First published in December 2016.
What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell is one of my most anticipated books – well, ever. Maxwell is one of my favourite writers (and it pains me that he is so little known), and I very much admire Welty. Regardless, I knew little about them as individuals, so when I spotted this volume, I immediately put it at the top of my birthday list.
Marrs’ introduction is wonderful. She writes with such passion, and compassion, for her subjects. From the very beginning, I knew that I would have loved to meet both of those whom Marrs clearly deeply admires. Welty was an incredibly sassy, shrewd woman; of Jane Austen’s house, she wrote that it ‘looks big, but is really small. The opposite of her novels.’ Bill, who struck up a wondrous friendship with her, was an incredibly humble, humane man, filled with a myriad of thoughts, and devoted to all of those around him.
It goes without saying that both are incredible writers. Learning about the process of their craft was fascinating enough, but getting to know the pair as individuals was far more rewarding. That rare thing is so evident here; that enduring friendship, built upon mutual respect, which was all the more cherished as the two lived far from one another (Maxwell in New York, and Welty in Mississippi). They could see one another only at long intervals, but in some ways, both found this beneficial; the therapeutic motion of penning (semi-) regular letters to one another lasted for decades, and much was learnt about the other in consequence.
What There Is To Say We Have Said is a stunning read, and I was a little sad when I came to its end. Throughout, one is nudged to remember just how important communication is (and just how much the majority of us in the modern world almost instantaneous communication for granted), and how beautiful the art of letter writing. There is not a single dull sentence in this 450-page long volume, and if it had been twice as long, I would have been thrilled.
I could type out quotes at length here, but I shall leave you, dear reader, with the ones which really touched me:
– Maxwell to Welty: ‘There are enough similarities in our two childhoods to make me feel […] that they grew up on a tandem bicycle.’
– Maxwell to Welty, on the publication of one of her works: ‘But I wanted to write to you now, because when a book first comes out, it is really like a party, and when I am invited to a party, I like to come early.’