Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Eudora Welty 

Years ago a friend and I spent most of a year working on a film adaptation of Eudora Welty's The Ponder Heart. We never obtained the rights, but I went as far as finding her agent and determining that the rights were available. We didn't spring for the rights because of a lack of faith in our collaboration, not the material.

If you've never read it, it's an extended monologue. One woman talking to one man in the lobby of a sleepy Southern hotel on a summer evening. For 150 pages. In a sense, she's trying to fascinate him, but towards that end she tells some of the most horrifying and hysterical stories you've ever heard about her family, the Ponders.

I've always been amazed that it's never been done as a film. It seems a natural for, at least, a PBS movie. Certainly because there isn't an actress over 40 in Hollywood that wouldn't kill for the part and I can think of a number of them with clout who would be great. Holly Hunter, for one. Also, because it presents unique, but surmountable challenges to the director.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal today which is a preview of a biography of Welty to be published next week by Suzanne Marrs which I've just ordered.

I've always been a big fan of Southern fiction and in college in St. Louis took a course in it in which a prerequisite was that we had to sign a statement that asserted (only semi-humorously) that Faulkner was God. Everyone's heard the remark of Flannery O'Conner's about how it is to write in the Shadow of Faulkner to the effect of "When the Dixie Limited comes along, you get your mule and wagon off the track." I'm not entirely unsympathetic to that point of view, but, honestly, if I wanted to be like any writer, it would probably be Eudora Welty.

She was complicated, but humorous, wildly inventive, and yet strictly and consciously regional, always funny and always heartbreaking, dry and contained, but completely unlimbered. She was a gentle, intelligent and shy woman, who was perfectly happy in her own skin. She was reconciled to her sex, her region, her nation, her talents and place in life. She was quite aware of her genius and her modesty was based on her undying interest in the lives of those around her.

The WSJ article tells the story of a novelist, Michael Malone, who received some valuable advice from her as a young writer. Years later and much more successful he made a pilgrimage to Jackson, Mississippi to thank her. He stood outside her house for a couple hours but never worked up the courage to knock on the door. More years went by and he ran into her in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel. This time he did approach her, introduced himself and told her the story of his trip to Jackson.
"And she looked at me and smiled, and she said: "Oh, honey,
was that you? I almost called the police on you."

I'd like to be someone who could say something like that and write The Robber Bridegroom.

As I say, it's been years since I read it and I originally had Edna Earle talking to the gentleman on the porch instead of the lobby.
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