What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell
Two great writers share thoughts on their books, their gardens, their dreams, and their deep caring for one another.
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Letters between writers often have a lot of shop talk of interest to other writers and literary cultists, but this collection yields broader pleasures, too. In addition to being stellar writers, Welty and Maxwell were also accomplished critics, and one of the joys of the book is eavesdropping on their assessments of authors as varied as John Updike and Virginia Woolf, Anton Chekhov and Charles Dickens, William Faulkner and E. M. Forster. Welty and Maxwell also shared an intense love of gardening – so much so that Marrs was forced, in the book’s index, to include an extensive listing of various varieties of roses.Skip to next paragraph
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Typical of the letters’ alternating interest in literature and horticulture is a Nov. 16, 1966 note from Welty in which she reports a season full of planting bulbs – “and soft fine days outdoors to do it, just perfect” – and reading Jane Austen’s “Persuasion.” Austen, says Welty, is “the only power to get me whole through some days I sometimes feel....”
Maxwell chronicles roses as if reporting on members of his family, telling Welty in a 1957 letter that “Paul’s Lemon Pillar and Spanish Beauty moved to the basement, for the winter, with Lady Hillingdon and Souv. de Malmaison – all showed a tendency to die back to the ground every winter, so I am letting them come in with us.”
As these letters show, Welty and Maxwell regarded domestic life not as a tedious distraction from the writing desk, but as a crucial source of insight. Welty, who remained single throughout her life, confesses in 1968 to dreaming both of her new refrigerator and her novel in progress, the new fridge working itself into her fiction. Maxwell, a happy husband and father, complains in 1970 of noisy appliances and daughters practicing music lessons, but his love for his wife and children seems obvious.
The title of the collection comes from Maxwell’s conclusion, as he and Welty faced their mortality, that “what there is to say we have said, in one way or the other. You know how much we love you.”
That 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.”