Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty: A Review with a Lengthy List of Characters

I just finished listening to Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty, read by actress Sally Darling, which I enjoyed very much. In this novel about a plantation owning family in 1920s Mississippi, Welty introduces dozens of characters, mostly members of the Fairchild family, which was on the land along the Yazoo River before the Civil War. In some ways, not much has really changed since that war besides the birth and death of generations. The main crop is still cotton, and the workforce is still black.

Welty does not openly criticize the status quo, but she does hint that great change is coming. Shelley Fairchild says in her diary that she will never marry and live the life her parents wish; she pleads that her mother stop having children. Uncle George is unhappy with the plantation life; he is living in Memphis and practicing law. Troy Flavin, who is marrying into the family, wants to raise vegetables and livestock. Poor whites and blacks are leaving the Delta for Jackson, Memphis, and the cities to the north.

Listening to the story, I was reminded of the movies of Robert Altman. There are so many characters and they all seem very busy. Sorting out the storyline is a pleasant puzzle for the listener. To get the characters straight, I listened to disc one twice and got a print copy of the novel to consult before proceeding. Here are the characters that I identified.

Laura McCraven, a nine year old, who travels alone by train to attend her cousin's wedding

Annie Laurie Fairchild McCraven, her mother, who died the previous January

her father, who stays in Jackson and is never named

Battle Fairchild, the current head of Shellmound

Ellen Fairchild, his wife, who is a native of Virginia

Shelley, the oldest daughter, who is about to take a European trip

Dabney, the daughter who is getting married

Orrin, the oldest son


India, another nine year old, Laura's favorite cousin



Bluet, the baby

Maureen Fairchild, nine year old, who is living at Shellmound because her father is dead and her mother insane

Denis Fairchild, father of Maureen, brother of Battle, died in the first world war

Virgie Lee Fairchild, insane mother, on the loose

George Fairchild, brother of Battle, a lawyer in Memphis

Robbie Reid Fairchild, his wife, who no one (other than George) forgives for having been a Fairchild employee

Tempe Fairchild Summers, sister of Battle

Pinck Summers, her husband

Mary Denis Summers Buchanan, their daughter who can not come because she just had a baby

Lady Clare Buchanan, Mary Denis's daughter, who comes down with chicken pox

Primrose Fairchild, sister of Battle

"Aunt Jim Allen," sister of Battle, whose name is not explained

Laura Allen, deceased daughter of Aunt Jim Allen

Rowena Fairchild, deceased sister of Battle

Great-Aunt Shannon, who raised Battle, George, Tempe, etc. when their parents died

Great-Aunt Mac, who shared the child rearing with Great-Aunt Shannon

The dead ancestors to whom Great-Aunt Shannon is always talking:

Aunt Mashula

Uncle George

Uncle Battle

Uncle Gordon

Aunt Shannon

Blacks who work for the Fairchilds:



Little Uncle




Mary Lamar Mackey, friend of Dabney, plays piano

Troy Flavin, the overseer and prospective groom

Dickie Boy Featherstone, Dabney's rejected suitor

Dr. Murdoch, who brought many of the Fairchilds into the world

Mr. Rondo, the minister at the wedding

Junie, a horse

Isabelle, another horse

Most of those names appear in chapter one.

In addition to many characters, Delta Wedding is filled with details of 1920s plantation life. The food at meals, the wedding dinner, and a post-wedding picnic is fully described, as is the sewing, house cleaning, dressing of the bride, work in the fields, and contents of the general store. During Laura's initial train ride and a canoe trip on the Yazoo later in the novel, Welty describes the countryside. The novel is full of colors, sounds, and scents.

Delta Wedding is a rich novel that merits reading.

Welty, Eudora. Delta Wedding. New York, Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1946.

10 compact discs. Prince Frederick, Maryland: Recorded Books, 1994. ISBN 1419309803


Anonymous said...

