An acclaimed American writer confronts issues of gender in her work
and life. During a life that spanned ninety years, Katherine Anne
Porter (1890-1980) witnessed dramatic and intensely debated changes
in the gender roles of American women. Mary Titus draws upon
unpublished Porter papers, as well as newly available editions of
her early fiction, poetry, and reviews, to trace Porter's shifting
and complex response to those cultural changes. Titus shows how
Porter explored her own ambivalence about gender and creativity,
for she experienced firsthand a remarkable range of ideas
concerning female sexuality. These included the Victorian attitudes
of the grandmother who raised her; the sexual license of
revolutionary Mexico, 1920s New York, and 1930s Paris; and the
conservative, ordered attitudes of the Agrarians. Throughout
Porter's long career, writes Titus, she ""repeatedly probed
cultural arguments about female creativity, a woman's maternal
legacy, romantic love, and sexual identity, always with startling
acuity, and often with painful ambivalence."" Much of her writing,
then, serves as a medium for what Titus terms Porter's
""gender-thinking"" - her sustained examination of the interrelated
issues of art, gender, and identity. Porter, says Titus, rebelled
against her upbringing yet never relinquished the belief that her
work as an artist was somehow unnatural, a turn away from the
essential identity of woman as ""the repository of life,"" as
childbearer. In her life Porter increasingly played a highly
feminized public role as southern lady, but in her writing she
continued to engage changing representations of female identity and
sexuality. This is an important new study of the tensions and
ambivalence inscribed in Porter's fiction, as well as the
vocational anxiety and gender performance of her actual life.
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