First published in 1939 as an early indication of Eudora Welty’s promise as a leading figure in Southern realism, “Petrified Man” has gone on to a legacy as one of the most anthologized and studied short stories of her extensive canon. The irony behind this legacy is almost as thick and sweet as the ironic glaze that covers the best of Welty’s fiction.
Two years prior to publication, Welty submitted the manuscript to a quarterly literary magazine which had only been established two years before. The founders of this new magazine were future poet laureate of the U.S. and renowned literary scholar Cleanth Brooks called the Southern Review. Today, of course, that quarterly review has also enjoyed an impressive legacy.
Welty’s submission was returned with a rejection letter from those two esteemed editors admitting that it was of high quality and indicated that anything else of such quality she might submit would almost certainly be published. Crushed, Welty burned the manuscript of “Petrified Man.”
Imagine the torrent of emotions that overcame Miss Welty when shortly thereafter she received another mailing from Warren with the news that the editors had quickly come to regret their decision to reject the story and informing her that if she wished to return a copy, it would be published. By that time, of course, the story no longer existed anywhere but in her head. So, Welty did what perhaps only half of the struggling writers in such a frustrating would do: she rewrote the entire story from memory.
That rewrite is the version of “Petrified Man” which would be published in the Spring 1939 edition of the Southern Review and become an essential component in the construction of Eudora Welty as one of the towering literary figures of 20th century America.