You are totally right half the fun of this book is the names! Bluet is one of my favorite character names--I can just hear Sally Darling yell "Let Bluet drive!" along with Cam the Wicked from Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" and the "roamin' round, roamin' round" Hugh with the Norse god sidekick Olaf of Lewis's "Mainstreet"! Not only that it is a fabulous portrait of the Reconstruction South--was so surprised to see it adn find this blog!

Anonymous said...

well i disagree because i just got done reading this book and it did NOT grab my attention....and it was VERY confusing for me.....but you are right about the names!

Anonymous said...

Isn't that amazing? I too have always remembered that line about letting the baby drive -- for all these years since I read the book. And I loved the name so much I swore if I ever had a daughter I'd name her Bluet -- and I did! This isn't my favorite Eudora Welty, but it definitely sticks with you...

Anonymous said...

this one was of the most confusing books ive ever read. it doesn't grab my attention and i couldn't wait until i was finished reading it.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most poetically beautiful novels I have ever read. IT is a joy to let it wash over yourself. It captures a feeling of the deep South that I have never experienced. It is not a novel in the conventional sense.

Anonymous said...

In chapter 7 Ellan refers to laura's father as Billie McRaven. She wondering if they should keep Laura at Shellmound. And don't forget to mention that Beverly is Shelly's dog.

Anonymous said...

Let me begin by saying that I consider Welty to be a genius of the highest order. I had the largest collection of her works in privare hands, now in Princeton University. But I always think of the book as a deeply rounded story of a greatly dysfunctional family, too ingrown and profligate of its resources and indifferent to the humanity of its black servants. Dabney's marriage will not last because Troy is a bit heartless. evem dangerous to be around. That said, this book is one of the finest written about that now happily departed style of
Southern life, as fine as Faulkner at his finest, and nowhere nearly as purple prosish. Bob Finley

Camille said...

How do you pronounce the baby's name? Is it pronounced Blue-it?

ricklibrarian said...

I suspect that is the pronunciation. I had a great uncle and that his how his name was pronounced.

Camille said...

Thank you for your quick response to my question about the baby's name. In your list of characters, you listed Laura Allen as the deceased daughter of Aunt Jim Allen. However, if you look on page 87 of the printed novel, you will find that Laura Allen is actually the mother of Battle, Jim Allen, George, Denis, etc. Her husband was named James. Thus they could have named their daughter, Jim Allen, after themselves.
Thank you so much for making the list of characters. It was very helpful to me as I was reading the book.

Tiger Willikers said...

It is November of 2011, and I have just read your short introduction of "Delta Wedding". I recently finished reading it, and I LOVE this book. It was the first Eudora Welty novel I have read. (I then read "The Optimist's Daughter" and found the difference in prose styles striking.)

I felt like I was in the bosom of a family. I noticed that we were veering into confused language patterns as Laura McRaven began to fall asleep on the train! But it was mostly understandable enough. I felt like I was in the midst of a beautiful dream such as the dreams we women have of family life among our children in some distant hoped-for future.

Melissa said...

Thank so much for your insights, details and recommendations. My mother passed away two years ago and I came across her copy of Delta Wedding. From time to time she'd mention this book, but I thought she had been referring to the book, A Member of the Wedding.

Delta Wedding is challenging. You do have to sort of mentally relax to not get uptight about the whirl-wind of dialogue and action being thrown all at once at the reader. But, it is very rewarding. Something about it is mysteriously revealing - the strange and nuanced and familiar psychology of family/relatives.

Your posting has helped me not give up. At least I don't feel like I was the only one having a tough time. Also, I think I'll even revisit this novel again.

Anonymous said...

I started reading the book and it was ok - but I changed to audiobook and it is SOOOOOOooo wonderful - I'm on my 4th listening

Lorel'sFlimsyFacade said...

I'm in the middle of listening to Delta Wedding on CD. I love the poetry of Eudora Welty's writing and the mystery yet familiarity of her characters and their inner thoughts.

Sally Darling is a gorgeous, nuanced, sensual reader. I could listen to her reciting the phone book. What a plus that she has this lush prose to interpret instead.