislikes, their griefs
and joys, their moments of despair and hilarity. Reading their letters admits
us into the friendship of these two intellectual, imaginative, and erudite individuals.
We learn that they were great in-takers—at times fascinated, at
times appalled by the world about them, but always describing it vividly
with deft turns of phrase. Their letters often sparkle with humor, but their
humor can also take on an ironic dimension. A generosity of spirit pervades
the correspondence but is never saccharine. Although literary friendships
are famous for going bad, Welty and Maxwell weathered inevitable moments
of discontent. Issues of jealousy, resentment, cruelty, or condescension
never threatened their relationship, which began in 1942, deepened
over time, and found eloquent expression in their letters. In those letters,
neither engaged in posturing or affectation. Instead, they both achieved the
“triumphant vulnerability” that can result from daring to trust, empathize,
and communicate.5
 Near the end of her introduction to The Norton Book of Friendship,
Welty asked, “Did friendship between human beings come about in the
first place along with—or through—the inspiration of language?” And then
she attempted to answer her own question:

 It can be safe to say that when we learned to speak to, and listen to,
 rather than to strike or be struck by, our fellow human beings, we found
 something worth keeping alive, worth the possessing, for the rest of time.
 Might it possibly have been the other way round—that the promptings
 of friendship guided us into learning to express ourselves, teaching ourselves,
 between us, a language to keep it by? Friendship might have
 been the first, as well as the best, teacher of communication.6

Friendship and life as a writer, Welty implicitly suggested, can be closely
related, and the writer need not make (as distinguished psychologist Howard
Gardner believes creative individuals typically do) a Faustian bargain,
opting for an ascetic existence, isolating herself, or exploiting others in the
quest for artistic fulfillment. Instead, Welty asserted, friendship and the word
can “rise from the same prompting.”7
 For Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, the pleasures of friendship and
the love of language certainly rose “from the same prompting.” They met
in 1942 in New York when both attended a party given by Harper’s Bazaar
fiction editor Mary Louise Aswell. For Mr. Maxwell, Miss Welty immediately
proved as compelling a storyteller in person as she was in the fiction
he wanted to acquire for The New Yorker, where for three days a week he
worked as an editor. Immediately after their meeting, he wrote to ask her for
submissions, but Welty, who had just published a novella and completed
a collection of stories, had no unpromised pieces to offer as 1942 drew to
a close. She instead suggested that Maxwell contact her agent, Diarmuid
Russell, about future work. Russell, however, had reason to be skeptical of
The New Yorker. From 1940 to 1941, the magazine had rejected three Welty
stories and an essay, and Russell chose not to send its editorial staff the two
Welty stories he circulated in 1943 and 1944. Neither did he send them her
novel Delta Wedding, which the Atlantic Monthly published in four installments
in 1946.
 In September of that year, Welty told her agent that Maxwell had again
written to ask for a story, and on October 31 Russell offered “The Whole
World Knows” to The New Yorker. Maxwell lobbied long and hard to have
the story accepted but was defeated by the magazine’s founder and editor,
Harold Ross, who found the story too “arty.”8 Maxwell did not object
in 1947 when first Welty’s “Hello and Good-Bye” (“one of her lighter efforts”)
and then “Music from Spain” (one of her longer efforts) failed to
gain acceptance at the magazine.9 But he had nevertheless won Welty’s
regard. Because they lived half a continent apart and were able to meet
only once or twice a year, when Eudora made pilgrimages to New York, the
bonds of friendship between them would be nourished, as they would subsequently
be maintained and strengthened, by correspondence. Although
there was no sustained correspondence between Welty and Maxwell from
January 1943 to August 1949, the two clearly grew closer during these years
and occasionally wrote to each other. By summer’s end in 1949, Maxwell
was comfortably addressing Welty as “Eudora,” telling her of his household
chores, signing himself “Bill,” and sending his love along with that of his
wife, Emmy.
 Eventually, the trust built by their ongoing friendship enriched their relationship
as editor and author. In 1951, Bill and his colleague Gus Lobrano
finally convinced The New Yorker to accept a Welty story. “The Bride of the
Innisfallen” was the first of seven pieces Eudora published there, and Bill
was her editor for all of them. From the start, Eudora had confidence in
Bill’s judgment and he in hers, always editing her work with a light hand.
He paid careful attention to details of punctuation or verb tense but left
final decisions about such matters to Eudora. If any substantive revisions
seemed advisable, he suggested rather than attempting to impose a change.
For instance, in editing “The Ponder Heart” for the December 5, 1953, issue
of The New Yorker, he offered this suggestion about a somewhat confusing
time sequence: “This is the only serious query that I have to make to
you. It would [. . .] be an enormous help to the reader if you could suggest
somehow [. . .] that the whole business about Miss Teacake took place before
Uncle Daniel was consigned to the asylum. I have suggested an insert
which you may find clumsy, but which might give you a clue to how to do
it.”10 Similarly, in editing the periodical version of “The Optimist’s Daughter,”
which occupied almost an entire New Yorker issue in March 1969, Bill

