The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
ESSAYS, REVIEWS, AND OTHER WRITINGS
“I needed both. . .”
From the foreword to
The Days Before, by Katherine Anne Porter.
New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1952.
IT is my hope that the reader will find in this collection of papers written throughout my thirty years as published writer, the shape, direction, and connective tissue of a continuous, central interest and preoccupation of a lifetime.
They represent the exact opposite of my fiction, in that they were written nearly all by request, with limitations of space, a date fixed for finishing, on a chosen subject or theme, as well as with the certainty that they would be published. I wrote as well as I could at any given moment under a variety of pressures, and said what I meant as nearly as I could come to it: so as they stand, the pieces are really parts of a journal of my thinking and feeling. Then too, they served to get me a living, such as it was, so that I might be able to write my stories in their own time and way. My stories had to be accepted and published exactly as they were written: that rule has never once been broken. There was no one, whose advice I respected, whose help I would not have been glad to get, and many times did get, on almost any of these articles. I have written, re-written, and revised them. My stories, on the other hand, are written in one draft, and if short enough, at one sitting. In fact, this book would seem to represent the other half of a double life: but not in truth. It is all one thing. The two ways of working helped and supported each other: I needed both.
Rue Jacob, Paris
25 July 1952
“I needed both. . .”
The Days Before
Reflections on Willa Cather
A Note on The Troll Garden
Gertrude Stein: Three Views
“Everybody Is a Real One”
The Wooden Umbrella
“It Is Hard to Stand in the Middle”
Eudora Welty and A Curtain of Green
The Wingèd Skull
On a Criticism of Thomas Hardy
E. M. Forster
D. H. Lawrence
A Wreath for the Gamekeeper
“The Laughing Heat of the Sun”
The Art of Katherine Mansfield
The Hundredth Role
“A death of days. . .”
“A fever chart. . .”
“In the morning of the poet. . .”
A Most Lively Genius
Orpheus in Purgatory
Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939)
James Joyce (1882–1941)
Sylvia Beach (1887–1962)
Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964)
PERSONAL AND PARTICULAR
My First Speech
“I must write from memory. . .”
No Plot, My Dear, No Story
“Writing cannot be taught. . .”
The Situation of the Writer
The Situation in American Writing
The International Exchange of Writers
The Author on Her Work
No Masters or Teachers
On “Flowering Judas”
“The only reality. . .”
“Noon Wine”: The Sources
Notes on the Texas I Remember
Portrait: Old South
A Christmas Story
Audubon’s Happy Land
The Flower of Flowers
A Note on Pierre-Joseph Redouté
A House of My Own
The Necessary Enemy
“Marriage Is Belonging”
A Defense of Circe
St. Augustine and the Bullfight
Act of Faith: 4 July 1942
The Future Is Now
The Never-Ending Wrong
Why I Write About Mexico
Reports from Mexico City,
The New Man and the New Order
The Fiesta of Guadalupe
The Funeral of General Benjamín Hill
Children of Xochitl
The Mexican Trinity
Where Presidents Have No Friends
In a Mexican Patio
Leaving the Petate
The Charmed Life
Sor Juana: A Portrait of the Poet
Notes on the Life and Death of a Hero
A Mexican Chronicle, 1920–1943
Blasco Ibanez on “Mexico in Revolution”
Paternalism and the Mexican Problem
¡Ay, Que Chamaco!
Old Gods and New Messiahs
These Pictures Must Be Seen
Rivera’s Personal Revolution
Parvenu. . .
History on the Wing
Thirty Long Years of Revolution
About the Author
The Land That Is Nowhere
The Days Before
Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.
H.J.: Preface to Roderick Hudson.
WE have, it would seem, at last reluctantly decided to claim Henry James as our own, in spite of his having renounced, two years before his death, so serious an obligation as his citizenship, but with a disturbing tendency among his critics and admirers of certain schools to go a step further and claim him for the New England, or Puritan, tradition.
