Katherine Anne Porter Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What typically southern values predominate in Katherine Anne Porter’s short stories?

Discuss the theme of betrayal in “Flowering Judas.”

What “old order” do the stories of The Old Order reflect?

Discuss the tension between the demands of civil law and individual conscience in Noon Wine.

Is Porter’s Ship of Fools in effect a “moral allegory” similar to that of Sebastian Brant?

By what techniques does Porter seek to unify the novel Ship of Fools with its many diverse minor characters? Is she successful in the attempt?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Katherine Anne Porter wrote, in addition to short stories, one novel, Ship of Fools (1962), parts of which were published separately from 1947 to 1959, in such magazines and journals as The Sewanee Review, Harper’s, and Mademoiselle. She wrote essays of various kinds, some of which she published under the title of one of them, The Days Before (1952); these included critical analyses of Thomas Hardy’s fiction and biographical studies of Ford Madox Ford and Gertrude Stein. Porter was a reporter with unsigned journalism for the Fort Worth weekly newspaper The Critic in 1917 and the Denver Rocky Mountain News in 1918-1919. Early in her career, she worked on a critical biography of Cotton Mather, which she never finished; she did, however, publish parts in 1934, 1940, 1942, and 1946. Her few poems and most of her nonfictional prose have been collected in The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings (1970) under the following headings: “Critical,” “Personal and Particular,” “Biographical,” “Cotton Mather,” “Mexican,” “On Writing,” and “Poems.” In 1967, she composed A Christmas Story, a personal reminiscence of her niece, who had died in 1919. Her memoir of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, The Never-Ending Wrong, was published in 1977 on the fiftieth anniversary of their deaths. She was a prodigious writer of personal letters; many have been published, first, by her friend Glenway Wescott, as The Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1970), and later by another friend, Isabel Bayley, as Letters of Katherine Anne Porter (1990).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Katherine Anne Porter is distinguished by her small literary production of exquisitely composed and highly praised short fiction. Although she lived to be ninety years old, she produced and published only some twenty-five short stories and one long novel. Nevertheless, her work was praised early and often from the start of her career; some of her stories, such as “Flowering Judas,” “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” and “Old Mortality,” have been hailed as masterpieces. Sponsored by Edmund Wilson, Allen Tate, Kenneth Burke, and Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Porter won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1931 and went to Berlin and Paris to live while she wrote such stories as “The Cracked Looking-Glass” and “Noon Wine,” for which she won a Book-of-the-Month Club award in 1937. After publication of the collection Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels in 1939, she received a gold medal for literature from the Society of Libraries of New York University, in 1940. Elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1943, Porter was also appointed as writer-in-residence at Stanford University in 1949, and, in the same year, she received an honorary degree, doctor of letters, from the University of North Carolina. Such awards and honors continued, with writer-in-residence appointments at the University of Michigan in 1954 and the University of Virginia in 1958, honorary degrees at the University of Michigan, Smith College, and La Salle College. In 1959, she received a Ford Foundation grant, in 1962 the Emerson-Thoreau gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1966-1967, the National Book Award for Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, and the Gold Medal for fiction, National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Katherine Anne Porter is best known for her short fiction. Her stories appear in Flowering Judas, and Other Stories (1930), The Leaning Tower, and Other Stories (1944), and The Old Order (1944) and were gathered in The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1965). Criticism, essays, and poems were collected in The Days Before (1952) and The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings (1970).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Katherine Anne Porter’s solid and lasting reputation as a writer is based on a very small output of published work: one novel, a handful of novellas, and fewer than two dozen stories. This slender output, however, represents only a small portion of the fiction she wrote during her lifetime. Exacting and self-critical, she discarded many more stories than she published. By the time her first story appeared in print, she had already developed her fictional techniques to near perfection, and the maturity and craft of her style in Flowering Judas, and Other Stories, her first published collection, never was surpassed by her later fiction.

Porter early established her reputation with literary critics and only later became widely known and read. In 1931, one year after the publication of her first volume, she was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship, an award she received again in 1938. The Society of Libraries of New York University awarded her its first annual gold medal for literature in 1940 upon the publication of Pale Horse, Pale Rider. A Modern Library edition of Flowering Judas, and Other Stories appeared that same year. In 1943, she was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1949, she accepted her first appointment as writer-in-residence and guest lecturer at Stanford University. In later years, she held similar positions in many other colleges and universities, including the University of...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, 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....

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