 You have until the week before the story appears to decide on the title,
 and whatever you decide is all right with us. Meanwhile, I will continue
 to tell you what I think, but not, you understand, trying to persuade you.
 I am still partial to “The Optimist’s Daughter”, because, by its ironic
 tone, it suggests a certain distance between the writer and the woman in
 the story, and because it also, again by its irony, suggests, matches somehow,
 the full horror of the subject matter. The Flickering Light of Vision
 is, by comparison, abstract, and to me less inviting. Also, I like titles
 that don’t state the idea of the thing but are more oblique.11

 Eudora clearly valued Bill’s advice, and in these instances as in many
others, she followed his suggestions, although at times she was, to use Bill’s
words, “firm about the unhelpful suggestions.”12 Bill found that his role as
Eudora’s New Yorker editor brought him great joy, and he happily answered
requests for advice even when New Yorker publication was not involved.
For example, in 1961, when he read a partial draft of Losing Battles, a long
novel not completed until 1970, he could not contain his enthusiasm:

 Well I find it very hard not knowing how they got the car down in time
 for the funeral. Or what part Miss Footsie Kilgore played in the operation.
 Don’t worry about the form. It has it. And don’t whatever you do
 cut any of the physical descriptions of the place, the night, the moon,
 etc. The whole going to bed passage is so beautiful that it is like reading
 an opera. The mind supplies the music. Harold Brodkey has a theory
 that most novels run out of gas, that is to say the original inspiration, after
 the first seventy or a hundred pages. And then the novelist gets his
 second wind, with a different inspiration. This doesn’t run out of gas,
 but it takes on a certain musical solidity when they are at the table and
 begin to talk about Miss Florence Hand. Partly from the fact that they
 talk so long about her, and up until that point have refused to stick to
 any one subject for longer than three sentences. Anyway, it builds, all
 the way to the end of part III. There are a hundred remarks that delighted
 me they were so much like the people I remember. And made
 me laugh out loud. The only book I ever read that it reminds me of
 is Delta Wedding, it is so completely just like you and nobody else. It
 also has the richness of being the only thing you have been working
 on all these years. One feels that, more and more. Now what else can I
 tell you? 13

