American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 3

American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 3

American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 3

American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960 - Vol. 3

Synopsis

Part of an ongoing series covering the texts and lives of the most important women writers of English, this book contains introductory essays by Harold Bloom and provides biographical information, a wide selection of critical excerpts, and complete bibliographies of 11 authors.

Excerpt

Historically considered, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, and Edith Wharton are probably the most important writers considered in this book. I choose, however, to write this introduction on the stories of Katherine Anne Porter, because they have given me a particular delight since I first read them half a century ago. My favorite among her narratives remains "Flowering Judas," about which I wrote more than a decade ago, and which I have just reread, with renewed wonder and pleasure. I return to it here not so much to revise my earlier critical observations, but rather to offer testimony to the enduring nature of Porter's lyrical art as a storyteller. It surprises me that Porter seems to have fewer readers now, since her strengths as stylist and creator of characer endure. So powerful is her best work—the stories grouped as "The Old Order," and "Old Mortality" and "Noon Wine"—that I do not doubt her canonical survival, but perhaps I can send younger readers to her work by revisiting "Flowering Judas," a great narrative prose-poem, replete with the intensely evocative charm that is Porter's signature as a writer. I do not mean "charm" lightly or in the social sense, but in its archaic Old French meaning of "magic spell" from the Latin carmen, "incantation." Katherine Anne Porter's art is incantatory, and never more so than in "Flowering Judas":

The tolling of the midnight bell is a signal, but what does it mean? Get up, Laura, and follow me: come out of your sleep, out of your bed, out of this strange house. What are you doing in this house? Without a word, without fear she rose and reached for Eugenio's hand, but he eluded her with a sharp sly smile and drifted away. This is not all, you shall see—Murderer, he said, follow me, I will show you a new country, but it is far away, and we must hurry. No, said Laura, not unless you take my hand, no; and she clung first to the stair rail and then to the topmost branch of the Judas tree that bent down slowly and set her upon the earth, and then to the rocky ledge of a cliff, and then to the jagged wave of a sea that was not water but a desert of crumbling stone. Where are you taking me, she asked in wonder but without fear. To death, and it is a long way off, and we must hurry, said Eugenio. No, said Laura, not unless you take my hand. Then eat these flowers, poor prisoner, said Eugenio in a voice of pity, take and eat: and from the Judas tree he stripped the warm bleeding flowers, and held them to her lips. She saw that his hand was fleshless, a cluster of small white petrified branches, and his eye sockets were without light, but she ate the flowers greedily for they satisfied both hunger and thirst. Murderer! said Eugenio, and Cannibal! This is my body and my blood. Laura cried No! and at the sound of her own voice, she awoke trembling, and was afraid to sleep again.

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