Combining stories set in the rural south, Eudora Welty’s own special province, and stories with a European locale, which give a wider range to her fiction, The Bride of Innisfallen demonstrates the remarkable talent of one of the finest short story writers of our time.
The gentle wit of the title story, the grave and musical prose of “Circe,” a retelling of Greek myth, the acute character portrayal and extraordinary evocation of the steamy bayou county in “No Place for You, My Love” are all touched with the particular magic that has made Welty one of America’s most beloved storytellers.
“The writing throughout is at Ms. Welty’s best level.” —Edward Weeks, The Atlantic
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About the Author
Date of Birth:April 13, 1909
Date of Death:July 23, 2001
Place of Birth:Jackson, Mississippi
Place of Death:Jackson, Mississippi
Education:University of Wisconsin
Read an Excerpt
No Place for You, My Love
They were strangers to each other, both fairly well strangers to the place, now seated side by side at luncheon — a party combined in a free-and-easy way when the friends he and she were with recognized each other across Galatoire's. The time was a Sunday in summer — those hours of afternoon that seem Time Out in New Orleans.
The moment he saw her little blunt, fair face, he thought that here was a woman who was having an affair. It was one of those odd meetings when such an impact is felt that it has to be translated at once into some sort of speculation.
With a married man, most likely, he supposed, slipping quickly into a groove — he was long married — and feeling more conventional, then, in his curiosity as she sat there, leaning her cheek on her hand, looking no further before her than the flowers on the table, and wearing that hat.
He did not like her hat, any more than he liked tropical flowers. It was the wrong hat for her, thought this Eastern businessman who had no interest whatever in women's clothes and no eye for them; he thought the unaccustomed thing crossly.
It must stick out all over me, she thought, so people think they can love me or hate me just by looking at me. How did it leave us — the old, safe, slow way people usedto know of learning how one another feels, and the privilege that went with it of shying away if it seemed best? People in love like me, I suppose, give away the short cuts to everybody's secrets.
Something, though, he decided, had been settled about her predicament — for the time being, anyway; the parties to it were all still alive, no doubt. Nevertheless, her predicament was the only one he felt so sure of here, like the only recognizable shadow in that restaurant, where mirrors and fans were busy agitating the light, as the very local talk drawled across and agitated the peace. The shadow lay between her fingers, between her little square hand and her cheek, like something always best carried about the person. Then suddenly, as she took her hand down, the secret fact was still there — it lighted her. It was a bold and full light, shot up under the brim of that hat, as close to them all as the flowers in the center of the table.
Did he dream of making her disloyal to that hopelessness that he saw very well she'd been cultivating down here? He knew very well that he did not. What they amounted to was two Northerners keeping each other company. She glanced up at the big gold clock on the wall and smiled. He didn't smile back. She had that naive face that he associated, for no good reason, with the Middle West — because it said "Show me," perhaps. It was a serious, now-watch-out-everybody face, which orphaned her entirely in the company of these Southerners. He guessed her age, as he could not guess theirs: thirty-two. He himself was further along.
Of all human moods, deliberate imperviousness may be the most quickly communicated — it may be the most successful, most fatal signal of all. And two people can indulge in imperviousness as well as in anything else. "You're not very hungry either," he said.
The blades of fan shadows came down over their two heads, as he saw inadvertently in the mirror, with himself smiling at her now like a villain. His remark sounded dominant and rude enough for everybody present to listen back a moment; it even sounded like an answer to a question she might have just asked him. The other women glanced at him. The Southern look — Southern mask — of life-is-a-dream irony, which could turn to pure challenge at the drop of a hat, he could wish well away. He liked naïveté better.
"I find the heat down here depressing," she said, with the heart of Ohio in her voice.
"Well — I'm in somewhat of a temper about it, too," he said.
They looked with grateful dignity at each other.
"I have a car here, just down the street," he said to her as the luncheon party was rising to leave, all the others wanting to get back to their houses and sleep. "If it's all right with — Have you ever driven down south of here?"
Out on Bourbon Street, in the bath of July, she asked at his shoulder, "South of New Orleans? I didn't know there was any south to here. Does it just go on and on?" She laughed, and adjusted the exasperating hat to her head in a different way. It was more than frivolous, it was conspicuous, with some sort of glitter or flitter tied in a band around the straw and hanging down.
"That's what I'm going to show you."
"Oh — you've been there?"
His voice rang out over the uneven, narrow sidewalk and dropped back from the walls. The flaked-off, colored houses were spotted like the hides of beasts faded and shy, and were hot as a wall of growth that seemed to breathe flower-like down onto them as they walked to the car parked there.
"It's just that it couldn't be any worse — we'll see."
"All right, then," she said. "We will."
So, their actions reduced to amiability, they settled into the car — a faded-red Ford convertible with a rather threadbare canvas top, which had been standing in the sun for all those lunch hours.
"It's rented," he explained. "I asked to have the top put down, and was told I'd lost my mind."
