The Garden: Detail from Work out in Mississippi Grove, c. 1900, oil on linen, by American artist Kate Freeman Clark (1875–1957). Library of America (LOA) writes in its Story of the Week: “Seven years after her father’s death, Eudora transformed her mother’s grief into a story. Rather than a source of therapeutic comfort, yardwork in ‘A Curtain of Green’ becomes an unhealthy, almost destructive obsession. (One can only wonder what Chestina thought of the autobiographical elements of her daughter’s story.) Mrs. Larkin’s isolation is not only social but also physical—the ‘hedge, high as a wall’ forming a curtain of green between her and her neighbors. In a recently published appraisal of Welty’s fiction, literary scholar Sally Wolff examines the themes of this story and writes, ‘In the painful balance between loving and losing, Welty asks the most probing questions about life without love.’ ”
Image Credit; Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery, Holly Springs, Mississippi; The Athenaeum
The Library of America’s Introduction to the short story “A Curtain of Green” (Eudora Welty: Stories, Essays, & Memoir) provides some background information on how Welty turned personal experience into a published story and, equally important, how she viewed personal and professional loss, including what some would consider as lost opportunity:
After completing a one-year advertising course at Columbia University Graduate School in New York, Eudora Welty found her new career stymied by the lack of job openings, and so she returned to Mississippi in 1931. Soon after she arrived home, her father became critically ill with leukemia and, with Eudora at his bedside, died while receiving a blood transfusion from her mother. While working at a series of jobs, Eudora consoled her mother who, as biographer Suzanne Marrs notes, “discovered solace in gardening.” With her daughter as helpmate, Chestina Welty spent hours in her garden, nearly every day; she wrote in an unpublished essay (quoted by Marrs) that “its peace and fragrance are soothing to frayed nerves when we are weary from contact or perhaps conflict with the everyday world.”
Such is often the way it is, or becomes. If death of a loved one cuts you off from the land of the living, it is only natural to find a way to return to the land of life, which is the garden of greenery. Welty’s story, however, raises questions in the finding of answers. For one, how something with roots in therapy can turn into an unhealthy and socially isolating obsession. I can understand that there is some appeal, at least initially, to surround one’s self with a hedge of greenery and to work out the grief by seeing the growth of greenery. But the danger, so to speak, is that the grief is nurtured; the distance is increased, and the isolation made complete and beautiful. And anything that threatens this is viewed as unhealthy, including human relationships and companionship. Which, despite the thorns, are necessary.
For more, go to [LOA]