Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Katherine Anne Porter, _Pale Horse, Pale Rider_

RE-READ THIS LAST week for the book club, not having looked at it since I read it for a modern American fiction class in college some few decades ago, and was struck by how good it was. Three lengthy (50+ pages) short stories, or more what James called "tales," two about a young woman named Miranda breaking away from her upper-class Southern family and trying to make her own way (apparently autobiographical). The second of the Miranda tales, and the title story of the collection, is about Miranda catching the great influenza of 1918, and contains the best description of hallucinatory dreaming this side of De Quincey.

So, made me wonder--given the rocket boost that feminist scholarship has given the standing of many  once relatively neglected women writers since I was in college (top-of-the-head list: Elizabeth Gaskell, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Rhys, Dawn Powell, Mina Loy, Shirley Jackson), why not Porter? Not that she gets none whatsoever--some 500 items in the MLA International Bibliography--but Cather comes in at 2300.

Is it because there is just one novel (Ship of Fools)? I think, though, that even now a lot of her short stories get anthologized.

Something a little too cool, a little too analytically detached or Jamesian in the tone? You could say the same of Flannery O'Connor, though, and her reputation seems secure for the moment.

Did she commit some political misstep in the 1960s? I've known folks who dislike Elizabeth Bishop because she supported the mid-1960s Brazilian coup.

I can see why Pearl Buck (American writing about Chinese peasants) and Mary Ward (wrong, wrong, wrong on women's suffrage) are still waiting for their revival, but why Porter?

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