Book summary: This Strange, Old World

1991 BY KATHERINE ANNE PORTER

Between 1920 and 1958 Katherine Anne Porter published more than sixty-five book review, many of which are now largely inaccessible. Although several such pieces have appeared in earlier collections of Porter's nonfiction writings, never have so many of Porter's reviews--nearly fifty--been made available in a single volume. Collectively the review reveal Porter's opinions on topics ranging from the nature of art and the place of the artist in politics and society to feminism and the role of female artists. Particularly evident in the reviews are the critical principles that guided her own work as well as her judgments of the works of other writers.In her introductory essay Darlene Harbour Unrue provides important biographical information on Porter, traces her career as a reviewer, and links critical assumptions in the reviews to the themes and techniques of Porter's fiction. Other scholars as well have regarded Porter's critical reviews as valuable tools both for analyzing the fiction and for constructing a portrait of Porter the artist, primarily because Porter produced so little fiction (three collections of short stories and novellas, Flowering Judas, The Leaning Tower, and Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and a novel, Ship of Fools). In the preface to the first collection of her nonfiction writings, The Days Before, Porter herself urged readers to look closely at her nonfiction, for there they would discover "the shape, direction, and connective tissue of a continuous, central interest and preoccupation of a lifetime."

Most of the reviews--which appeared in such publications as the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the Nation, and New Masses--she apparently undertook for financial reasons, but occasionally she would agree to review a friend's latest offering. She published no reviews after the success of her best-selling novel, Ship of Fools.

Porter's scope as a reviewer was impressively broad. Because she lived in Mexico City during the revolution, had known Diego Rivera, and had studied "primitive" Mexican art, she was often called on to review books on Mexican art and on the revolution. Porter also reviewed many books by or about women. Her reviews of the Short Novels of Colette and Katharine Anthony's translation of Catherine the Great's memoirs are particularly noteworthy for her comments about women artists and her expression of admiration for women who flout traditional roles.

These collected reviews illustrate the evolution of one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century and will interest not only Porter scholars but also anyone who appreciates her fiction.

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