Archives Artifacts

Wild and Lovely Things

Jarrett Zeman, MDAH Museum Division cataloger, brings us this post in an ongoing series about his work on the IMLS project to catalog, photograph, and create digital object records for MDAH’s Museum Division artifacts.

Eudora Welty enjoyed lifelong friendships with some of the twentieth century’s best known writers. Throughout her home, Welty displayed mementos of her colleagues, from autographed letters to books, photographs, and drawings.  In the sitting room, visitors can view a reproduction of a handwritten letter from E.M. Forster, author of the novel A Passage to India.

Forster wrote the letter on April 28, 1947, during a New York speaking tour.  He initially wanted to meet Welty, but when he learned the distance to Jackson, he decided that a letter had to suffice:

I feel I should like to give myself the pleasure of writing you a line and telling you how much I enjoy your work.  The Wide Net, and the wild and lovely things it brings up, have often been with me and delighted me. …Still, there are meetings which are not precisely personal, and I have had the advantage of one of these through reading you.

The admiration was mutual, since Welty considered Forster “a very great novelist.”  When Welty visited England in 1954, she had “overwhelming feelings of joy” after receiving a lunch invitation from Forster.  Welty’s visit would make any Forster fan jealous: a meal of hors d’oeuvres and white wine in Forster’s room, followed by a walk around Cambridge.

That night, Welty attended a conference where literary scholar Arthur Mizener criticized A Passage to India as “…a novel of manners that’s gone wrong.  When you finish it, you’re left with nothing but a vacuum.”  Exasperated, Welty defended her friend’s novel.  She left the conference in a sullen mood, upset that she allowed Mizener to get under her skin.  On the way to her hotel, Welty literally kicked herself until her foot bled.

The Forster letter is more than just a piece of paper; it is a symbol of literary admiration that ran so deep, it caused Welty physical harm.