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The Optimist's Daughter

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  7,346 Ratings  ·  817 Reviews
This story of a young woman's confrontation with death and her past is a poetic study of human relations.
Hardcover, 180 pages
Published May 7th 2002 by Random House (first published 1972)
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Eudora Welty is considered one of the great American writers of the 20th century. With a life spanning the majority of the century, she wrote a plethora of stories and novels. Her stellar work personifying the southern genre of writing won multiple awards over the span of her lifetime. None of the novels, however, garnered as much praise as The Optimist's Daughter which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 when Welty was 64 years old. A crowning jewel for a lifetime achievement of writing, The Optimis ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 14, 2012 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jeffrey by: On the Southern Literary Trail
Shelves: southern
"Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams."

Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty won the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1973. It was written much later than the bulk of the rest of her work. She had, as it turned out, one more little gem left in her pen. I've read some other reviews and realize that the book was confusing to some people even to the point that they gave up relativel
Nov 04, 2013 Duane rated it really liked it
Eudora Welty (1909-2001). She was 92 when she died. A life that spanned almost the entirety of the 20th century. A lifetime of writing achievement crowned by her masterpiece, The Optimist's Daughter. She was 64 when it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1973.

Many readers overlook Welty or disregard her work because it is "stuffed" into a certain genre, Southern Literature, which limits her exposure. But life is life and people are people, and Welty had the innate skill to bring the complexit
The Optimist's Daughter: Eudora Welty's Celebration of Life and Memory

"But the guilt of outliving those you love is justly to be borne, she thought. Outliving is something we do to them. The fantasies of dying could be no stranger than the fantasies of living. Surviving is perhaps the strangest fantasy of them all."--Laurel McKelva Hand

It is bittersweet to write about this little gem. It comes with no frills, no literary allusions, no photographs.

My mother died on February 1, 2012. She gave me
Aug 14, 2012 Melki rated it it was amazing
It's not easy becoming an orphan at any age. Suddenly, your safety net is gone. You are adrift. And no one will ever call you "son" or "daughter" again.

Just like me, Laurel was a middle-aged woman when she was orphaned. Unlike me, Laurel had to cope not only with the death of her father, but the persistent and annoying presence of her "evil" new stepmother, Fay.

Just how awful is Fay? As pesky as a gnat and as prone to tantrums as a spoiled child, she is undoubtedly irritating. Nothing passes wi
While I do tend to take my sweet time moseying toward a review after finishing a book, stewing both over and in my thoughts for often days at a time before taking the perfectionist's route to laboring over my words (or slapping some observations together to see what sticks and hoping that no one points out the crooked seams or varicolored threads), trying to sort and figure out what I want to say about The Optimist's Daughter was an especially difficult task. It wasn't until Mark -- who is often ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Sep 30, 2016 Sidharth Vardhan rated it really liked it
"Even if you have kept silent for the sake of the dead, you cannot rest in your silence, as the dead rest."

I think it should he considered good etiquette not to attend a funeral even if one is invited, if one isn't heavily grieved by loss of the deceased or of his/her close ones. I mean what is point of creating an indifferent crowd busy in gossiping and telling tales when there are people genuinely mourning? Isn't disrespectful for dead? As it is, there is friction enough even among those gen
Jun 15, 2016 Claire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Achingly beautiful. There is a reason this book won the Pulitzer Prize. There is so much space between the words on the page. You have to do some filling in, and because you have to involve yourself more while reading, you start to merge with Laurel, the narrator. All of Laurel's thoughts and feelings become that much more poignant and revelatory. The story is also imbued with the melancholy and fatalism often seen in good Southern literature. This short book deserves several readings.
Jul 02, 2012 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: Southern Literary Trail group
One of my favorite quotations from this book comes in the second half.

"Memory returned like spring, Laurel thought. Memory had the character of spring. In some cases, it was the old wood that did the blooming."

This is Laurel's thought as she considers the past, the last months of her mother's life when all was unhappiness, her father seeming to drift, the loss of her beloved Phil. And so, memory and death are dealt with and reconciled. As is the present.

Memory and death are two of the major th
Mar 17, 2014 Tony rated it it was ok
Shelves: u-s-lit
You see this character more often in movies, or even in history or real life. Rarely in books, though, I've found. I'm talking about The Scene-Stealer.

It's not Judge McKelva, the self-proclaimed Optimist of the book's title. He's a widower, but now remarried. He gets bumped off early: some issue with his eye requires surgery and then his heart gives out unexpectedly during his recuperation in the hospital.