"It's out of this world. Degrading heat," she said and added, "Doesn't matter."
The stranger in New Orleans always sets out to leave it as though following the clue in a maze. They were threading through the narrow and one-way streets, past the pale-violet bloom of tired squares, the brown steeples and statues, the balcony with the live and probably famous black monkey dipping along the railing as over a ballroom floor, past the grillwork and the latticework to all the iron swans painted flesh color on the front steps of bungalows outlying.
Driving, he spread his new map and put his finger down on it. At the intersection marked Arabi, where their road led out of the tangle and he took it, a small Negro seated beneath a black umbrella astride a box chalked "Shou Shine" lifted his pink-and-black hand and waved them languidly good-by. She didn't miss it, and waved back.
Below New Orleans there was a raging of insects from both sides of the concrete highway, not quite together, like the playing of separated marching bands. The riverand the levee were still on her side, waste and jungle and some occasional settlements on his — poor houses. Families bigger than housefuls thronged the yards. His nodding, driving head would veer from side to side, looking and almost lowering. As time passed and the distance from New Orleans grew, girls ever darker and younger were disposing themselves over the porches and the porch steps, with jet-black hair pulled high, and ragged palm-leaf fans rising and falling like rafts of butterflies. The children running forth were nearly always naked ones.
She watched the road. Crayfish constantly crossed in front of the wheels, looking grim and bonneted, in a great hurry.
"How the Old Woman Got Home," she murmured to herself.
He pointed, as it flew by, at a saucepan full of cut zinnias which stood waiting on the open lid of a mailbox at the roadside, with a little note tied onto the handle.
They rode mostly in silence. The sun bore down. They met fishermen and other men bent on some local pursuits, some in sulphur-colored pants, walking and riding; met wagons, trucks, boats in trucks, autos, boats on top of autos — all coming to meet them, as though something of high moment were doing back where the car came from, and he and she were determined to miss it. There was nearly always a man lying with his shoes off in the bed of any truck otherwise empty — with the raw, red look of a man sleeping in the daytime, being jolted about as he slept. Then there was a sort of dead man's land, where nobody came. He loosened his collar and tie. By rushing through the heat at high speed, they brought themselves the effect of fans turned onto their cheeks. Clearing alternated with jungle and canebrake like something tried, tried again. Little shell roads led off on both sides; now and then a road of planks led into the yellow-green.
"Like a dance floor in there." She pointed.
He informed her, "In there's your oil, I think."
There were thousands, millions of mosquitoes and gnats — a universe of them, and on the increase.
A family of eight or nine people on foot strung along the road in the same direction the car was going, beating themselves with the wild palmettos. Heels, shoulders, knees, breasts, back of the heads, elbows, hands, were touched in turn — like some game, each playing it with himself.
He struck himself on the forehead, and increased their speed. (His wife would not be at her most charitable if he came bringing malaria home to the family.)
More and more crayfish and other shell creatures littered their path, scuttling or dragging. These little samples, little jokes of creation, persisted and sometimes perished, the more of them the deeper down the road went. Terrapins and turtles came up steadily over the horizons of the ditches.
Back there in the margins were worse — crawling hides you could not penetrate with bullets or quite believe, grins that had come down from the primeval mud.
"Wake up." Her Northern nudge was very timely on his arm. They had veered toward the side of the road. Still driving fast, he spread his map.
Like a misplaced sunrise, the light of the river flowed up; they were mounting the levee on a little shell road.
"Shall we cross here?" he asked politely.
He might have been keeping track over years and miles of how long they could keep that tiny ferry waiting. Now skidding down the levee's flank, they were the last-minute car, the last possible car that could squeeze on. Under the sparse shade of one willow tree, the small, amateurish-looking boat slapped the water, as, expertly, he wedged on board.
"Tell him we put him on hub cap!" shouted one of the numerous olive-skinned, dark-eyed young boys standing dressed up in bright shirts at the railing, hugging each other with delight that that last straw was on board. Another boy drew his affectionate initials in the dust of the door on her side.
She opened the door and stepped out, and, after only a moment's standing at bay, started up a little iron stairway. She appeared above the car, on the tiny bridge beneath the captain's window and the whistle.
From there, while the boat still delayed in what seemed a trance — as if it were too full to attempt the start — she could see the panlike deck below, separated by its rusty rim from the tilting, polished water.
The passengers walking and jostling about there appeared oddly amateurish, too — amateur travelers. They were having such a good time. They all knew each other. Beer was being passed around in cans, bets were being loudly settled and new bets made, about local and special subjects on which they all doted. One red-haired man in a burst of wildness even tried to give away his truckload of shrimp to a man on the other side of the boat — nearly all the trucks were full of shrimp — causing taunts and then protests of "They good! They good!" from the giver. The young boys leaned on each other thinking of what next, rolling their eyes absently.
A radio pricked the air behind her. Looking like a great tomcat just above her head, the captain was digesting the news of a fine stolen automobile.
