Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

By Allienne R. Becker | Go to book overview

4
Order from Chaos: War, Pestilence, and the Near-Death Experience in Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Joan Frederick

In his essay "The Poet," Ralph Waldo Emerson writes: "Every man should be so much an artist that he could report in conversation what had befallen him. . . . The poet is the person . . . who sees and handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of experience. . . . The poet is the sayer, the namer . . ." (308-9). True poets, as Emerson describes them, are rare. Rarer still are those writers who can take the truly inexplicable, those experiences so exceptional, so terrifying, or so unbelievable that they defy utterance, and give than form, substance, and order so that they can be grasped, understood, and appreciated by all. Such a writer is Katherine Anne Porter who, in her short novel Pale Home, Pale Rider, takes the perversely suffocating atmosphere of World War I, the ever- present and ominous threat of the influenza pandemic of 1918, and the near-death experience of a young woman in love with an ironically fated soldier and weaves these events into a memorable tapestry of art.

Katherine Anne Porter was born on May 15, 1890, In the small town of Indian Creek, Texas, and died over ninety years later on September 18, 1980, in a nursing home in Silver Spring, Maryland. The actual facts of her life have been difficult to recover. A dramatic flare that Porter displayed early in life remained with her throughout herdays, and if embellishment or even falsehood made her life seem more exciting or elegant, she never hesitated to fabricate facts and create incidents to enliven her life's story. We do know that Porter was educated in convent schools in Louisiana, married and divorced four tunes--usually to men much younger than she--and live in New York, Mexico, Paris, Washington, D.C., and various other places in the United States and Europe. Her literary canon is small, consisting of several collections of short stories, a collection of three "short novels," one full-length novel--Ship of Fools--and miscellaneous articles and criticism. Much of her later life was spent in guest teaching and lecturing at different colleges, traveling, and playing the role that she created for herself: that of grande dame of American letters. Ray. B. West is one of many scholars to note that Porter's "subjects are drawn from her own background. . . . Her fiction portrays a small but inclusive, grotesque

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