 Bill’s delight in the novel was like his response to a visit from Eudora—
friend and editor were one. Eudora herself adopted a sort of editorial stance
in their friendship as she encouraged Bill’s work on The Château (1961),
work that like hers on Losing Battles took place in fits and starts over many
years. And at times Bill turned to Eudora for editorial advice. Before he settled
on So Long, See You Tomorrow as the title for his last novel (1980), he
wrote to her, “I wanted originally to call it ‘The Palace at 4 AM’ but unfortunately
Howard Moss had used that title for a play. Does this title seem all
 Clearly, Eudora and Bill produced both titles and books that were more
than all right. Eudora’s five collections of stories, three novellas, and two
novels were matched by Bill’s six novels and five story collections. Both
wrote books for children. Both published collections of their essays. Both
wrote books dealing with family history. And both proved impatient with the
conventions of genre. The stories in Eudora’s The Golden Apples (1949), for
instance, are tightly interwoven, with protagonists in one story becoming
minor characters in others, but she chose “not to bother with plot-threads
and all that, but just to take up these people whenever and wherever in
their lives that might interest me.”15 She preferred the irresolution of experience
to the tying of bows. Bill was similarly experimental in So Long,
See You Tomorrow, shifting between memoir and fiction and for a time pre-
senting the story from the viewpoint of a dog. Even using the dog proved a
wise choice.
 Bill’s and Eudora’s willingness to take literary risks led not only to a sense
of artistic fulfillment but also to a tandem set of awards. Over the course
of his career, Bill received a National Book Award and the William Dean
Howells Medal for fiction (both for So Long, See You Tomorrow), the PEN/
Malamud Award, the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy
of Arts and Letters, and the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement
in Publishing from the National Book Critics Circle. For her part, Eudora
received the Howells Medal for fiction (for The Ponder Heart), the Pulitzer
Prize for Fiction (for The Optimist’s Daughter), the Gold Medal for Fiction
from the American Academy, the National Book Foundation’s Medal for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, the National Medal of the Arts, and the French Legion of Honor.
Ultimately, the Library of America included two volumes of her work and
two volumes of Bill’s in its series of books designed to keep “America’s best
and most significant writing” always in print.16
 Of course, Eudora and Bill’s relationship was sustained by more than
their professional association and accomplishments. Their common love
of writing sprang from an uncommon passion for reading. In their letters,
Bill and Eudora discussed works by authors ranging from Jane Austen to
Virginia Woolf, from William Faulkner to Frank O’Connor, from Willa
Cather to Langston Hughes, from Agatha Christie to M. R . James, from
Lady Charlotte Guest to Lady Ottoline Morrell, from Frederic Mistral to
Larry Woiwode. And they discussed encounters with fellow writers. In January
1959, for instance, Bill and Emmy attended a dinner for Isak Dinesen.
After dinner, Dinesen read from her story “The Deluge at Norderney” for a
film series on outstanding contemporary writers. Of his dinner conversation
with Dinesen, Bill wrote:

 She didn’t do more than consider and reply to my remarks, until the
 dessert, and then something, I forget what, the fact that I had just finished
 making a doll house, perhaps, for my daughter, made her melt,
 and she talked to me—but still not personally, not as if she liked me or
 ever wanted to see me again. But in such a way as to make me love her
 forever. Her voice is so beautiful, the accent isn’t either British or Amer-
 ican. It has notes that are like cello music. It’s like listening to Hayden.
 And those burning black eyes. It is several years too late to be her friend,
 but it is not too late to remember what she is like, as long as I live.

Of the filming and refilming of her reading, he noted:

 For nearly four hours we listened to that story, and looked at that extraordinary
 face, without for one second tiring of either one. And you could
 look because she never looked back. She looked at the camera as if it
 loved to hear stories more than anything in this world, and I certainly
 hope it did. She was able to repeat and recapture phrasing, cadences,
 pitch of voice, even fleeting expressions, time after time, as if she were
 an actress. She did not even look tired, until it was all, at last, over, and
 then suddenly when I turned around, she was sitting, in that black fur
 coat, but rather longhaired, not caracul or Persian lamb or anything ordinary,
 with a black chiffon scarf over her head, leaving a white wedge
 of face, with two burning black eyes in it, and the whole body in the
 posture of exhaustion.17

 Eudora demonstrated a similar reverence for the creative individual
when she described hearing octogenarian Padraic Colum read at the 1964
Suffield (Connecticut) Writer-Reader Conference, where she was also on
the program:

 If I had had to walk all the way from Jackson and work free all the week
 through, I would have gladly because of Padraic Colum. Imagine having
 him in the same place as you and telling stories, reciting poems of
 anyone anywhere any time in the whole history, and just remarking [. . .]
 To think of his still being with us and the liveliest one for miles around—
 the last link with all that. Last night came his lecture in the barn, which
 is the Suffield Academy Theatre, and of course it was so much more
 than a lecture—about growing up in his grandmother’s house, with the
 peat fire which you look down on, and so is so much better than other
 fires, and the greyhounds sleeping “in a loop” on the hearth, and the
 story-teller coming, taking a seat (in his grandmother’s house there was
 always a pile of clean grass and leaves kept ready near the hearth for any
 wanderer) and beginning “Now by the power that has seized me, I will
 tell you:” (better than that, can’t remember right now).18

 The enthusiasm with which Bill and Eudora listened to and read
the works of fellow writers was but one of many enthusiasms they shared. A
love of gardening at times seemed to rival their love of literature. Their letters
include references to almost sixty different roses that one or the other
grew, to nurseries where plants could be obtained, to books on the art of
cultivating roses or on the history of gardening. But neither Bill nor Eudora
was content merely to tend a garden and to read and write stories. They
both supported liberal Democratic candidates for public office, with twotime
presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson at the top of the list. Both loved
the theater and reported on plays they had seen. And both loved the rewards
of travel. As Eudora told Diarmuid Russell, “I would agree to try almost anything
for a trip.”19 Bill might not have made so expansive a declaration, but
encounters with different cultures, the sight of architectural wonders, and
the opportunity to see great works of art delighted them both. Eudora recounted
her pleasure in seeing the Barnes collection in Philadelphia:

 Today I got taken to see the Barnes—you know how hard it is to see,
 and now, as I felt nearly every step I took to stand before another picture,
 I wish for you to see it. Have you ever? I can’t even send you a card
 with a reproduction of a single one, because no reproductions have ever
 been made. The Cezannes—50? 60? of absolutely radiant staggering
 beauty And drawings!—the Monets—Picassos (Blues & Pink—Saltambiques
 (sp?))—a dozen wild Rousseaus—a Van Gogh Postman with a
 green beard and a sty, not my favorite painter, but just to show you. I felt
 drenched by the whole color of blue—and Matisse! Dozens, dozens of
 prime Odalesques & girls & goldfishes, lights & airs & chaises & [readers]
 & you know—It was a great feeling of being in the Presence.20

