Lily Daw And The Three Ladies by Eudora Welty, 1937
The magic trick:
Telling what amounts to a tragic tale under the guise of local satire
I love the bizarre combination of humor and horror in Eudora Welty’s work. It was there from the start, as evidenced by the excellent “Lily Daw.” Flannery O’Connor mixed comedy and tragedy in the South, too, but Welty’s brand is different somehow. Her humor is less angry than O’Connor’s, her brushes with darkness less dramatic but often no less powerful.
In “Lily Daw,” comedy appears to rule the day. The situation is preposterous – a group of well-intentioned women trying to save a mentally challenged woman who would prefer to marry the touring musician she may or may not have slept with the night prior. If that isn’t enough, the language and manner attached to the townswomen is hilarious.
But the story guts you. Tucked within all that humor is the detail of the scars around Lily’s neck where her father tried to decapitate her with a butcher’s knife. Just hilarious, right? This story isn’t really funny at all. It’s downright heartbreaking. Yet you’ll be laughing at parts. Sure sign the author has you right where she wants you. And that’s quite a trick on Welty’s part.
Aimee threw up her hands and ran out into the street. “Loralee, Loralee, you got to ride us up to Lily Daws’. She’s up yonder fixing to get married!”
“Hop in, my land!”
“Well, that just goes to show you right now,” said Mrs Watts, groaning as she was helped into the back seat. “What we’ve got to do is persuade Lily it will be nicer to go to Ellisville.”
“Just to think!”
While they rode around the corner Mrs Carson was going on in her sad voice, sad as the soft noises in the hen house at twilight. “We buried Lily’s poor defenseless mother. We gave Lily all her food and kindling and every stitch she had on. Sent her to Sunday school to learn the Lord’s teachings, had her baptized a Baptist. And when her old father commenced beating her and tried to cut her head off with the butcher knife, why, we went and took her away from him and gave her a place to stay.”
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