Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The many-tentacled influence of Miss Eudora Welty

We’ve covered Eudora Welty’s influence on a Grammy-winning album here. But she may also have inspired the titles of a couple of famous plays, as well.

Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” premiered in early 1949, thirteen years after Welty’s short story “Death of a Traveling Salesman,” a story whose main character is named Bowman.   Bowman? Loman? Coincidence?... Yeah, probably. But still, both have to do with man’s search for meaning and worth and accomplishment in life, and both characters come up empty in their search and then die. So I’m going to go ahead and say: DUN, DUN, DUN!)

But what about Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which premiered at the end of 1947? The title makes an allegory of the streetcar label that marked the line serving Desire Street in New Orleans. Did he come upon the idea on his own? Mmmm probably, but take a look at this excerpt from Eudora Welty’s novel from two years earlier, Delta Wedding :
“They had fooled everybody successfully about their honeymoon, because instead of going to the Peabody in Memphis they had gone to the St. Charles in New Orleans. Walking through the two afternoons down streets narrow as hallways, they had to press back against the curb, against uncertain dark-green doors, to let the streetcars get through. The streetcars made an extraordinary clangor at such close quarters, as they did in the quiet of the night, and some of them had “Desire” across the top. Could that have been the name of a street? She had not asked then; she did not much wonder now.”
I’m going to go ahead and give her credit for that one, too. Call it penance for this post.

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