This post honors the writer, Katherine Anne Porter. When people ask for one of my favorite novels, I always include her book, Ship of Fools. I felt as if I had a private seat on that ship as she colorfully described the passengers. It was a bestseller in 1962.
Ship of Fools is about a voyage that Ms. Porter took in 1931 from Vera Cruz, Mexico to Germany. She had plenty of time to observe those in her midst. The ship was filled with people from a variety of ethnicities and cultures and each presented its own memorable story. She accurately described a Spanish nobleman, a group of dancers, a couple of Mexican priests, an American divorcee and a German lawyer, to name a few. They all have one common thread. They are just people who had hopes, dreams and disappointments. Yet, she found some of them to be rather absurd and quite comical.
Whenever a writer can make the reader feel like a spectator as the events unfold, then that writer has a gift and talent. Porter said, “Most people won’t realize that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else.” Photographers share through pictures and painters tell their stories on canvases. But those who are skillful with words create images that take the readers on many adventures.
There was no need to purchase a ticket or walk up the incline to board this ship. Simply open this book and take the journey as chosen passengers reveal some of their character traits and flaws. She wrote, “I shall try to tell the truth, but the result will be fiction.”
Then, there is her short story, The Jilting of Granny Weatherall. I vividly remember this story. It opens with an older woman who is reminiscing on her deathbed and being attended to by a very young doctor whom she privately resents for being so young. She is looking back over her life and though she has had a good life, she cannot forget when she was jilted or left at the altar as a young woman.
As her adult daughter, Cornelia waits on her, Granny Weatherall worries that she has not had time to tidy up some of her affairs. She does not want her children to find her old love letters to both her fiancé and her husband. When George did not show up at the wedding, John stepped in to console her. He became her devoted husband of many years until his death.
She has tried to not think about the jilting for 60 years, but now that she has plenty of time on her hands, the painful memories rush in and consume her. She allows herself to remember the humiliating wedding day and finally faces what actually occurred. Some things stay with us just as this story has stayed with me over the years.
Katherine Anne Porter is another writer that influenced my decision to put pen to paper. I add her to my drumroll of literary greats! She was a Pulitzer Prize winner and is better known for her short stories. She wrote, “A story is like something you wind out of yourself. Like a spider, it is a web you weave, and you love your story like a child.” Thank you for weaving your tales and sharing them with the world, Ms. Porter.