Eudora Welty + Aries + Guilt
I’m entranced by Eudora Welty right now. Reading her short story "Livvie," I’m awed by how much Welty does in just ten pages.
In One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty writes that Livvie is “about youth and old age: the death of an old, proud, possessive man and the coming into flower, after dormant years, of his young wife—a spring story.”
It is a spring story: “All night the frogs had sung out in the swamp, like a commotion in the room, and [Solomon] had not stirred, though [Livvie] lay wide awake and saying ‘Shh, frogs!’ for fear he would mind them.”
Spring is burgeoning but Livvie lives in thrall to her old husband Solomon in a tidy, quiet house. She’s not allowed to talk to anyone. “Solomon never let Livvie go any farther than the chicken house and the well.” Even after Solomon begins to stay in bed all day, an old man “wearing out in body,” Livvie restrains herself, holding herself in stillness and quiet. “She could keep from singing when she ironed, and to sit by a bed and fan away the flies, she could be so still she could not hear herself breathe.”
But spring beckons. “Even in the house the earth was sweet to breathe.” And Livvie longs to be out in the fields, working, “drenched with her efforts.” This is Aries’ drive to to push forth demanding a chance to live.
Steven Forrest describes Aries this way:
“Life choosing existence over surrender and extinction is the essence of the Aries clan… It is the part of you that is very good at staying alive… Wherever you find your Aries-energy, you need to learn courage. You need to develop initiative. You must cultivate the ability to claim what is rightfully yours.”
Aries energy is not gentle, and Livvie has been brought up to be a good girl so she tries to suppress the primal energy surging in her. But, as in a fairytale, everything conspires to help Livvie blossom. The travelling saleslady hawking makeup leaves Livvie with chinaberry colored lipstick on her lips and an outsider's view of her husband. “My, what a little tiny, old, old man!” the saleslady whispers. Then Livvie goes on a walk “not far, when she saw a sight. It was a man, looking like a vision.” His name is Cash. He’s young, strong, lively and colorfully dressed. He whistles, throws a pebble at the bottle tree and follows none of the rules of silence and containment that Livvie has been living under.
Breaking away from the life that contains you, even when that containment is over-tight, over-controlled and wrong, can arouse terrible guilt. We see Livvie “in a gush of tears” after she has broken Solomon’s stifling rules.
For Welty the drive for independence is inextricably intertwined with guilt. In her memoir, Welty writes, “There is no wonder that a passion for independence sprang up in me at the earliest age. It took me a long time to manage the independence, for I loved those who protected me—and I wanted inevitably to protect them back. I have never managed to handle the guilt.”
(As an aside, there truly is no wonder that a passion for independence sprang up in Eudora Welty. She has four planets, including her Sun, in Aries. Claiming her right to the life she wants to lead was part of her evolutionary aim.)
But, Welty didn’t let the guilt stop her and neither does Livvie. Welty anticipates Gabor Maté on the subject of guilt: In When the Body Says No, Maté writes:
"For many people, guilt is a signal that they have chosen to do something for themselves…A therapist once said to me, 'If you face the choice between feeling guilt and resentment, choose the guilt every time.'... Resentment is soul suicide."
Welty knows this guilt when she travels to New York to try to sell her stories. “The torment and guilt - the torment of having the loved one go, the guilt of being the loved one gone - come into my fiction as it did and does into my life. And most of all the guilt then was because it was true: I had left to arrive at some future and secret joy, at what was unknown, and what was now in New York, waiting to be discovered. My joy was connected with writing; that was as much as I knew.” (937)
Eudora Welty and Livvie trust their joy. Leaving Solomon’s body, Livvie and Cash “moved around and around the room and into the brightness of the open door.” But Welty makes sure we aren’t so naive as to believe that such joy comes unalloyed. In true Aries fashion, Welty lets us see the fierceness and unsentimentality required to claim the vitalizing life that beckons.