Evolving Secrets: Eudora Welty and the Mystery Genre

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Detecting the South in Fiction, Film, & Television

Publication Date



Deborah E. Barker, editor ; Theresa Starkey. editor


Louisiana State University Press


Baton Rouge, Louisiana



First Page


Last Page





Eudora Welty’s signature version of modernism is a spare, whittled story-puzzle. She asks readers to don their detective caps and search for clues in fictions that defy readers’ expectations. Across her career, Welty adapts mystery conventions without bringing easy resolution, thickening rather than solving mystery. Welty’s play with the conventions of crime fiction is evident as early as in a 1937 unpublished novel “The Night of The Little House “ ––which in some sleuthing of my own, I uncovered in 2014 –– as well as in such early stories as “The Hitchhikers,” “Flowers for Marjorie,” “Powerhouse,” “A Piece of News,” and “The Key.” This play continues throughout her career, and in the 1970s-1980s, she worked on (but never published) first a mystery featuring a race-rape plot, “The Shadow Club,” and also, a police procedural about a seamstress who kills her abusive husband, “The Alterations.” These projects tangibly reflect the influence of her close friendship with the eminent detective fiction writer Ross Macdonald, and the interaction of his work in the mystery genre with hers. In Welty’s puzzle-texts, it is exactly Welty’s innovative play with a reader’s competencies with conventions, producing surprised expectations, that makes her a paramount modernist, a woman writer with a most cunning swerve, a short story writer of the first rank, and a remarkable literary innovator. -- Harriet Pollack


Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Literary Studies

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