The art of survival
Porter, Katherine Anne
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An artist can turn bad luck into good fortune. Texas-born author Katherine Anne Porter caught and nearly died from influenza in the 1918–19 pandemic, but the experience gave her the material for Pale Horse, Pale Rider—the title piece of this selection from Penguin Modern Classics—and not only the finest of her very fine short stories, but also the greatest literary account of the “Spanish” influenza. Very few writers besides Porter addressed the disease, effectively making her the laureate of a tragedy that no one much cared to remember until the parallels with COVID-19 recalled it to collective consciousness. The historian Alfred W Crosby found the absence of writing about the 1918–19 influenza pandemic “puzzling”, given that the pandemic killed more people than World War 1. And this is indeed strange, if you assume that the greater the death count, the greater the import. But not all mortality is alike. Death in the trenches was public, noble, dramatic; death from influenza was private, undignified, prosaic. One caught the imagination of the 20th century in a way the other did not.
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