And it's not Judge McKelva's daughter, Laurel. She lost her husband in the War and grieves
Apr 04, 2010 Ralph rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics-read
“Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole!” ~Oscar Wilde

I guess I saw the holes in this book. The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize and is considered by many a modern day classic. I hate giving low ratings on what are considered classic books because it makes me seem unsophisticated somehow. However, I just don't understand the praise for this book. I didn't feel the characters were very developed, I felt t
Aug 20, 2007 Lauren rated it it was amazing
A perfect novel about family, hometowns, the grip of memory, and the dignity of living with sadness. So quietly and eloquently written and brutally full of heart.
Heather Fowler
Jul 12, 2011 Heather Fowler rated it really liked it
Welty's novel has spunk. Horrified by the new wife's character at the beginning of a narrative that seems built around an old man dying, my initial impression was that this book would be an ensemble cast narrative of a specific Southern community and somewhat comic but lightweight reading. The structure, however, changes as the book continues. From a narrative rife with dialogue, there is a deepening of the layers during the later passages about the optimist's daughter and much prose that delica ...more
Feb 24, 2009 Gracie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I must be missing something, as it's won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has numerous sparkling reviews, but I did not enjoy this book at all. At only 180 pages, this book was still a struggle for me to get through. The narrative was both vague and tedious. The storyline seemed disjointed and at times defied belief. I failed to find the meaning in the blatantly meant-to-be-symbolic events, such as the home invasion by a chimney swift.

Additionally, I felt the characters grossly underdeveloped.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I had a strange reading experience with this book. I'd read a chapter, not connect with it at all, set it aside on my bedside table for a while until I finished the other books sitting around.

Somewhere around page 70, several months later, something clicked. I think it was the description of the funeral and really hooking into Welty's understanding of the intricacies of southern etiquette, spoken but more importantly unspoken (yet expected.) It really solidified it for me when she describes book
Aug 10, 2014 Barbara rated it liked it
Laurel Hand travels from her home in Chicago to New Orleans when her father, Judge McKelva has an an eye operation. The judge's second (and much younger) wife, Fay also accompanies her husband from their home in Mississippi. The judge languishes after the surgery, becomes withdrawn and silent, and eventually dies. Through all this Laurel tries to support her father but Fay carries on and makes scene after scene - insisting that the judge recover - and probably hastening his demise.

After the jud
Graham Wilhauk
This was just not my thing. While parts of the writing was good and the main two characters were excellent, it just threw too much my way and I started to get pointlessly confused as a reader. I didn't hate or like this. I thought it to be extremely average. I don't recommend it, though.

I am giving this one a 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Feb 10, 2013 Perry rated it really liked it
Velvety Cloak of Words, Richly Patterned and Stitched with Gold

A story of an adult daughter's (Laurel*) struggle with the death of her father, after already having lost her husband and her mother. She recalls her mom and dad reading parts of books to each other:
“She was sent to sleep under a velvety cloak of words, richly patterned and stitched with gold, straight out of a fairy tale, while they went reading on into her dreams.”
It is a story of the people and things we recall upon the death o
Thing Two
Nov 22, 2011 Thing Two rated it really liked it
Recommended to Thing Two by: Southern Lit Book Club

This short novel won Eudora Welty a Pulitzer in 1972. The Optimist's Daughter is the tale of Laurel McKelva, a middle-aged widower living in Chicago, called to New Orleans to be with her ailing father the Judge. After the Judge passes - one doesn't say dies in the South - Laurel and her step-mother, the younger and self-centered Wanda Fay, return to the family home in Mississippi to bury the Judge.

