Katherine Anne Porter: "Old Mortality" - Forces at work in “Old Mortality”
“The past dies, but is not dead; the present generation moves on, then retreats to the past, moves on, [and] retreats again” (Stout 503). Stout words bring an interesting point: through time there is inconsistency with respect to peoples’ memories about world events. Thus how do you know that the facts you learned from previous generations are really the truth and not something that came from someone’s imagination? The answer to this question is illustrated by Katherine Anne Porter in her short story “Old Mortality.” In the story the author suggests that the only way to know what is real is through a person’s experiences. Porter developed a character that lived in a perfect world filled with romanticism and unrealistic events; she first created Miranda with the innocence of a child, the admiration for elders and love for romantic and poetic dreams. Through her short story “Old Mortality” Porter molded Miranda’s character. Porter describes human development through Miranda’s growth as person. Miranda’s first step toward development begins with doubts about her family’s history which at the end lead her to the rejection of her roots, and her growth as an individual. By rejecting her roots Miranda is able to form a clear view of herself, her goals, and her future.
Porter used a special technique for the development of her characters. During Porter’s short stories she used the “narrative space” to form her character’s identity through their experiences. Fornataro-Neil describes Porter’s characters as “silent characters”, according to him, “[silent characters] allowed [Porter] a greater opportunity to comment on the construction of identity and to critique the notion of objective truth” (349). Porter’s technique was effective and it brought forth the real issues she wanted to address without the unnecessary in-between material. The technique allowed her to go straight to the point. According with Fornataro-Neil, Porter depicts how history and identity are constructed. Miranda’s identity is constructed by rejecting her past, and as Fornataro-Neil explains “we all write and rewrite our own stories and histories based on our circumstances, agendas, pains, and individual narrative purposes” (352). With this sentence the author shows how each person creates their own identities based on their own point of view. We create our own fictitious stories of events in our lives; in “Old Mortality” Porter’s “repeated use of the words story, legend, narrative, and tale underscores the fictive nature of the family’s reconstruction of the past” (349). This was Porter’s way of letting the reader know that the family’s recollection of events is a creation of their romantic creativity.
For Miranda observation and recognition were her first steps toward her personal growth. It is unclear whether Miranda’s herself knew that she was about to embark on her life journey. Porter introduces Miranda as an innocent child full of life that in the course of the story grows to an independent woman. Since her childhood, Miranda questioned the stories told by her elders. Miranda and her sister would look at a picture of their deceased Aunt Amy and “[they] wonder why every older person who looked at the picture said, “How lovely”; and why everyone who had known her thought her so beautiful and charming” (Porter 3). Miranda could not see the beauty in the picture, yet she could not completely ignore the stereotype imposed by others. Miranda understood her family’s tradition of romantic legends filled with ideal settings, not just the accurate recollection of events. Using her own judgment against what others described as the truth she was able to view and understand the world with what she could trust, her instincts and her common sense. She knew that her elders would often use romantic language in order to make the lives of relatives more interesting. Miranda wondered how much of what she learned about her background was true. ...
Péter Nádas is Hungary’s leading contemporary writer. A scholar not only of literature, but of culture, horticulture, and above all the human body and its communications, Nádas presents a picture of temperament and elegance in the great tradition of the European intellectual. He has often been compared, perhaps syntactically, to the high realists Robert Musil and Marcel Proust. Susan Sontag, one of Nádas’s earliest and most vocal champions, compares his plays to the “encounter-dramas of Pina Bausch” and the “declamatory plays of Thomas Bernhard.” I myself see him, in many ways, as the Thomas Mann of our times.
Born into a fascinating literary culture, isolated from but enveloped by the vast history of Christian Europe, in a denuded country just rebuilding from World War II, the worst catastrophe in its tumultuous thousand-year history, Nádas chronicles the peaceful prison that was (and is) Hungary in a passionate, playful, and eloquent voice. His perspicacity is disconcertingly palpabl…
Anne Brontë started writing her first novel some time between 1840 and 1845 while she was working as a governess for the Robinson family, at Thorp Green near York. I imagine she must have made her excuses in the evenings, and escaped the drawing room, where she had to do the boring bits of her pupils’ sewing, and often felt awkward and humiliated – excluded from the conversation because she was not considered a lady, yet not allowed to sit with the servants either, because governesses had to be something of a lady, or how could they teach their pupils to be ladies?
Anne must have stolen away to her room and pulled out her small, portable writing desk. Leaning on the desk’s writing slope (which was decadently lined in pink velvet), Anne could go on with her novel. She had to write in secret because she was skewering her haughty employers and her peremptory pupils on the page. Although her job was difficult and thankless, she had realised that it was providing her with excellent material…
Charles Lamb once told a story about having Thomas De Quincey to supper. Lamb was Samuel Coleridge’s oldest friend and De Quincey was Coleridge’s greatest fan, so their talk naturally centred on the poet. While De Quincey badgered his host for information about his hero, Lamb, to alleviate his boredom, pretended to mock “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a poem he in fact greatly admired. (“I was never so affected with any human Tale,” Lamb wrote; on first reading Coleridge’s ballad, he had been “totally possessed with it for many days”. In response to Wordsworth’s complaint that the mariner had no character, Lamb explained to him that the trials undergone by the seafarer both “overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was”, erasing “all consciousness of personality”, “like the state of a man in a Bad dream”.) On this occasion, however, to wind up De Quincey, Lamb described the sailors who died aboard the mariner’s ship – Coleridge’s “many men, so beautiful” – as noth…