The persistence of a memory: Eudora Welty, Salvador Dali, and the making of an American surrealist

Stephen Martin Fuller

Abstract

This dissertation examines Eudora Welty's literary and photographic production through the prism of avant-garde surrealist theory. Critics have traditionally viewed her work solely in the context of Anglo-American modernism, but I argue that Welty's fiction, criticism, and photography reveal a theoretical program parallel to the philosophical aims codified by surrealism's founder, André Breton, and later by the verbal and visual pronouncements issued by Salvador Dalí and his agent in the United States, Julien Levy. Locating Welty in New York and Jackson in the thirties, I begin with a cultural history that recounts surrealism's arrival in the United States, its conquering of New York's art scene, and Dalí's meteoric rise to prominence. Dalí's menacing face steals the cover of Time in 1936, and his astonishing art and grandstanding succeed in reinventing surrealism for consumption in America where surrealist iconography penetrates the world of high fashion and Madison Avenue advertising. I place Welty, the one-time New York advertising student, in this historical context and read her critical essays alongside surrealism's major statements in order to foreground a series of philosophical and technical correspondences. In successive chapters, I use surrealist theory and a range of metaphors drawn from the plastic arts and from her critical essays to explore the surreal imagery of Welty's fiction and photography of the thirties, forties, and fifties in order to describe the highly visual language that she uses to simulate the pleasure, paranoia, and panic of dreams. Throughout, I contend that this heavily pictoral language creates moments of surreal uncertainty that challenge expectations for the genre of fictional realism, subvert rational categories of thought, reveal desire's de-centering of the subject, and open avenues for the expression of feminine sexuality, resistance, and renewal.