Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, February 14, 2011

"The Old Order" by Katherine Anne Porter plus notes on An Interesting Old Collection of Short Stories

"The Old Order" by Katherine Anne Porter (1927, ten pages)

I have been wanting to read a short story by Katherine Anne Porter (1890 to 1980, Texas, USA) for a while now.   Her most famous work is the novel, Ship of Fools.   Book sales and sales of the film rights for this book made her financially independent.   She won in in 1966 the Pulitzer Price and the National Book Award (these are the  two top American Book Awards)  Her work will be covered by copyright law in the USA until 70 years after her death so it is not possible to read much if any of her work online.    Her best work is now considered to be her short stories.    Wikipedia has an very well done article on her.

Just a few days ago one of my cousins, Bonnie,  sent me a very interesting book that her late mother had owned for at least fifty years, A Treasury of Short Stories edited, selected and individually introduced by Bernardine Kielty.    The book was published in 1947.   Kietly was for many years on the editorial staff of Story Magazine and was the fiction editor of The Ladies Home Journal.    She was also on the selection staff of the Book of the Month Club.   This is a long book (884 pages) with lots of good stories, among them "The Old Order" by Katherine Porter.   Kiety's judgement seems  good.   She includes stories I have posted on by Mansfield, Bowen and Woolf and at least 10 writers not yet in the public domain that I have wanted to read including a Eudora Welty story.   Probably books just like this can be bought in thrift shops and yard sales all over the USA for a very low price.

"The Old Order", like many of Porter's stories, deals  with race relations in a post Civil War America.   It took me a few paragraphs to understand the setting of "The Old Order".    It takes place on a small farm in the American South right after the American slaves have been freed.   The farm  is managed by what seems to be a kind and considerate woman.   Many of the women in this era were war widows.    One of her slaves curses her terribly as she leaves for an unknown free future somewhere.   Her oldest slave, Nannie, who her father bought for $20.00 stays with her mistress as she had no where else to go.   The owner and the slave are nearly the same age and  grew up together.   They ave indulged in kind of a grim contest of seeing who could have the most children!     Many slaves stayed with their masters all their lives.

Porter just does a wonderful ever so subtle job of capturing the relationship of the two women, one a slave or ex-slave and the other her owner.   When the slaves brag about how much they cost it was very moving to see how they had been  trained to accept the values of their masters.   The slave woman wonders why God has been so cruel to her race?    She fears this cruelty make extend into the after life but her mistress insures her she is destined for heaven.   Of course this brings to mind debates about the use of Christian religious tenants to pacify and control slaves by telling them all will be right in the next world.  

In the story we see the struggles of the women to survive when they move to Texas.   We get a real feel for their relationship.   "The Old Order" is a very good story.    It may have language that would make it controversial as a class room book in some countries.   If I had to, I will say that I prefer Bowen, Mansfield, or Woolf to this story but I am very glad I read it.     From this collection I will next post on a story by Eudora Welty.

Mel u


George said...

One used to be able to buy a volume of three long short stories or novellas by KAP. "Old Mortality", "Pale Horse, Pale Rider", and "Noon Wine". "Old Mortality" may be the best of them, the story of a woman told to another in the next generation by brother, widower, and (I think) sister. "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" takes place in and around the 1918 influenza epidemic; I enjoyed it as being set in a place a new 50 years later.

bibliophiliac said...

Mel, I just love finding (or receiving) old books like this. That's why I haunt used bookstores. Thanks for another great post.

Mel u said...

George-thanks very much for these reading ideas-

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I've read some of Porter's stories. But I really loved Ship of Fools. Such a great book, the film doesn't do it justice.

Hannah said...

I haven't read Porter in quite a while--but if I remember correctly, her second cousin (?) was O Henry. I remember really enjoying "The Downward Path to Wisdom"--but she's not the favorite Welty is. Can't wait to see what you read next of hers!

Mel u said...

Thomas at My Porch-I want to read a few of her shorter works first then I will probably read Ship of Fools-glad you like it

LifetimeReader-interesting to know about the O Henry Connection-would be interesting to see how the family connection was made-I can see a read all 41 of Welty's short stories project coming on soon!