At last a tremendous explosion burst — the whistle.
Everything shuddered in outline from the sound, everybody said something — everybody else.
They started with no perceptible motion, but her hat blew off. It went spiraling to the deck below, where he, thank heaven, sprang out of the car and picked it up. Everybody looked frankly up at her now, holding her hands to her head.
The little willow tree receded as its shade was taken away. The heat was like something falling on her head. She held the hot rail before her. It was like riding a stove. Her shoulders dropping, her hair flying, her skirt buffeted by the sudden strong wind, she stood there, thinking they all must see that with her entire self all she did was wait. Her set hands, with the bag that hung from her wrist and rocked back and forth — all three seemed objects bleaching there, belonging to no one; she could not feel a thing in the skin of her face; perhaps she was crying, and not knowing it. She could look down and see him just below her, his black shadow, her hat, and his black hair. His hair in the wind looked unreasonably long and rippling. Little did he know that from here it had a red undergleam like an animal's. When she looked up and outward, a vortex of light drove through and over the brown waves like a star in the water.
He did after all bring the retrieved hat up the stairs to her. She took it back — useless — and held it to her skirt. What they were saying below was more polite than their searchlight faces.
"Where you think he come from, that man?"
"I bet he come from Lafitte."
"Lafitte? What you bet, eh?"— all crouched in the shade of trucks, squatting and laughing.
Now his shadow fell partly across her; the boat had jolted into some other strand of current. Her shaded arm and shaded hand felt pulled out from the blaze of light and water, and she hoped humbly for more shade for her head. It had seemed so natural to climb up and stand in the sun.
The boys had a surprise — an alligator on board. One of them pulled it by a chain around the deck, between the cars and trucks, like a toy — a hide that could walk. He thought, Well they had to catch one sometime. It's Sunday afternoon. So they have him on board now, riding him across the Mississippi River. ... The playfulness of it beset everybody on the ferry. The hoarseness of the boat whistle, commenting briefly, seemed part of the general appreciation.
"Who want to rassle him? Who want to, eh?" two boys cried, looking up. A boy with shrimp-colored arms capered from side to side, pretending to have been bitten.
What was there so hilarious about jaws that could bite? And what danger was there once in this repulsiveness — so that the last worldly evidence of some old heroic horror of the dragon had to be paraded in capture before the eyes of country clowns?
He noticed that she looked at the alligator without flinching at all. Her distance was set — the number of feet and inches between herself and it mattered to her.
Perhaps her measuring coolness was to him what his bodily shade was to her, while they stood pat up there riding the river, which felt like the sea and looked like the earth under them — full of the red-brown earth, charged with it. Ahead of the boat it was like an exposed vein of ore. The river seemed to swell in the vast middle with the curve of the earth. The sun rolled under them. As if in memory of the size of things, uprooted trees were drawn across their path, sawing at the air and tumbling one over the other.
When they reached the other side, they felt that they had been racing around an arena in their chariot, among lions. The whistle took and shook the stairs as they went down. The young boys, looking taller, had taken out colored combs and were combing their wet hair back in solemn pompadour above their radiant foreheads. They had been bathing in the river themselves not long before.
The cars and trucks, then the foot passengers and the alligator, waddling like a child to school, all disembarked and wound up the weed-sprung levee.
Both respectable and merciful, their hides, she thought, forcing herself to dwell on the alligator as she looked back. Deliver us all from the naked in heart. (As she had been told.)
When they regained their paved road, he heard her give a little sigh and saw her turn her straw-colored head to look back once more. Now that she rode with her hat in her lap, her earrings were conspicuous too. A little metal ball set with small pale stones danced beside each square, faintly downy cheek.
Had she felt a wish for someone else to be riding with them? He thought it was more likely that she would wish for her husband if she had one (his wife's voice) than for the lover in whom he believed. Whatever people liked to think, situations (if not scenes) were usually three-way — there was somebody else always. The one who didn't — couldn't — understand the two made the formidable third.
He glanced down at the map flapping on the seat between them, up at his wristwatch, out at the road. Out there was the incredible brightness of four o'clock.
On this side of the river, the road ran beneath the brow of the levee and followed it. Here was a heat that ran deeper and brighter and more intense than all the rest — its nerve. The road grew one with the heat as it was one with the unseen river. Dead snakes stretched across the concrete like markers — inlaid mosaic bands, dry as feathers, which their tires licked at intervals that began to seem clocklike.
No, the heat faced them — it was ahead. They could see it waving at them, shaken in the air above the white of the road, always at a certain distance ahead, shimmering finely as a cloth, with running edges of green and gold, fire and azure.
Excerpted from "The Bride of the Innisfallen"
Copyright © 1977 Eudora Welty.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
No Place for You, My Love,
The Bride of the Innisfallen,
Ladies in Spring,
Going to Naples,
Read More from Eudora Welty,
About the Author,
Connect with HMH,