11 Chapters
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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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"Before the Voyage Ended"

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

"Before the Voyage Ended"

Beth Alvarez

Prior to its April 1962 publication, more than half of the text of Ship of Fools had previously appeared in a total of twelve installments in seven periodicals. This exploration of the relationship between the previously published portions of the novel and the 1962 work is informed by primary source materials at the University of Maryland Libraries. Surviving among Porter's papers are manuscript copies of six of the excerpts (Partisan Review, Fall 1945; Harper's, October, November, December 1950, November 1953; Mademoiselle, July 1958). Her papers also hold Porter's personal copies of eleven of the twelve serials in which the excerpts were originally published (Sewanee Review, October 1944; Accent, Summer 1946; Sewanee Review, January-March 1947; Harper's, October, November, December 1950, November 1953; Atlantic, March, April 1956; Mademoiselle, July 1958; Texas Quarterly, Autumn 1959). There is also correspondence with editorial staff of the seven periodicals in her papers and additional relevant correspondence in the papers of Seymour Lawrence and Cyrilly Abels. My research began with the manuscripts and correspondence, followed by reading the twelve excerpts in the order in which they were published. After reading the text of the entire novel, I compared it with the texts of the excerpts and noted differences between them. What follows are the results of these efforts and some preliminary conclusions. Appended to the paper are charts detailing the relationship between the excerpts and the novel.

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Transnationalizing Porter’s Germans in Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965)

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Transnationalizing Porter’s Germans in Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965)

Anne-Marie Scholz

In the mid-twentieth century and just prior to the onset of mass commercial air travel, the transatlantic voyage provided novelists and filmmakers with a potent metaphor to gauge the relationship between tourism, travel, and the meaning and significance of "transnational" forms of interaction and transformation. An intriguing example of such an effort is the Jewish-American filmmaker Stanley Kramer’s 1965 adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s 1962 novel Ship of Fools. In her novel, Porter transformed the medieval German satire Das Narrenschiff into a modern narrative about transatlantic travel. Her version tells the story of a group of German, Spanish, and American as well as Swiss, Cuban, and Mexican passengers en route on the passenger ship Vera from Veracruz, Mexico, to Bremerhaven, Germany. It is set in the historically significant period of the early 1930s, when the Nazis were first coming into power. This essay will evaluate the ways that the metaphor of transnational travel was used to examine the meanings of "Germanness" in this period. It will also consider how these American depictions were received by German reviewers and critics in both West and East Germany.1

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"Mad with Virtue and Piety"

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

"Mad with Virtue and Piety"

Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr.

In this paper I want to bring into dialogue William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses and Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools. At first glance the two novels appear to have nothing to do with each other: Go Down, Moses, which appeared in 1942, focuses on the lives of an extended family in rural Mississippi over the course of more than a hundred years; and Ship of Fools, which appeared in 1962, follows the complicated interactions of various shipmates on a 1930s voyage across the Atlantic. While I am not suggesting any specific matters of influence—Porter clearly knew the work of Faulkner, but I’ve yet to find any evidence that she had read Go Down, Moses—the two novels (both of which had their origins in the late 1930s, despite their vastly different publication dates) dovetail in terms of several key concerns and themes, particularly regarding issues of idealism, responsibility to history and one’s community, and what might be called the negative collusion with evil. Especially striking are the parallels between two principal characters, Faulkner’s Ike McCaslin and Porter’s Dr. Schumann. In my discussion here, I want to focus primarily on these two figures, and particularly on the way that the noble, but finally misguided, idealism of Ike McCaslin sheds light on Dr. Schumann’s similarly admirable but ultimately flawed commitment to a principled life. Typically understood as the moral center of Ship of Fools, Dr. Schumann emerges in this reading as more complicated and less trustworthy, not the moral compass of the novel but finally another of its foolish denizens.

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Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Darlene Harbour Unrue

In the summer of 1962, after Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools had been published the previous April to enthusiastic reviews and for many weeks had sat comfortably on the bestseller list of the New York Times Book Review, the influential American critic Wayne Booth posed the question others had indirectly raised: Is Ship of Fools really a novel? Investigating Booth’s question and some answers proffered by Booth and other critics—and even by Porter herself—helps us classify and sub-classify Ship of Fools and by extension reach a better understanding of it. In the process we discover that Porter’s only long novel encapsulates her artistic canon and much of her life, marked in the novel not only by obvious autobiographical elements but also by private reprisals and jokes.

By implicitly asking the question "How can we tell what a work means, let alone whether it’s good or bad, if we don’t know what it is to begin with?" Booth took for granted the formalist assumptions that all of literature can be first divided into kinds and then into sub-kinds and that every work can be evaluated according to the degree to which it incorporates genre requirements. Booth answered his own question of whether Ship of Fools is really a novel by invoking F. R. Leavis’s The Great Tradition and rather tepidly concluding that Ship of Fools is "not quite Leavis’s idea. . . of what the novel ought to be" (637). Because it also ran afoul of Booth’s own narrow definition of "novel" and his bias for a tightly woven plot, Ship of Fools was not quite Booth’s idea of a novel either.

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