Bill told Eudora of a glorious visit to London and especially to the Tate Gallery:
“We have had such a happy time in London [. . .] The weather like
Rupert Brooke’s poem. And all the squares full of flowering trees and daffodils.
There were five huge rooms full of Turners at the Tate, a big Constable
show, and the original drawings for The Tailor of Gloucester—which drove
me half out of my mind with pleasure—” Eudora offered this description
of Wales: “After changing trains madly all day I came into Harlech about
6:30 of an afternoon and it was like coming into the center of a big jewel—
all of it glows, mountains, sea, dunes, castle, clouds, hedges and stones.”21
And both Bill and Eudora shared stories of their travels to Ireland, England,
France, and Italy.
 In 1983, after more than forty years of friendship, Bill read a draft of Eudora’s
autobiographical work, One Writer’s Beginnings, and realized that the
groundwork of their friendship had been laid long before they met. “There
were enough similarities in our two childhoods,” he wrote, “to make me
feel [. . .] that we grew up on a tandem bicycle.”22 Born in 1908 and 1909,
respectively, Bill and Eudora spent their youths in small towns that were
much alike, despite the fact that Lincoln, Illinois, was in the North and
Jackson, Mississippi, in the South. The clothes children wore, the books
they read, the wind-up Victrola they played, the atmosphere of the schoolroom
and the Sunday school, the movies they saw, the family car rides
shared with neighbors, and the sewing women who came to the house—all
had produced shared memories. So, too, had their encounters with the evils
of racism and with the social conventions of white middle-class life. And
there were other similarities—their fathers’ common employment in the
insurance business, their mothers’ elaborate precautions against the spreading
of illness, the very ways the two future writers managed to read long past
bedtime. The death of Bill’s mother when he was only ten and of Eudora’s
father when she was but twenty-two shaped their respective writing careers,
though these losses were treated differently in their fiction. Bill’s writing was
clearly autobiographical, Eudora’s less frequently and more indirectly so.
As she told Bill about the use of a deeply troubling real-life event, “I’m glad
you think the disguises are deep enough.”23
 Both Bill and Eudora spent their undergraduate years at midwestern
universities—he at the University of Illinois and she at the University of
Wisconsin—and both spent a year of graduate study on the East Coast,
Bill at Harvard and Eudora at Columbia. Neither felt suited for a life as a
teacher, and the dreams of both centered on New York City. Having already
published Bright Center of Heaven, Bill settled in New York in 1936, working
at The New Yorker and publishing They Came Like Swallows the next
year. Eudora had a one-woman photographic show in New York in 1936,
found a literary agent there in 1940, published her first book (A Curtain of
Green) in 1941, and began a pattern of regular visits to the city.
 The tandem nature of their lives, established before they met and continuing
afterward, was a strong bond between them, but a difference in their
lives created a bond that was equally strong. Although neither of the two significant
romantic relationships in Eudora’s life led to marriage, her recollection
of her own parents’ mutual devotion had established for her the enriching,
if complicating, nature of family life. Surely, this is a key reason
Eudora embraced the entire Maxwell family. She responded to Bill’s love
of his wife, Emmy, and their daughters, a love that is expressed more vividly
in his letters to Eudora than in any previously published work about him.