This is the extent of the plot. Nothing much happens beyon
Aug 10, 2010 Kendall rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading Welty's Optimist Daughter for the 2010 Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. Welty never ceases to amaze with her dark and subtle look into Southern culture. The main character Laurel faces dilemmas and competing loyalties after the death of her father, as she reflects on the deaths of her mother and husband before him. Each shows her a different perspective on life, from which she must choose. Both parents have had vision problems (cataracts) and eye surgery, prior to, though ...more
Una figlia torna a casa per accudire il padre malato e si confronta con la giovane e frivola matrigna.
In sintesi questa è la trama, nel senso che non c'è una grande storia. Dove sono i colpi di scena? Dov'è quella prosa accattivante che ricalca il cinema piena di zoom e sospensioni e descrizioni stucchevoli di riflessi su vasi di cristallo? Va tanto questa letteratura oggi, va così di moda che la scambiamo per buona letteratura, dimenticandoci che è il narrare in sé che dovrebbe bastarci, se c'é
Aug 10, 2012 Franky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The action in The Optimist’s Daughter is minimal and limited, but also fairly inconsequential. The novel’s path is through Laurel’s journey within herself, one that involves soul searching and coming to terms with death and grief. Laurel returns to New Orleans to care for her ailing father, but, upon returning, she has to deal with past childhood memories, former acquaintances, the grief of past and present losses, and one very antagonistic woman, Fay, her father’s new wife. Searching her soul t ...more
Ket Lamb
May 07, 2012 Ket Lamb rated it it was ok
The Optimist's Daughter is a subtle, old-fashioned novel set in the South that explores social class, death, and values through the conflict between the middle-aged, widowed, well-bred daughter of a judge, Laurel, and her ignorant, red necked, younger stepmother, Fay. Once the judge dies under questionable circumstances, the old world - Laurel and her bridesmaids - try to fend off the encroaching new one - Fay, and her hayseed relatives. Yet, the past keeps rearing it's disturbing head. As Eudor ...more
Ronald Morton
I'm glad this book was only 180 pages, as I found myself pretty compulsively trying to finish it before nodding off to sleep, and I was getting sleepy towards the end.

Which is another way of saying that I found this excellent and simply had to finish it right away.

Not as much of a downer as I expected (I told my wife that I viewed the word "Optimist" in the title of a book with same suspicion I view Chekhov's rifle: I'm just waiting for the moment for them to go off) - it is a bit of a meditatio
Feb 03, 2009 Bethany rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
4.5 stars. This is a book about loss, the mystery of family, and how we compartmentalize our lives, and our suffering. It's about the power of memory, about death, and about letting go. It's about the ability even those closest to us have to surprise us. Or, better stated, about how we're only given the merest fraction of one another to ponder. How much we hoard ourselves from one another, afraid to be too well understood. It's about what's necessary to survive - a second wife, a slate wiped cle ...more
Dec 17, 2011 Ensiform rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Laurel, a young widow, returns to the South to be with her dying father; after he dies, she and her snotty young stepmother, return to her family house in Mississippi. This won the Pulitzer, but I disliked it. First, I always find the proud clinginess of the Southern patriot to be boring as well as arrogant. But mainly, I found this to be a rather simple tale, with a simple moral, written simply: a small bird in her house utterly terrifies Laurel; it doubtless represents her fear or helplessness ...more

This is less a review than a running collection of my thoughts as recorded in an experimental thread for "The Southern Literary Trail" group.

Part I

Laurel seems like she's got a lot to learn about her father and perhaps mother. I'm wondering whether Fay will be the conduit for that learning. The contentious relationship that exists right now seems to have the seeds of a much deeper experience. I think perhaps Welty has created a kind of bildungsroman around Laurel. Though she's a worldly wom
Feb 13, 2011 Barbara rated it really liked it
Though this isn't historical fiction, The Optimist's Daughter transports the reader back to a Mississippi town in the mid-twentieth century where social class stratifies the society and dictates behavior. Laurel, the daughter of a small town judge, has returned from Chicago to her family home because her father needs surgery for his eyes. The situation is complex because similar surgery caused the loss of her mother's vision and began a long decline ending with her death a few years before. Her ...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
Feb 09, 2009 Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Maybe
Recommended to Daniel (Attack of the Books!) by: Brittany Burton
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 13, 2012 Michelle rated it really liked it
My third Pulitizer read in close succession and am definitely seeing a trend in prize winners. Welty's language is clear and concise, especially her artful rendering of Fay (as annoying and awful as she is). For example, how does Welty manage, in one paragraph of dialogue, to SHOW us Fay is lying about her family history? I don't know, but she does and this simplicity can deceive the reader into thinking this book is less crafted than it is. There were a number of times when a line would bring m ...more
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Eudora Alice Welty was an award-winning American author who wrote short stories and novels about the American South. Her book The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous awards. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America.

Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and lived a sig
More about Eudora Welty...

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“The mystery in how little we know of other people is no greater than the mystery of how much, Laurel thought.” 22 likes
“Laurel could not see her face but only the back of her neck, the most vulnerable part of anybody, and she thought: Is there any sleeping person you can be entirely sure you have not misjudged?” 14 likes
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