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Optimist's Daughter (1969) Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0848806606
ISBN-10: 0848806603
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Optimist's Daughter is a compact and inward-looking little novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner that's slight of page yet big of heart. The optimist in question is 71-year-old Judge McKelva, who has come to a New Orleans hospital from Mount Salus, Mississippi, complaining of a "disturbance" in his vision. To his daughter, Laurel, it's as rare for him to admit "self-concern" as it is for him to be sick, and she immediately flies down from Chicago to be by his side. The subsequent operation on the judge's eye goes well, but the recovery does not. He lies still with both eyes heavily bandaged, growing ever more passive until finally--with some help from the shockingly vulgar Fay, his wife of two years--he simply dies. Together Fay and Laurel travel to Mount Salus to bury him, and the novel begins the inward spiral that leads Laurel to the moment when "all she had found had found her," when the "deepest spring in her heart had uncovered itself" and begins to flow again.

Not much actually happens in the rest of the book--Fay's low-rent relatives arrive for the funeral, a bird flies down the chimney and is trapped in the hall--and yet Welty manages to compress the richness of an entire life within its pages. This is a world, after all, in which a set of complex relationships can be conveyed by the phrase "I know his whole family" or by the criticism "When he brought her here to your house, she had very little idea of how to separate an egg." Does such a place exist anymore? It is vanishing even from this novel, and the personification of its vanishing is none other than Fay--petulant, graceless, childish, with neither the passion nor the imagination to love. Welty expends a lot of vindictive energy on Fay and her kin, who must be the most small-minded, mean-mouthed clan since the Snopeses hit Frenchman's Bend. There's more than just class snobbery at work here (though that surely comes into it too). As Welty sees it, they are a special historical tribe who exult in grieving because they have come to be good at it, and who seethe with resentment from the day they are born. They have come "out of all times of trouble, past or future--the great, interrelated family of those who never know the meaning of what has happened to them."

Fay belongs to the future, as she makes clear; it's Laurel who belongs to the past--Welty's own chosen territory. In her fine memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, Welty described the way art could shine a light back "as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you've come." Here, in one of her most autobiographical works, the past joins seamlessly with the present in a masterful evocation of grief, memory, loss, and love. Beautifully written, moving but never mawkish, The Optimist's Daughter is Eudora Welty's greatest achievement--which is high praise indeed. --Mary Park --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Pulitzer Prize-winning short novel by Eudora Welty, published in 1972. This partially autobiographical story explores the subtle bonds between parent and child and the complexities of love and grief. --<The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Amereon Ltd; (1969) edition (November 10, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0848806603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0848806606
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,123,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
At the time of her death, Eudora Welty of Mississippi was generally considered America's greatest living author. Although Welty made her reputation with and is best remembered for her remarkable short stories, she also wrote a number of novels, including THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
As seen in reviews posted here, THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER provokes a very divided response in readers. This largely due to the nature of the work, which is character rather than plot driven, and which although quite short requires a slow reading in order to develop clearly in mind. Perhaps more so than in any other work, Welty writes "below the surface" here: the story itself, which concerns a daughter who returns to her tiny Mississippi home town when her respected father dies, is quite slight--but Welty endows it with a surprising depth of meaning, transforming what would otherwise be pure character study into a sharply focused and deeply moving statement on the nature of love, loss, life, and the passage of time we must all endure.
Although written in a deceptively simple style, THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER is the mature work of a master. Given the nature of the piece, I do not think it can be much appreciated by young adults; one requires the perspective of at least middle age to fully grasp both its delicacy and beauty. But once that perspective is acquired, THE OPTIMIST'S DAUGHTER should move immediately to the top of every serious reader's list. Strongly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
The sentence from this book that best describes it is: "Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams." What a beautiful piece of writing! I am so thankful for growing older and maturing. Having done so, this book can truly be enjoyed. It is about maturing, deepening, remembering, and honoring. It is about relationship with the persons in one's life, with the past and with the future. Obtrusively thrust in the middle of all this is Fay and the Chisom family, representing all the possible ugliness, crassness, uncaring and unfeeling meanness of today's world.
I could write that there is little that happens in this book...on the surface, but as in all truly rich experiences, one has to go deeper and reflect to see the richness. After slowly enjoying the first 160 pages or so, the last 10 pages explode in complexity and interaction and meaning. Those pages comprise one of the finest endings to a novel that I have read.
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Format: Paperback
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, this moving study of memory and the progression of generations is still vibrant and relevant thirty years later. Not only does it show us the ripple effect that one person's passing has on loved ones, it also shows us the changes to society which occur as older generations pass away and new generations take their place.

Welty's concern here is with values--those traditional values learned by Laurel, the daughter of a Mississippi judge, from her parents; those learned by her parents from their parents; those imparted by the town she grew up in and the people who lived there; and those which Laurel has absorbed from her life as an artist in Chicago. In her values she is in direct contrast with Fay, the judge's young second wife, a crass and selfish woman from Texas with a large, boisterous, and uneducated family--a woman whose only desire is to come out a winner. When the judge dies, Laurel returns temporarily to her old room in the family home, which, Fay takes great pains to remind her, now belongs to Fay. There, surrounded by family belongings, she is assailed by memories of her childhood, her mother, her mother's final illness, and her relationship with her father. Her pre-occupation with the past is in direct contrast with Fay's concern with the present and her future--these women clearly belong to different worlds, and only Laurel is capable of change or adaptation.

Welty's ear for dialogue is unerring. She reveals character, class, and education in her syntax and choice of vocabulary and creates conflicts from the smallest of details--a misunderstood word, an imagined slight, a presumption. The conflict is leavened by humor in many places, some of it dark, especially when Fay's "no 'count" family arrives at the funeral.
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Format: Paperback
It is no great surprise that Eudora Welty received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for the novel The Optimist's Daughter. Welty masterfully creates a journey through the heart of a daughter who loosens her grasp on the past while embracing the future after the death of her father, a beloved judge. The author uses motifs to reflect the past versus present theme, and symbols, and metaphors to add drama to the overall plot through insights into the characters. Eudora Welty uses the "judge and jury" metaphor through out the novel to keep the theme of the novel progressing. The metaphor describes Fay's judgement of Laurel's visit during her father's hospital stay, and like wise Laurel's judgement of Fay `s resentment towards Becky. The metaphor is once again used after the funeral when the garden club, Becky's friends, sentence Fay to be the outcast of the town. This metaphor is the core of the novel's struggle for the truth. Welty uses numerous symbols to aid her writing. The author uses birds to signify death, every time a bird enters a reference to or an actual death occurs. Black also symbolizes death and demons, whether they are people or inner thoughts. The black clothes at the funeral symbolize the morning that accompanies death. Welty also uses a breadboard in the last chapter that symbolizes Laurel's love for her husband and her past. The motif of the mountains is the most apparent in the novel. Laurel's mother Becky never felt more alive than when she was in the mountains. The mountains are where Becky McKleva drew her strength, hence why she wanted to return to her beloved West Virginia Mountains when she was on her death bed. The mountains are also the key to unlocking parts of Laurels past which aid her in her quest for happiness in the future.Read more ›
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