This is merely the revival and extension of an old error first made by Carlyle in regard to Henry James the elder: “Mr. James, your New-England friend,” wrote Carlyle in a letter, “I saw him several times and liked him.” This baseless remark set up, years later, a train of reverberations in the mind of Mr. James’s son Henry, who took pains to correct the “odd legend” that the James family were a New England product, mentioning that Carlyle’s mistake was a common one among the English, who seemed to have no faintest care or notion about our regional differences. With his intense feeling for place and family relations and family history, Henry James the younger could not allow this important error to pass uncorrected. With his very special eyes, whose threads were tangled in every vital center of his being, he looked long through “a thin golden haze” into his past, and recreated for our charmed view an almost numberless family connection, all pure Scotch-Irish so far back as the records run, unaltered to the third generation in his branch of the family; and except for the potent name-grandfather himself—a Presbyterian of rather the blue-nosed caste, who brought up his eleven or was it thirteen children of three happy marriages in the fear of a quite improbable God—almost nothing could be less Puritanic, less New England, than their careers, even if they were all of Protestant descent. The earliest branch came late to this country (1764) according to Virginia or New England standards, and they settled in the comparatively newly opened country of upstate New York—new for the English and Scotch-Irish, that is, for the Dutch and the French had been there a good while before, and they married like with like among the substantial families settled along the Hudson River. Thus the whole connection in its earlier days was spared the touch of the specifically New England spirit, which even then was spreading like a slow blight into every part of the country.
(But the young Henry James feared it from the first, distrusted it in his bones. Even though his introduction to New England was by way of “the proud episcopal heart of Newport,” when he was about fifteen years old, and though he knew there at least one artist, and one young boy of European connection and experience, still, Boston was not far away, and he felt a tang of wintry privation in the
Henry James’s grandfather, the first William James, arrived in America from Ireland, County Cavan, an emigrant boy of seventeen, and settled in Albany in 1789. He was of good solid middle-class stock, he possessed that active imagination and boundless energy of the practical sort so useful in ancestors; in about forty years of the most blameless, respected use of every opportunity to turn an honest penny, on a very handsome scale of operations, he accumulated a fortune of three million dollars, in a style that was to become the very pattern of American enterprise. The city of Albany was credited to him, it was the work of his hands, it prospered with him. His industries and projects kept hundreds of worthy folk gainfully employed the year round, in the grateful language of contemporary eulogy; in his time only John Jacob Astor gathered a larger fortune in New York state. We may as well note here an obvious irony, and dismiss it: James’s grandfather’s career was a perfect example of the sort of thing that was to become “typically American,” and still is, it happens regularly even now; and Henry James the younger had great good of it, yet it did create the very atmosphere which later on he found so hard to breathe that he deserted it altogether for years, for life.
The three millions were divided at last among the widow and eleven surviving children, the first Henry James, then a young man, being one of them. These twelve heirs none of them inherited the Midas touch, and all had a taste for the higher things of life enjoyed in easy, ample surroundings. Henry the younger lived to wonder, with a touch of charming though acute dismay, just what had become of all that delightful money. Henry the elder, whose youth had been gilded to the ears, considered money a topic beneath civilized discussion, business a grimy affair they all agreed to know nothing about, and neglected completely to mention what he had done with his share. He fostered a legend among his children that he had been “wild” and appeared, according to his fascinating stories, to have been almost the only young man of his generation who had not come to a bad end. His son Henry almost in infancy had got the notion that the words “wild” and “dissipated” were synonymous with “tipsy.” Be that as it may, Henry the first in his wild days had a serious if temporary falling out with his father, whom he described as the tenderest and most sympathetic of parents; but he also wrote in his fragment of autobiography, “I should think indeed that our domestic intercourse had been on the whole most innocent as well as happy, were it not for a certain lack of oxygen which is indeed incidental to the family atmosphere and which I may characterize as the lack of any ideal of action except that of self-preservation.” Indeed, yes. Seeking fresh air, he fled into the foreign land of Massachusetts: Boston, precisely: until better days should come. “It was an age,” wrote his son Henry, “in which a flight from Albany to Boston. . . counted as a far flight.” It still does. The point of this episode for our purposes was, that Henry the first mildewed in exile for three long months, left Boston and did not again set foot there until he was past thirty-five. His wife never went there at all until her two elder sons were in Harvard, a seat of learning chosen faute de mieux, for Europe, Europe was where they fain all would be; except that a strange, uneasy, even artificially induced nationalism, due to the gathering war between the states, had laid cold doubts on their minds—just where did they belong, where was their native land? The two young brothers, William and Henry, especially then began, after their shuttlings to and from Europe, to make unending efforts to “find America” and to place themselves once for all either in it or out of it. But this was later.