“Did you ever hear Emmy really laugh?” Bill asks in one of his letters, and
then adds, “It’s like the fountains of Rome.” When Emmy had to be away
from home, Bill suffered. Of one such time, he wrote to Eudora, “The silence
in the house is deafening, but Em left me one of her best soups, and
some short ribs of beef to heat up in the oven when the potatoes are nearly
baked, and I will get through the evening somehow, but I must say it is no
way to live.” His love of Emmy was matched by his love of their two daughters,
Kate and Brookie. Shortly after Kate’s birth, he wrote to Eudora about
the joys of her first days at home: “I got to carry [Kate] from her bed in
the back room, to the chair and ottoman in the living room where Emmy
nurses her in the day time. And carrying her back again, I would feel that
little head collapse on my shoulder, and turn against the side of my neck.
In my youth I was continually susceptible to ecstatic pleasure of one kind
or another, and sometimes I have thought I must have overdone it, because
it seldom came any more. But here it is again.” Two years later, he sent Eudora
this description of Brookie:

 Well actually she’s as shy as a robin, when it comes to perching on anybody’s
 lap for any length of time. She did this morning, so she could
 get at the lid of the sugar bowl, which has a china rose on it (Japanese
 onion pattern), and she lights on me in the evening while I am mixing
 drinks because from my left arm she can see quite well into the liquor
 cupboard, the ice box, and the kitchen cupboard, and eventually get
 her hands on a piece of ice. Do you gather that she has Emmy’s big eyes
 and is adorable? 24

The desperation that had descended on Bill when his mother died in
1919 and that had prompted a suicide attempt during his college years was
long since gone; he and Emmy had established their own deeply cherished
 This sort of family life was not Eudora’s own, and the lack of it, Bill felt,
was the source of a melancholy that troubled Eudora later in life. “There
is also the matter of living alone,” he wrote to her. “If you live with somebody
you are saved (often by petty irritation),” he noted wryly, “from having
to confront despair.” But although she lived alone after her mother’s death
in 1966, Eudora was not without family. She had loved her parents and two
brothers deeply and enjoyed spending time with her two nieces. When the
girls were young, she took them on trips, like the one in 1956 when they
met “Mr. Maxwell” in New York. After this vacation, Eudora assured Bill,
“For your future reference—except that you don’t need me to say it—two
girls are more fun than one on a far excursion—they do so much for each
other to have a good time.” Later, after having lost both her parents and
her brothers, Eudora rejoiced when her nieces themselves became parents.
Of Elizabeth Welty Thompson’s first child, she told Bill, “Do you know
what happened? Gruss an Aachen opened its first flower on the morning
that my niece Elizabeth had her first baby—I took her the flower, and she
told me she pressed it and put it in a book. I thought you’d like to know it
was a real and wonderful as well as lovely Gruss.” The rose lover Bill, who
had received a Gruss an Aachen rooted by Eudora’s mother just before the
birth of his daughter Kate and who had himself recently sent Eudora a new
Gruss, knew how lovely both baby and rose must be. Ultimately, Bill felt
that Eudora was part of his own family. In 1986, when she sent him a copy
of a limited edition book inaugurating the Eudora Welty Chair of Southern
Studies at Millsaps College, Bill responded, “Such a beautifully made little
book. And that fact that you wanted us to have it reinforced an idea that
occurred to me recently, which is that we have become your family. I hope
this is correct.”25

