Eudora: A Writer's Life - Ann Waldron
This biography of Eudora Welty is unauthorized—but not because the author wanted to say anything negative about her subject. No, indeed, Ann Waldron writes with a nearly fawning reverence. But Welty was immovably opposed to all biographies whatsoever, and furthermore told all her friends and acquaintances not to talk about her. Welty hid herself behind politeness and gentility, and it seems that these traits only grew stronger as she aged. The woman who dismissed feminism as "noisiness", and who could hardly have a worse criticism of people than to consider them crass and badly-behaved, showed the same preferences in her fiction as in her life. There is plenty of reality in Welty’s stories, but anything too raw is under the surface.

Biographers writing about long-dead people often have even less material to work with than Waldron did, drawing on public records and Welty’s scattered revelations in interviews. But they have a freedom that Waldron didn’t allow herself: she held back from thinking deeply about the evidence she gathered and drawing conclusions from it. Waldron put herself in this position by becoming too partisan for her subject. She not only dwells at length on the praise that Welty received, but defends her from people who accuse her of social complacency, and becomes indignant on her behalf whenever someone criticizes her writing. It makes for an unsatisfactory biography, even more so because Waldron is not a highly skilled writer, occasionally even falling into the tone of the kind of laudatory mini-biographies that make for such dull hearing at award ceremonies. She does do fairly well at finding the kind of small anecdotes that make a life distinctive, but she’s working from scanty material.

Eudora Welty’s life could certainly make for an interesting book. She herself pointed out that however uneventful her years seemed superficially, she had plenty going on in her mind. No life is dull if well understood. But this biography is only a partial contribution toward that understanding, tantalizing with some information, laying out a framework of facts, but ultimately remaining respectfully, politely unilluminating.