The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty (1954)

The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty 1954 novella

The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty is a 1954 novella originally published in The New Yorker magazine the year before it appeared in book form. Two years later, it was staged as a Broadway play. In 2001, it was also adapted into a made-for-television film for PBS.

Narrated by Edna Earle Ponder, it’s the story of her uncle, Daniel Ponder, a sweet man who is considered a bit “slow.” He has inherited a hefty fortune from his father and  wants to give it away.

This plan, not surprisingly, is opposed by the extended family. The book was widely praised when released; here are two typical reviews of this darkly comical gem from Eudora Welty:


The Ponder Heart is a Generous Heart

From the original review of The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty, by W.G. Rogers’ syndicated Literary Guidepost column, January, 1954: The heart of any Ponder, even a Ponder by marriage, appears to be a very independent organ. Grandpa’s is so weak it up and stops when his son takes a second wife.

Miss Teacake Magee and Bonnie Dee, who favors marriage by trial, have unpredictable hearts, too. The exception is sharp, matter-of-fact Edna Earle, who tells this story.

But the heart which concerns us most closely is Uncle Daniel’s. The doctor calls it “racing heart.” We’re also assured it’s as good as gold, and that it’s a solid chunk of generosity.

Uncle Daniel will give away anything, or at least share it, as when he offers his house and home and old family car to Bonnie Dee. This excess of generosity gets him “consigned” to an asylum, for a moment. But he neglects to be generous enough to Bonnie Dee, who runs off, and then runs him off, until at last he’s charged with murder.

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Daniel was hiding behind the door when Ponder brains were passed out. A lot of these people could have been hiding. There was Grandma, gentlest woman alive, who would cry, “I’ll break your neck,” or “I’ll beat your brains out,” and nobody paid any attention as long as nobody died.

But when Bonnie Dee’s wee skimpy body was round, Big John remembered Uncle Daniel’s message to come back or “I’m going to kill you dead.” It’s a wonder how it all got into court, but it did.

How it all got into a book is no mystery; it’s another one of the Welty wonders. It first appeared complete in The New Yorker magazine. Though it’s a short book, it has an immeasurable fund of good nature, of joviality and amiability, the very qualities that are rarest in today’s fiction. Only the shrewdest novelist can bare for us the unshrewd human heart.

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The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty (1954 novella)

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A delectable novel by Eudora Welty

From the review in The Galveston Daily News, January, 1954: The Ponder Heart is a delectable novel of a Mississippi family by Eudora Welty. To the cognoscenti the appearance of a new story by Eudora Welty is something of a literary event. Such a story has just made its appearance. The Ponder Heart is certain to appeal, of course, to readers who have enjoyed Eudora Welty’s previous writings.

Written with an adroit skill “The Ponder Heart” tells the story of what might be called the tag-end of a wealthy, or at least, well-to-do, family in a mall town in Mississippi. Discriminating readers will find it a delightful, amusing story. 

It is the story of Uncle Daniel Ponder, and it is told by his niece, Edna Earle, who runs an institution called the Beulah Hotel not far from the main highway in the small town of Clay.

Now this Uncle Daniel had the sweetest disposition in the world. A Southern gentleman of the old school, he was somewhat simpleminded and childish in his actions, but he was punctilious in his manners and he was also very rich. 

Uncle Daniel liked to give away things, so much so that even Edna Earle couldn’t stop him, and so Grandpa Ponder had him put away in an asylum, but Uncle Daniel soon managed to get out.

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Well, Uncle Daniel ups and marries Miss Teacake Magee, the widow of Professor Magee who wasn’t really a professor but was just called that because he was so smart. This marriage didn’t last very long and Grandpa Ponder carries Uncle Daniel off to the asylum again. Once more Uncle Daniel managed to get out.

Then Uncle Daniel ups and marries again and this time it is a seventeen year old girl named Bonnie Dee Peacock from away off down in the country. She was a little thing with yellow fluffy hair and she was no bigger than a minute. She had traipsed into Clay and gone to work in the ten-cent stare, and no sooner did Uncle Daniel set eyes on her than he had to marry her.

Which he did, and then he took her off to the Ponder place, and in due time she ran him off and he came to live at the Beulah Hotel with Edna Earle.

Then one day Uncle Daniel and Edna Earle went out to visit Bonnie Dee. There was bad thunderstorm, and Bonnie Dee died and Uncle Daniel was charged with murder.

What happened when Uncle Daniel went to trial–in what must surely be the most informal murder trial imaginable–brings this delectable tale to its climax.

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