In The Outermost Dream, a collection of his essays and reviews, Bill began
by saying, “I can never get enough of knowing about other people’s lives.”
And letters are perhaps our best source of information about other people’s
lives—they are of the moment. But letters also exist, as James G. Watson
has asserted, “midway between art and life.”26 Despite the spontaneity with
which Eudora and Bill composed their letters, and despite the vulnerabilities
they revealed, these two friends were inevitably selecting which of the
myriad details of their lives to report—which topics to avoid and which to
focus on. Eudora’s interest in politics, for instance, was intense, but her letters
to Bill seldom broach political issues. For Bill’s part, nowhere in his letters
to Eudora does he reveal the occasional tension his daughter Kate recalls
in her relationship with her father.27
 Of course, all writers of letters construct as well as unveil images of themselves,
but few letter writers can create the sort of prose Eudora and Bill did.
Their letters are filled with vibrant, beautifully crafted descriptions, some of
which I have already cited, and with distinctive expressions that beg to be
quoted: Eudora anticipates that a journey will be “a hard day’s Greyhound
into night,” invoking both the Beatles and Eugene O’Neill; Bill calls innocence
“the crowning accomplishment of maturity.” Eudora reports that
Jane Austen’s house “looks big, but is really small. The opposite of her novels.”
Bill asserts that in the last line of E. M. Forster’s The Hill of Devi, “Forster’s
mind had taken its stand confidently, and then been interrupted by a
cry from his heart.”28 The letters containing lines like these often possess
their own storylike architecture and thematic motifs. They have circular
and associative structures, moving between past and present as they develop
and then return to the starting point. Such letters deserve to be read as literature,
for they satisfy the two demands that Bill asserted we should make
of an author: “that his characters have the breath of life in them and that
behind the interplay of action and ideas, perhaps at times even intruding
on it, there is a presence we feel, often in the very first sentence.” For Bill,
“the greater the literary artist, the clearer our recognition is of the presence,
the voice, the invisible signature of the mind in which the whole fancy took
place originally.”29
 William Maxwell and Eudora Welty both brought the “breath of life” to
their letters—letters that close with visible signatures but are pervaded by “the
invisible signature of the mind.” The keen intellect, the sense of humor, the
lack of self-absorption, the embracing of experience in all its complexity,
the capacity for love, the generosity of spirit, and the ability to face loss and
death—these constitute the invisible signatures of Welty and Maxwell, signatures
that are as powerfully present in their letters as in their fiction.
 In an effort to reveal the artistry that characterizes the correspondence
between Eudora and Bill, I have rejected the use of excerpts and have included
complete letters, except for eight that exist only as fragments, eight
that have a very few lines excluded at the reasonable request of the Maxwell
estate, and eight in which, for the sake of their privacy, I have deleted
the names of individuals mentioned. Deciding to use complete letters
does, however, create one negative consequence. Not all of the almost five
hundred extant letters, many of them quite long, are collected here. The
Maxwell estate asked that two, which focus on individuals other than Bill,
Emmy, and Eudora, not be used. In selecting which of the other letters to
include, I wanted to keep in balance the number by each writer, but numbers
alone could not guarantee balance. After 1981, Eudora’s letters tend to
be shorter in length than Bill’s, and without doubt, as Eudora notes in her
letters, the writer’s block that affected her fiction ultimately affected her
correspondence. In any case, there are a total of 197 extant letters from Bill
to Eudora and 109 from Emmy to Eudora. Eudora’s extant letters include
88 to Bill, 9 to Emmy, and 87 to Bill and Emmy. From these, I have chosen
to include in this volume 156 letters written by Bill, 170 by Eudora, and 19
by Emmy. The focus here lies on the exchange between the two writers, although
Emmy was an integral part of the Welty–Maxwell correspondence:
Eudora’s fondness for Emmy matched her regard for Bill and was returned.
I have excluded brief thank-you notes, cover letters for enclosures, or letters
I was unable to date with any confidence. I have also excluded letters that
reiterate information, concerns, or patterns of language that have been fully
established elsewhere in the correspondence.
 The selected letters appear chronologically so that they may provide the
autobiography of a friendship. I have also included a brief introduction to
each chronological period and occasionally have inserted connecting commentary
between letters in an effort to ensure narrative continuity. The
heading for each letter identifies the author, recipient, and date. For the
most part, Eudora wrote and received letters in Jackson, Mississippi; Bill in
New York City or in nearby Yorktown Heights, New York, where the Maxwells
had a “country” house. I have not included these default locations in
the headings. However, when letters were written at or mailed to other locations,
I have included that information whenever possible. I have provided
explanatory notes that identify books, persons, or events being discussed or
establish the biographical or historical context of the letters. Following the
example Bill Maxwell set in his edition of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s letters,
I apologize in advance for any notes “that may strike the reader as egregious.”
 Throughout this volume, the letters stand as written except for silent corrections
of obvious and unintentional typographical errors—spelling “treasure”
as “toreasure,” for instance. Even clearly unintended typos stand when
Bill and Eudora have commented on them. Eccentricities of punctuation
and spelling are unaltered: commas and periods frequently lie outside quotation
marks, dashes abound, parentheses appear within parentheses, and
names such as Dylan and Haydn may be spelled “Dillon” and “Hayden.”
(Bill was a confessed misspeller.) When errors seem likely to result in confusion
for the reader, I have made corrections in square brackets. In addition,
I have placed square brackets around ellipses, clarifying information,
or dates that I supplied. The original letters are peppered with marginal
notes, which I have silently incorporated according to Bill’s and Eudora’s
indications. Neither Bill nor Eudora ever used a computer, with its ease of
formatting. Two-thirds of their letters were typed, and to underline titles, as
they often neglected to do, would have slowed the typing process. Such lack
of formatting is retained here. I hope that these editorial practices will help
readers to experience the spontaneity with which the letters were composed
and the ease that Bill and Eudora felt in writing to each other.
 Working with these letters—transcribing, annotating, and introducing
them—has been a joy and an honor for me. Eudora was my close friend,
and in her letters I had the opportunity to hear again the conversational
voice that had for almost twenty years enriched my life. I did not know Bill
Maxwell personally, but it is my great good fortune to have met him in
these letters. Like Eudora, he possessed a genius for friendship that equaled
his genius as a writer. Having their correspondence in print will allow a host
of readers to participate in their friendship, to relish the language that conveys
it, and to return to their magnificent fiction with heightened understanding
and insight.

