May 4, 2008

The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty

Part historical tale, part retelling of a myth, and part fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom is a wonderfully odd novella. The story is set in the early nineteenth century, in the Natchez Trace, Mississippi, and it focuses on Clement Musgrove, a pioneer plantation owner, his daughter Rosamond, her less than friendly stepmother, and a few legendary outlaws.

The story’s fairy tale tone is obvious from the very first paragraph:
It was the close of day when a boat touched Rodney's Landing on the Mississippi River and Clement Musgrove, an innocent planter, with a bag of gold and many presents, disembarked. He had made the voyage from New Orleans in safety, his tobacco had been sold for a fair price to the king's men. In Rodney he had a horse stabled against his return, and he meant to spend the night there at an inn, for the way home through the wilderness was beset with dangers.
The Robber Bridegroom is named after a Grimms fairy tale, and the story uses some elements from it, but in a loose enough manner for it to be inaccurate to call it a retelling. It uses at least as many elements, if not more, from the myth of Eros and Psyche. There are also hints at other fairy tales – someone being punished by being forced to dance until they drop dead, a girl not being recognized by her lover because she is covered in cinders, two men who sneak out of their beds at night and watch a robber try to kill them, and in the morning say they barely felt anything at all "except for some rats which slapped [them] with their tales once or twice in the night."

This is a story of the Deep South, the mythologized south of tell-tales. It’s a world of large plantations and slaves, of Spanish settlements, of Native Americans that are perceived as bestial but powerful (the constant talk of “savages” was the one thing about the story I didn’t like, but I suppose it reflects the prevalent attitudes of the time in which it is set), of magic, of outlaws, of mysterious wildernesses. This distinctively Southern feel combined with fairy tale elements reminded me a little of one of my favourite authors, Daniel Wallace. The combination is a great one, and the result is a very strange and completely engrossing tale. I leave you with a favourite bit:
The only thing that could possible keep her from being totally happy was that she had never seen her lover's face. But then the heart cannot live without something to sorrow and be curious over.
Other Blog Reviews:
A Peek in the Cupboard


  1. Wow, Nymeth, this does sound really good. I love reading about that area of the US, and the bits and pieces of fairy tale and myth thrown in can only make it more intriguing. Thanks again for lengthening the old wish list. :)

  2. I love Eudora Welty's writing and this sounds really good. I was planning to read her Losing Battles for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge, but after reading your review, I think I'll read this one instead. I never go wrong with your recommendations!

  3. Hi Nymeth :)

    I have several of Eudora Welty's works and thought I had THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, I do not :( I have THE COLLECTED STORIES which is a real treat, all of her stories. I will have to get that novel. I like her a lot.

    Have a nice week

  4. Sounds really interesting thanks for the review! I haven't read any of her writing before and I will look out for this one.

  5. Ohhh-I want all of Eudora Welty's works on my shelf right this instant. hehe

  6. Interesting! Thanks for the great review, Nymeth! I'll add this to my wishlist. :)

  7. Debi: I love reading about the south too. I hope you enjoy this one when the time for it comes!

    Robin: I hope this one doesn't change your mind :P But I do think you'll enjoy it.

    Hi Madeleine! I've heard great things about Welty's short stories and I definitely want to read them at some point. Thanks, and have a nice week yourself.

    Rhinoa: I hadn't read her until now either. In fact, I had never even heard of this book. I'm glad to have discovered it.

    Eva: I really want to read more of her stuff!

    Melody: like I told Debi, I hope you enjoy it when the time for it comes!

  8. I LOVE Eudora Welty and this is one of my favorite stories . . . Daniel Wallace's stuff has always reminded me of someone (I don't mean to imply that he's derivative!) and you nailed it perfectly!

  9. I've never heard of this author nor this book, must check it out in the shop and see what we have!
    thanks for the lovely review:)

  10. I haven't read any of Welty's longer fiction, but I love her short stories (Why I Live at the P.O. is hilarious). I've always enjoyed southern lit...maybe I'll have to track this one down for the southern lit challenge. Thanks for the review.

  11. I grew up in a little Mississippi town which is located on the Natchez Trace. It's such a beautiful area. I, sadly, have read very little Welty, which is something I should remedy. This one sounds excellent!

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  13. Ken: I know what you mean - his stuff is very much his own, but all writers have influences, and the best take those influences and work them into something unique. That's definitely the case with Wallace.

    Valentina: I hope you enjoy it if you manage to find it!

    Trish: I googled and I found that story online...yay! I'm going to read it later today. This one would be perfect for the Southern Reading Challenge!

    Somer: I bet that being familiar with the are makes this book even more enjoyable. The Natchez Trace really sounds beautiful from Welty's descriptions!

    Rohit: Thanks for the link. It's an interesting concept, and I'll take a look later today.

  14. I love the look of this book, great cover!

  15. Carl: Unfortunately the edition I read didn't have this cover (it was the one that contains her complete novels) but when I came across it online I couldn't resist posting it.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.