The Ongoing Angst of Culling My Library – Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter

My long-suffering bibliomaniac followers have endured several of my white knuckled announcements of this or that treasured title that has to take a hike to a new home.

Now I’ve stumbled on something I’d forgotten I’d had and darn well ought to re-read (again). And a first edition at that (1966). I must have picked it up at a used book store, because I think I was still working on the alphabet that year.

collected stories PorterNevertheless (and this is what makes this process so painfully slow–and painful–) I had to flip ‘er open and reminisce. The book flopped open to a place I’d marked to “come back to,” a story that especially moved me, “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.”

jilting

No way am I going to part with this book!

katherine-anne-porter1890-1980-everett USPS06STA032Katherine Anne Porter isn’t mentioned much lately–that’s the way it is with literary fashions and reputations–up, down and in and out–but the really good stuff lasts and lasts, and always comes back.

Porter was a hands down master of the short story. Edge of your seat reading, unforgettable characters with true human depth that grab you by the throat in the first sentence. Her themes are the big ones, perennial, and her insights stunning.

If you haven’t read her, you should. She’ll be b-a-a-a-a-ack! I promise you 😉

The Library Of America has issued a KAP volume and that speaks volumes.

loa porterKatherine Anne Porter

Oh, yes, she also wrote the fabulous novel, The Ship of Fools.

Movies, re-makes, etc. She has staying power, that much is clear.

What She Was and What She Felt Like NYT, Eliz. Hardiwick

This (above) retrospective by another major novelist and poet is brilliant and riveting: BRIEF EXCERPT–

The life – some scandal and a considerable amount of folly. Katherine Anne Porter was born in a log cabin in Texas and grew up in hardship without a really good education. She knew a genuine struggle to provide for herself and slowly to define herself. Gradually, along the way, after her stories became known, she slipped into being a Southern belle and into being to some extent a Southern writer after ”Flowering Judas.” The role was there for the choosing since to be a belle and to be a Southern writer is a decision, not a fate. (Poe, for instance, was a Southerner but not a Southern writer.) Perhaps under the influence of the very talented Southern Agrarians – Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon and others – she began to appropriate a rather frantic genealogy of Daniel Boone and certain Southern statesmen; in addition, she developed some soothing memories of plantation dining rooms, ”several Negro servants, among them two aged former slaves,” and so on. In this way she filled in the gap between what she was and what she felt like.

She was handy too in disposing of the traces of her various mismatings, the first a marriage at 16. ”I have no hidden husbands,” she once said. ”They just slipped my mind.” She was beautiful, a spendthrift, an alert coquette and, since she lived long, a good many of her lovers and three of her husbands were younger than she was. She lopped off a few years here and there. The book goes into a determined sorting out and the husbands are lined up, the years restored.

Her serious work was slow in coming about because of a scratchy, hard life after she literally ran away from her first husband. Just ran off, as they say. She tried acting, did very provincial newspaper work and finally got a job on The Denver Post. Everything was hard, poorly paid, hand to mouth. During this period she seems quite Western or Middle-Western, like someone in Willa Cather trying to find the way out. Her story ”Maria Concepcion” was published when she was 34, and her first book, ”Flowering Judas,” appeared when she was 40. Fortunately for her future work she went to Mexico as a reporter; she was in and out of Greenwich Village, where she met writers and no doubt increased her sophistication about literature and the act of writing.

At this point, the shape of her life falls into a sort of 20’s pattern. She went to France and to Germany with her third husband, Eugene Pressly – a person named Ernest Stock, her second husband, ”deadly Ernest,” as she called him, having been run away from while he was sleeping. In Mexico she met the Russian film director Eisenstein; in Germany in 1932 she met Goering; in Paris she met Hemingway. Eisenstein became Uspensky in ”Hacienda,” the ship upon which she traveled from Mexico to Germany became the Vera in ”Ship of Fools.” In Berlin she stayed on alone, having encouraged Pressly to return to America for a holiday without her. She never liked the constant presence of her husbands or lovers and did not like, she soon found out, to be alone – a dilemma in one shape or another common to most of mankind. The pension where she stayed in Germany went, with little need for renovation, into ”The Leaning Tower.”

In Germany research finds that Katherine Anne Porter did not always conduct herself with generosity or moral refinement. She had a young friend, Herb Klein, a newspaper reporter, who tells years later of her leaving a seamstress without paying for a dress she had ordered -leaving the dress, too – and in this way embarrassing his mother who had brought the two together. He also discredits her claim to have met Hitler and feels strongly that she did not move widely or knowledgeably about the Germany of the time. So, a little more unstitching of the embroidery here ….

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Elizabeth Hardiwick, Literature, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Reading, The Flowering Judas, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Ongoing Angst of Culling My Library – Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter

  1. I dare anyone to read the “Jilting of Granny Weatherall” (short!) and not 1) become an instant idolator of Porter’s and 2) Not weep less than 3 buckets of tears of personal remorse

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excuse me, I should have said, “FEWER than three buckets of remorse.” Don’t forget that 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lahowlett says:

    I am so with you on parting with books, Margaret. There are bookshelves all over my house and our coffee table is loaded with them, too. I can part with other things (clothing, decor, etc.) but I have a real problem letting go of books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s agony. I am not doing a very good job of freeing up space. Still trying to recover from reading “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” again. I don’t know how KAP pulled it off, but she wrapped up a rich full life in all its glory and disappointments, and convincingly depicted this woman’s experience of dying and death in a few short pages–as well as the reactions of her loved ones! The compression and allusiveness are beyond me.

      Like

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