(De)Coding the Church: Christian Performance and White Southern Girlhood in Welty's One Writer's Beginnings
Eudora Welty’s memoir One Writer’s Beginnings conveys the author’s childhood enchantment with reading and education. Critical engagement with the text often centers its impact on readings of her fiction or Welty’s relationship to other memoirists. I argue, however, that One Writer’s Beginnings also reveals a departure from southern belle-styled femininity through Welty’s interactions with formal schooling and the Church. Her family’s comparatively secular position in such a conservative, Christian population distinguishes Welty’s positionality from many of her immediate peers, making her a unique example of Christianity’s secular reach throughout the South. Her memoir is of particular interest because it presents historical verisimilitude as negotiated through the author’s self-definition, which adds another dimension to existing studies of Welty’s life. Examining the ways Welty narrates the extremes of women’s publicly available identities and the class performance inherent in church membership, I trace the young author’s abandonment of the southern belle archetype through her critique of her childhood Jackson, Mississippi and its religious practices.