11 Chapters
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Notes on Contributors

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Thomas Austenfeld is Professor of American Literature at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Jewel Spears Brooker is Professor of English Literature emerita at Eckerd College, Florida.

Dimiter Daphinoff is Professor of English Literature at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Joachim Knape is Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Beth Alvarez is Curator of Literary Manuscripts emerita at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr. is Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English and Director of the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.

Christine Hait is Professor of English at Columbia College in Columbia, S.C.

Anne-Marie Scholz is Adjunct Professor of American Studies at the University of Konstanz, Germany.

Alexandra Subramanian is Adjunct Professor of English at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.

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Fools and Folly in Erasmus and Porter

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Fools and Folly in Erasmus and Porter

Jewel Spears Brooker

In the articulation of her literary ancestry, Katherine Anne Porter created a place of honor for Erasmus, and in her personal canon, she made room at the top for The Praise of Folly. She told her nephew that she had been formed by Erasmus "from her tenth year" (Letters 415). In 1932, she was reading him in Basel, and on June 19, 1941, she signed a contract with Doubleday to write his biography. After the publication of Ship of Fools, she reiterated her admiration, hinting that her representation of folly was inspired by his. Porter was drawn to Erasmus in large part because of his moral imagination. Both were keen observers of human nature and both considered folly to be endemic in the human condition. But they present strikingly different concepts of folly. For Erasmus, folly is foolishness, and although it is the butt of his satire, he generally finds it amusing. For Porter, on the other hand, folly is innate wickedness. When writing of ordinary human life in The Praise of Folly, he is tolerant and urbane; in contrast, in Ship of Fools, she is harsh and scornful. Unlike Porter, Erasmus actually likes his fools, and far more than she, he identifies with them in their folly.

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Ship of Fools

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Ship of Fools

Alexandra Subramanian

When Ship of Fools was published on April Fool’s Day, 1962, Porter knew that her honeymoon with the critics was over. "[L]et it [come]," she had told her publisher, Seymour Lawrence.1 Indeed, since its publication Ship of Fools has invited admiration but also biting criticism from friends, critics, and biographers alike. Some of the criticism, moreover, has been highly personal, highlighting Porter’s own faults, prejudices, and shortcomings, at times disregarding her complex humanity, which included a capacity for kindness that cannot be easily dismissed. Theodore Solotaroff, writing a review of Ship of Fools in Commentary in 1962, summed up the prevailing feeling against the novel. He virtually decimates it from almost every angle, claiming that the "soul of humanity is lacking."2

This paper argues against those who have judged Ship of Fools as marred by cynicism, prejudice, and the author’s darkened view of humanity. The novel will be analyzed, rather, in light of Porter’s debilitating sensitivity, deep understanding of human behavior and motives, and acute awareness of the consequences of casual or calculated cruelty, misogyny, and violence. Porter was attuned to the suffering of the vulnerable, whether afflicted by poverty, parental cruelty and neglect, or disability. To Porter’s mind, acts of unkindness, insensitivity, and a failure to take responsibility, especially regarding the weak and vulnerable, created a tragic and unnecessary cycle of violence, alienation, and despair.

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The Weimar Moment in Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

The Weimar Moment in Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Joseph Kuhn

Katherine Anne Porter’s statement, made in a letter to her editor in 1956, that she planned to write "a parable of political action" in Ship of Fools (1962) has not received the attention it deserves (Porter, Letters 501). From the first, commentators have observed what is obvious, that the novel depicts the approach of the Third Reich, but they have perhaps not appreciated enough that this approach had to be through the political system of the Weimar republic and that Porter’s "parable" is set during this stage of transition. Porter intended that the German passengers on the Vera be seen as citizens of the Weimar state and, since she gives the voyage of the ship the time frame of August to September 1931, this makes them citizens during the unstable government of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning (1930-1932). Some interpreters treat the German passengers as though they are virtually National Socialists already, but the Captain, the ship’s doctor and middle-class passengers such as the Huttens have the monarchist allegiances appropriate to supporters of the traditionalist right (which was in power in Brüning’s government and that of his successor Franz von Papen). What Porter presents in parable-like form in Ship of Fools are the "political action[s]" whereby this nationalist right was outflanked by the radical right. The deliberateness of Porter’s setting her novel in Brüning’s Germany is also shown in a comment Porter made in a slightly later letter to her editor in which she said that her novel should try to bring out "the political and economic cross currents" of the crisis years of 1931-1932 (Porter, Letters 504).

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"After All, What Is This Life Itself?"

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

"After All, What Is This Life Itself?"

Dimiter Daphinoff

There is a painting in the Yale University Art Gallery that gives visual expression to some of the central concerns of early modern culture which the twentieth-century American writer, Katherine Anne Porter, takes up in her novel Ship of Fools. As with so many of Hieronymus Bosch’s works, the dating of The Allegory of Intemperance is uncertain, but it is generally assumed that it must have been completed some time between 1495 and 1500 as part of a triptych illustrating the Seven Deadly Sins.1 The famous companion panel, the Ship of Fools, is now in the Louvre in Paris. Given the immediate European popularity of Sebastian Brant’s Narrenschiff, published in 1494, Bosch is likely to have designed his triptych as a visual interpretation of Brant’s poem.

This essay, whose starting point is a striking verbal echo of Erasmus’ Praise of Folly in Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, proposes to investigate the interrelated themes of death, immortality, and folly in Porter’s novel in the context of their treatment by Porter’s great predecessors Brant, Erasmus, and More. It aims to show that the uncompromising indictment of the fools on board Porter’s ship lacks the moral certainties that render the satires of Brant and Erasmus, in particular, effective through the alternatives they imply.

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