It is true that the elder Jameses settled in Boston, so far as a James of that branch could ever be said to settle, for the good reason that they wished to be near their sons; but they never became, by any stretch of the word, New Englanders, any more than did their son William, after all those years at Harvard; any more than did their son Henry become an Englishman, after all those years in England. He realized this himself, even after he became a British subject in 1914; and the British agree with him to this day. He was to the end an amiable, distinguished stranger living among them. Yet two generations born in this country did not make them Americans, either, and in the whole great branching family connection, with its “habits of ease” founded on the diminishing backlog of the new fortune, the restless blood of the emigrant grandparents ran high. Europe was not so far away as it is now, and though Albany and “the small, warm dusky homogeneous New York world of the mid-century” were dear to them, they could not deny, indeed no one even thought of denying, that all things desirable in the arts, architecture, education, ways of living, history, the future, the very shape of the landscape and the color of the air, lay like an inheritance they had abandoned, in Europe.
“This question of Europe” which never ceased to agitate his parents from his earliest memory was paradoxically the only permanent element in the Jameses’ family life. All their movements, plans, interests were based, you might say, on that perpetually unresolved problem. It was kept simmering by letters from friends and relatives traveling or living there; cousins living handsomely at Geneva, enjoying the widest possible range of desirable social amenities; other cousins living agreeably at Tours, or Trouville; the handsomest of the Albany aunts married advantageously and living all over Europe, urging the Henry Jameses to come with their young and do likewise for the greater good of all. There was an older cousin who even lived in China, came back to fill a flat in Gramercy Square with “dim Chinoiseries” and went on to old age in Surrey and her last days in Versailles. There was besides the constant delicious flurry of younger cousins and aunts with strange wonderful clothes and luggage who had always just been there, or who were just going there, “there” meaning always Europe, and oddly enough, specifically Paris, instead of London. The infant Henry, at the age of five, received his “positive initiation into History” when Uncle Gus returned bringing the news of the flight of Louis Philippe to England. To the child, flight had been a word with a certain meaning; king another. “Flight of kings” was a new, portentous, almost poetic image of strange disasters, it early gave to political questions across the sea a sense of magnificence they altogether lacked at home, where society outside the enthralling family circle and the shimmering corona of friends seemed altogether to consist of “the busy, the tipsy, and Daniel Webster.”
Within that circle, however, nothing could exceed the freedom and ease with which artists of all sorts, some of them forgotten now, seemed to make the James fireside, wherever it happened to be, their own. The known and acclaimed were also household guests and dear friends.
Mr. Emerson, “the divinely pompous rose of the philosophical garden,” as Henry James the elder described him, or, in other lights and views, the “man without a handle”—one simply couldn’t get hold of him at all—had been taken upstairs in the fashionable Astor Hotel to admire the newly born William; and in later times, seated in the firelit dusk of the back parlor in the James house, had dazzled the young Henry, who knew he was great. General Winfield Scott in military splendor had borne down upon him and his father at a street corner for a greeting; and on a boat between Fort Hamilton and New York Mr. Washington Irving had apprised Mr. James of the shipwreck of Margaret Fuller, off Fire Island, only a day or so before. Edgar Allan Poe was one of the “acclaimed,” the idolized, most read and recited of poets; his works were on every drawing room or library table that Henry James knew, and he never outgrew his wonder at the legend that Poe was neglected in his own time.
Still it was Dickens who ruled and pervaded the literary world from afar; the books in the house, except for a few French novels, were nearly all English; the favorite bookstore was English, where the James children went to browse, sniffing the pages for the strong smell of paper and printer’s ink, which they called “the English smell.” The rule of the admired, revered Revue des Deux Mondes was