Authors: Katherine Anne Porter

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Flowering Judas, and Other Stories, 1930

Hacienda, 1934

Noon Wine, 1937

Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels, 1939

The Leaning Tower, and Other Stories, 1944

The Old Order, 1944

The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, 1965

Long Fiction:

Ship of Fools, 1962

Poetry:

Katherine Anne Porter’s Poetry, 1996 (Darlene Harbour Unrue, editor)

Nonfiction:

My Chinese Marriage, 1921

Outline of Mexican Popular Arts and Crafts, 1922

What Price Marriage, 1927

The Days Before, 1952

A Defence of Circe, 1954

A Christmas Story, 1967

The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings, 1970

The Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter, 1970

The Never-Ending Wrong, 1977

Letters of Katherine Anne Porter, 1990

Biography

Katherine Anne Porter is an example of the artist who labors through a long life to produce a very few miniatures, which are so finely wrought that they challenge the greatest masterpieces. Indeed, some of her short fiction is among the best ever written. Porter was born in a log cabin in the small village of Indian Creek, near Brownweed, Texas, on May 15, 1890. Her father, a farmer, was shortly thereafter forced to move to southern Texas following the death of her mother.{$I[AN]9810000886}{$I[A]Porter, Katherine Anne}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Porter, Katherine Anne}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Porter, Katherine Anne}{$I[tim]1890;Porter, Katherine Anne}

Katherine Anne Porter

(Washington Star Collection, D.C. Public Library)

As a result of this loss, Porter’s education was limited; she received early instruction at home from her grandmother and was then sent to convent schools in Texas and Louisiana. This scant formal training was curtailed by marriage at the age of sixteen. Subsequently, her education was of the on-the-job type in a variety of locations. She worked as a newspaper reporter in Dallas, Denver, and Chicago; played extra and bit parts in motion pictures, first in Chicago, then in Hollywood; fell victim to the infamous influenza epidemic of 1918 but survived; and traveled to Mexico, where she lived for several years, falling in love with her adopted country, studying Aztec and Mayan art, and joining the revolutionary movements of that time. This extraordinary range of experience may have had something to do with the unhappiness of her first marriage, which lasted nine years.

Although Porter had done some commercial writing previously, the publication of “Flowering Judas” in 1930 announced the advent of a remarkable new writer. When it was republished with other stories, the volume solidly established her reputation. The title story, certainly the most frequently reprinted of her writings, has become a classic, an essential document in the canon of both the modernist and the Symbolist movements of the twentieth century. It collects the impressions of a twenty-two-year-old woman living ostensibly as a schoolteacher in a Mexican town but secretly working for the revolutionary movement. Painfully aware of the venality, corruption, and sordidness of the rebel leaders and of her inability to relate to the common people, including her students, she continues to labor for a cause about which she no longer cherishes any illusions. She seems stunned by her knowledge and her contact with evil, as if up to that point she had been insulated against it. She is especially haunted by a recent visit with a young prisoner who confesses that he has taken the entire supply of narcotics that she had earlier smuggled in to ease the tedium of confinement and the pain of torture. Two points about the story are particularly striking. One is the clarity and austerity of the style, which wastes no words and captures images and scenes with uncanny accuracy. The second is the success with which the central character is realized. Porter presents her so vividly that her unsettling state of mind remains with the reader long after finishing the story.

Two of the other stories in this collection have achieved almost equal fame, “Maria Concepción” and “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” The first depicts an episode of female jealousy, machismo, and revenge in a primitive Mexican village; in it, Porter announces one of her recurrent themes: Men and women are equally trapped by patterns of behavior that they cannot escape. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” presents a variation of this theme through the dying thoughts of a woman whose pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of a God who allows her to suffer a jilting in her youth and a subsequent life of inadequate compensations.

Porter’s second collection, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, includes three short novels: the title novella, Old Mortality, and Noon Wine. Pale Horse, Pale Rider, set in 1918, traces the interaction of doomed lovers; the woman falls victim to the great influenza epidemic of that year, during which the man is ordered to serve on the front lines in France. She barely survives, only to learn that he has fallen in action. Old Mortality shows a young girl being reared in the early 1900’s in a traditional southern family. Noon Wine tells the story of a poor Texas dirt farmer, also at the turn of the twentieth century, whose ineptness is such that he only turns dirt to mire. He hires a transient helper, whose strenuous efforts make the farm profitable, but a bounty hunter appears after seven years to disclose that the hand is a runaway lunatic murderer. In an attempt to protect the hand, the man kills the bounty hunter with an ax. Acquitted, he is ostracized by his neighbors and kills himself. All three stories extend Porter’s concept of the tragedy inherent in life.

