Katherine Anne Porter

Hermione Lee writes:

Plenty of writers take a lifetime to turn their past into art. Plenty of writers – especially those from the American South – return in their fiction to a community deeply rooted in its past, even though in life they want to escape it. Porter was not a great admirer of Faulkner, but she was very sympathetic to Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. Like them she paid close attention to children’s and women’s lives, to the private worlds of vulnerable figures in a strongly familial, traditional, religious and intrusive society. It would be possible to pigeonhole Porter as a typical Southern woman writer, with her evocations of post-Civil War rural communities, her cast of powerful matriarchs and weak, bullying fathers, quarrelling husbands and wives, wandering misfits and resentful, adventuring daughters. But in her long life (from 1890 to 1980) there was a peculiar combination of rapid, quickly abandoned adventures (though she always said she preferred ‘experience’ to ‘adventures’) – countries, houses, affairs, marriages, friendships – and a slow, uncertain, laborious piecing together of those experiences into fiction.

(LRB 12 February 2009)