Table of Contents


Introduction 1

1. “Never Lose Letters from an Editor”: 1942–1943 17
2. “Wonderful to Be a Writer. Wonderful to Grow Roses.
Wonderful to Care”: 1943–1954 21
3. “Similar Discoveries”: 1954–1959 70
4. “Stubborn Enough to Be a Writer”: 1960–1966 141
5. “Your Heart Down on Paper”: 1966–1970 194
6. “So Much Honor Coming Down on My Head”: 1971–1980 278
7. “What There Is to Say We Have Said”: 1981–1996 370

Acknowledgments 445
Notes 446
Index 480

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A map into the very heart of friendship and creativity. Every page is a privilege to read."
—Ann Patchett

"An epistolary feast for literary fans [and] a confidence booster for aspiring writers everywhere. A–"
Entertainment Weekly

"If friendship is an art, this volume is its masterpiece."
—Lee Smith

"A remarkable testimony to friendship, literature, and an abiding love of life...An invitation to draw up a chair and enjoy two good friends as interested in their rose gardens as their writing."
Richmond Times-Dispatch

"A vivid picture of twentieth-century intellectual life and a record of a remarkable friendship... Glorious."
Houston Chronicle

"Full of great tidbits about The New Yorker back in the day ... Charming."
The New Yorker

"A raft of tender, day-to-day details ... Like eavesdroppers on a party line, we’re privy to everything ... In today’s world of texting, Twitter and Facebook, where our empathy for others is often reduced to a ‘like’ button, coming across such a sustained account of a friendship is like shining a flashlight on the cave walls at Lascaux ... How fortunate we are that their kinship endured long enough for them to say everything there was to say."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Beautifully expressive ... [Marrs] has performed an important service here ... A valuable record of the authors’ writing process ... Maxwell and Welty, of course, loved to write, and writers and readers will be awed to learn of both the macro and the micro."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[Maxwell and Welty’s] love, a source of sustenance and strength between two great writers, is also a bright tonic for the readers of this volume, which affirms Welty’s belief that to read someone’s letters ‘is in some way to admit him to our friendship.’"
Christian Science Monitor

"These loving and revealing letters guide us back to the fiction of both authors."
Wall Street Journal

"A valuable portrait of a unique and lasting friendship, and a celebration of a certain kind of joy that is rapidly disappearing—the joy of writing and sending, receiving and reading personal letters."
Tulsa World

"This collection of letters takes us into the world of Eudora and William. We get to see how their friendship deepened over time and became something special."
San Francisco Book Review

"To read What There Is to Say We Have Said is to feel the noise and speed of the present era fall away, to sense the natural world reasserting itself. Time slows, and you arrive in a more pastoral moment."
—The Progressive Reader

"For 50 years, Welty and Maxwell communicated in full detail, with deep and genuine affection, serving up revelations about themselves that give these literary figures a greatly wonderful human dimension . . . This is one of the richest and most riveting collections of famous-people letters to emerge in some time." —Booklist

"Inspiring . . . A vivid snapshot of 20th-century intellectual life and an informative glimpse of the author-editor relationship, as well a tender portrait of devoted friendship."
Kirkus Reviews

"The correspondence of this volume [is] gracefully edited and annotated by Welty’s biographer Marrs . . . Both correspondents were blessed with personality-plus, mirrored in these letters."
Publishers Weekly

"How rewarding to become the third person present in the discoveries of life and literature between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. I have always believed the only ‘knowing’ one can have of a fiction writers is through the fiction itself; but here, in the personal medium of to-and-fro wit and vitality, is to be had further experience of the writer Eudora Welty, whose stories, in particular, have opened my vision of human relations."
—Nadine Gordimer

"Something truly special happened each time Eudora Welty and William Maxwell wrote a letter to the other. Suzanne Marrs has collected more than 300 of those letters and set them into a time and context. Anyone who relishes and celebrates the magic use of words, storytelling and friendship will treasure the end result forever."
—Jim Lehrer

"This book lets us in on the happy fact that two splendid writers, who did not sacrifice humanity to career, were warmly admitted to each other’s lives. Its generosity of tone is such that the readers feels not a trespasser but a guest. Suzanne Marrs’s editing is worthy of a delightful text."
—Richard Wilbur

"A complex improvisation carried on for years by two artists for whom nothing in the realm of literature or feeling was remote."
—Alec Wilkinson

"A literary revelation. Suzanne Marrs’s editing of this rich collection is superlative."
—Roger Mudd, journalist and broadcaster

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