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Ship of Fools


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Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter

This unusual copy is inscribed ” for Gloria A. Hennessey Friend and Neighbor wishing You Health And Happiness, Katherine Anne Porter 19th August 1971….on the opposite page there is. Notation  : Please note Corrections ,Pages  211   214… 

The book itself has no DJ  ,the mustard colored boards are stained. there is a slipping of the inner front hinge. The signature and the inscription make a effort to repair well worth the effort. Since the inscribed copies in vg condition run in the $2000. Range, this copy is a bargain at $300.00 usd.


From a review of  “Katherine Anne Porter, a Life” New York Times Book Review.

Ship of Fools

…”SHIP OF FOOLS,” a long novel and long in the making: 1941-1961. The book made over a million dollars and, of course, for poor Miranda made a difference. Its reception was very favorable at the beginning and thereafter followed some fierce reservations. The setting of the book is 1931, a ship going from Vera Cruz to Bremen with a passenger list very long and outlandishly challenging. A fixed arena in which persons who would not ordinarily meet may be realistically gathered together would seem to be a gift of structure, in the manner of large hotels or prison camps or hospitals. But the gift of this natural and ordained diversity is claustrophobic, like a sea journey itself. Characters are given their traits, their tics of manner, their past histories. But then they are trapped in them in the dining room, on the deck, in the bar. Diversions of distress or comedy are offered with great skill, but the sea rolls on and the characters roll on, clutching their gestures.

The significant promise of the novel lies in the date and destination: It is 1931 and the boat is on the way to Germany, carrying with it Germans who must somehow prefigure what is to come by way of German arrogance and moral limitation, what is to come for the poorly conceived solitary Jew – an unattractive man who makes his living selling Christian religious objects – and what is to come for the German whose wife is Jewish but scarcely knows it, an assimilated person answering to the name of Mary. The historical promise is too pressing for the imagination in the novel. All is too static and the implied parable is never quite achieved. There is something a little musty, like old yellowing notes: The flawless execution of the single scenes impresses and yet the novel remains too snug and shipshape for the waters of history.

With ”Ship of Fools” Katherine Anne Porter is past 70, but since she is to live 20 more years there is time for a daunting accretion of foolishness. She can fight with faithful friends and relatives, she can spend, she can fall in love, she can drink too much, she can buy a large emerald ring, a ”longing” from which she did not run away. She also has time for her increasing anti-Semitism: ”Everbody except the Jews knows the Jews are not chosen but are a lot of noisy, arrogant, stupid, pretentious people and then what?” She pronounced on desegregation, leading her close friend Glenway Westcott to declare that ”her poor brain is just simply one seething smoking mass of molten lava.”

BIOGRAPHIES inevitably record the demeaning moments of malice and decline and have the effect of imprinting them upon the 90 years. In the biographies of today, all things are equal except that the ill winds tend in interest to be – well, more interesting.

Katherine Anne Porter did not have a happy life. She was better at sloughing off love than retaining it. She was often lonely in between her rush to attachments. Her egotism was disabling. Throughout her life the most useful condition for her work and for her sense of things came from the part of her that was an audacious, immensely gifted, independent Sister Carrie who knew about poverty and rooming houses and bad marriages and standing alone. The disaster of the claim to represent somehow an aristocratic example of taste and moral excellence was not wisdom but just the downward path.

The ending of the biography, a flourish, is an unhappy image of the limitations of the method of composition. It reads: ”At the very end she lay, like La Condesa on the Vera, drugged and demented, bereft of her home and jewels, but defiant until the last moment when on September 18, 1980, the little point of light flickered and failed.” The truth is that Katherine Anne Porter was drugged and demented from strokes and the ghastly illnesses of extreme old age. It is not a useful summarizing sentiment to think of her as a fiction, just as it has not been altogether wise to think of her fiction as her life; or for that matter ”the life of” as precisely her life.

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