Porter’s magnum opus is Ship of Fools, which was thirty years in the writing and long awaited. Perhaps because of the great expectations it aroused, it did not attain the popularity of her earlier work. It is easily her longest, most ambitious, and possibly most serious effort, as long by itself as all her other fiction put together and unifying all her earlier thematic concerns. The ship of the title sails from disturbed Mexico to disturbed Germany in the late summer of 1931. Its story is the interaction of a number of characters of various nationalities, poised between two cultures in revolution at a critical moment of twentieth century history. It is certainly her most complex attempt to identify and account for the domination of suffering and loss in human experience.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Katherine Anne Porter: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Bloom introduces twelve classic essays, by Robert Penn Warren, Robert B. Heilman, Eudora Welty, and others. The symbolism of “Flowering Judas,” the ambiguities of “He,” and the dreams in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” are focuses of attention. Porter is compared with Flannery O’Connor. Includes a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. Katherine Anne Porter’s Artistic Development: Primitivism, Traditionalism, and Totalitarianism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993. Applying Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the dialogic and monologic to Porter’s fiction, Brinkmeyer argues that when she created a memory-based dialogue with her southern past, she achieved her height as an artist, producing such important stories as “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” and “Noon Wine.”Fornataro-Neil, M. K. “Constructed Narratives and Writing Identity in the Fiction of Katherine Anne Porter.” Twentieth Century Literature 44 (Fall, 1998): 349-361. Discusses “Old Mortality,” “He,” “Noon Wine,” and “Holiday” in terms of Porter’s fascination with characters who cannot or do not speak; claims that her silent characters are alienated because they communicate by a sign system that others cannot understand.Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.Graham, Don. “Katherine Anne Porter’s Journey from Texas to the World.” Southwest Review 84 (1998): 140-153. Argues that because the dominant figure in Texas literary mythology was the heroic cowboy, Porter, who had nothing to say about cowboys in her writing, chose instead to identify herself as southerner.Hartley, Lodwick, and George Core, eds. Katherine Anne Porter: A Critical Symposium. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969. A collection of seminal essays, this book includes an interview with Porter in 1963, as well as a personal assessment by Porter’s friend Glenway Wescott. A group of five essays provide general surveys, and another five focus on particular stories, including “The Grave” and “Holiday.” Select bibliography, index.Hendrick, George. Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Twayne, 1965. A biographical sketch precedes studies grouped according to settings from Porter’s life: the first group from Mexico, the second from Texas, and the third from New York and Europe. After a chapter on Ship of Fools, the book surveys Porter’s essays and summarizes major themes. Notes, annotated bibliography, index, and chronology.Liberman, M. M. Katherine Anne Porter’s Fiction. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1971. In this study of Porter’s methods and intentions, seven chapters concentrate analyses on Ship of Fools, “Old Mortality,” “Noon Wine,” “María Concepción,” “Flowering Judas,” and “The Leaning Tower.” Chapter 6 examines “people who cannot speak for themselves,” the central characters of “Holiday,” “He,” and “Noon Wine.” Includes notes and an index.Nance, William L. Katherine Anne Porter and the Art of Rejection. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964. An emerging thematic pattern of rejection is found in the early stories, up to “Hacienda.” Variations are illustrated by the middle stories. The Miranda stories are presented as fictional autobiography, and Ship of Fools is closely analyzed as a failure to make a novel out of character sketches. Complemented by a bibliography and index.Porter, Katherine Anne. Letters of Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.Spencer, Virginia, ed. “Flowering Judas”: Katherine Anne Porter. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1993. A volume in the Women Writers: Texts and Contexts series, this collection of critical discussions of Porter’s most famous story features background material and important essays, from Ray B. West’s influential 1947 discussion of the story to debates about the character of Eugenio as Christ figure.Stout, Janis. Katherine Anne Porter: A Sense of the Times. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. Chapters on Porter’s background in Texas, her view of politics and art in the 1920’s, her writing and life between the two world wars, and her relationship with the southern agrarians. Also addresses the issue of gender, the problem of genre in Ship of Fools, and the quality of Porter’s “free, intransigent, dissenting mind.” Includes notes and bibliography.Titus, Mary. The Ambivalent Art of Katherine Anne Porter. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005. A look at the ways in which Porter confronted issues of gender in her work and her life, including a study of some of her unpublished papers.Unrue, Darlene Harbour. Katherine Anne Porter: The Life of an Artist. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005. A comprehensive biography of Porter that offers insight into her turbulent personal life and her writing.Walsh, Thomas F. Katherine Anne Porter and Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992. Chapters on Porter and Mexican politics, her different periods of residence in Mexico, and Ship of Fools. Includes notes and bibliography.Warren, Robert Penn. “Irony with a Center: Katherine Anne Porter.” In Selected Essays. New York: Random House, 1951. In this important early essay on Porter’s stories, Warren asserts Porter’s fiction is characterized by rich surface detail apparently casually scattered and a close structure that makes such detail meaningful.
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