Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter

Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter: Chronicles of a Modern Woman

Edited by Darlene Harbour Unrue
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 420
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  • Book Info
    Selected Letters of Katherine Anne Porter
    Book Description:

    Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) produced a relatively small body of fiction, but she wrote thousands and thousands of letters. The present selection of 135 unexpurgated letters, written to seventy-four different persons, begins with a 1916 letter written from a tuberculosis sanatorium in Texas and ends with a 1979 letter dictated to an unnamed nursing-home attendant in Maryland. Different from any previous selection, this body of letters does not omit Porter's frank criticism of fellow writers and spans her entire life. Within that circumscription is the chronicle of Porter, a twentieth-century woman searching for love while she struggles to become the writer she is sure she can be.Porter's letters vividly showcase the twentieth century as the writer observes it from her historical vantage points--tuberculosis sanatoria and the influenza pandemic of 1918; the leftist community in Greenwich Village in the 1920s; the Mexican cultural revolution of the 1920s and early 1930s; the expatriate community in Paris in the 1930s; the rise of Nazism in Europe between the World Wars; the Second World War and its concomitant suppression of civil liberties; Hollywood and the university circuit as a haven for financially strapped writers in the 1940s and 1950s; the Cold War and its competition for supremacy in space; the Women's Rights and the Civil Rights movements; and the evolution and demise of literary modernism.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-044-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editor’s Note
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chronology of the Life of Katherine Anne Porter
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)

    Until she was thirty-nine years old, Katherine Anne Porter had an antipathy to letter writing, which she called a “subsidiary art.” In 1965 she told an interviewer that her father had caused that aversion by criticizing her desire to be a fiction writer and wondering why she couldn’t be content with writing interesting letters, as had the seventeenth-century noblewoman Madame de Sévigné. The letters Porter wrote until 1929, with the exception of some she wrote to lovers and a few directed to her family, were written mostly to convey information, with little regard to discretion or later usefulness, their common...

  6. Recipients
    (pp. xxv-2)
  7. Part One 1916–1929
    (pp. 3-64)

    The most remarkable revelation in Katherine Anne Porter’s earliest letters is her fierce belief in her artistic talent and eventual success. In 1916, while she was in the center of what she later described as her “ungodly struggle,” with very little evidence to suggest she would achieve the celebrated status she eventually would reach, she praised an unnamed lover for his faith in her. “He believes I have the fibre of greatness and success, and never lets me forget it,” she wrote her sister Gay. “You know,” she said, “I have to be believed in.” At that point in her...

  8. Part Two 1930–1939
    (pp. 65-152)

    In her fortieth year Katherine Anne Porter was “launched” with the appearance of her first book,Flowering Judas, a collection of six stories Harcourt, Brace published in a limited edition that was so highly acclaimed by reviewers that her position in American letters was established. Leaving Mexico on the strength of a Guggenheim Fellowship and sailing to Europe, where she remained for six years, signaled the new phase of her career, which all along had been hindered by money worries. The year before she received news of the Guggenheim award, she explained her “special problem” to Otto Kahn: “[F]inancial security,”...

  9. Part Three 1940–1949
    (pp. 153-216)

    The 1940s was a decade of shifting foundations for Katherine Anne Porter. Bolting from Louisiana and Albert Erskine (and a marriage that was over before it began) to the security of the artists’ colony Yaddo, she faced a string of losses that began with the upheavals brought on by the Second World War. When her beloved Paris fell to the Nazis in 1940, she lamented to Erskine, “[I]t is the end in my time of a world I knew and loved and from which I drew strength.” She had a terrible feeling about the war even before the United States...

  10. Part Four 1950–1959
    (pp. 217-268)

    Katherine Anne Porter settled into the 1950s with the full intention of quickly finishing her long novel, excerpts from which she continued to publish. Sustained work on the novel, however, was difficult because she seldom had the privacy or peace of mind required for serious creative work. She described to Ignatius McGuire how “being alone” was the price she paid “in order to have the repose of mind and use of my time to work.” It was a steep price, she said, because “I long for human society.” She also faced again a string of distracting losses of persons she...

  11. Part Five 1960–1969
    (pp. 269-318)

    At the end of the summer of 1961 Katherine Anne Porter completed “Ship of Fools” and sent the final pages to her editor, Seymour Lawrence, at Atlantic–Little, Brown. It was published in 1962 on April Fool’s Day to highly laudatory reviews followed by immediate appearance on theNew York Timesbest-seller list and before long a contract for a film adaptation. “I give most of the credit to my publishers for simply blasting me off as if I were a rocket,” she wrote to Red and Eleanor Warren, “and this time,” she said, “they hit the moon.”

    But there...

  12. Part Six 1970–1979
    (pp. 319-344)

    By the time Katherine Anne Porter turned eighty in 1970 her letter writing was considerably reduced. The conversations her earlier letters represented now took place for the most part on the telephone. The letters she did write, however, gradually began to change in character as she hired persons as amanuenses. Gone were the phonetic spellings, the eccentric punctuation and running series of points and dashes, the stringing together of clauses separated by commas—missing was much of the informality and spontaneity.

    The last decade of letters nevertheless reveals the subjects on Porter’s mind as she assessed and redefined what she...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 345-368)
  14. Index
    (pp. 369-392)