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4 Recalling Childhood Beauty, Death, and “The Old Order” I am the grandchild of a lost War. —Katherine Anne Porter, “Portrait: Old South” Porter and Eugene Pressly sailed for Europe from Veracruz on August 22, 1931, aboard the German ship Werra. During the crossing she kept a journal-­ letter to Caroline Gordon, dotted with barbed descriptions of fellow passengers. This would become the germ of her novel Ship of Fools, where the Werra reappears as the Vera. Otherwise, she did not work during the voyage. Frustrated by her inability to complete her family-­history novel, she must have found it irritating that Pressly was able to make progress on a manuscript of his own. He was translating José Fernández de Lizardi’s 1816 picaresque novel El Periquillo Sarniento, sometimes rendered “The Mangy Parrot.” His translation, touched up by Porter, would appear in 1942 over her name as The Itching Parrot. When they bought their tickets on the Werra, the two had hoped to debark in France, but this proved impossible because of lack of visas. So they continued to Bremen as their booking indicated, then went on to Berlin. The following year, in Oc­ to­ ber 1932, Porter would write Mary Doherty, back in Mexico, that they were “instantly bowed down” by the “tonnage of the German spirit,” but her journal-­ letter to Gordon indicates that she at first “loved” the city and felt “at ease” there.1 It is hard to know how much of her recoil into antipathy toward Germany and Germans reflected immediate impressions, how much arose from the depression she quickly fell into, or how much was a retroactive recon­ struction. Pressly helped Porter find lodgings, then left to look for work in Madrid, where his fluency in Spanish would be advantageous. She was left alone in a stuffy room in the house of a fussy older woman of reduced means. Although she made contact with the German Communist Party and developed a few acquaintances , she felt lonely and depressed by the postwar economic problems and resentments she saw around her. Her winter in Berlin was cold and gloomy Recalling Childhood / 55 but relieved by some shopping and occasional nights out. One of these evenings out included a more or less date with Hermann Göhring, then a prominent mem­ ber of the Reichstag, later commander of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s designated successor.2 Her time in Berlin would go toward the making of “The Leaning Tower” but did not much advance the work she already had in hand. After four months she left for Madrid to join Pressly, but stopped off in Paris on the way. After a few days of being shown the sights by a group in­clud­ing Ford Madox Ford, she went on to Madrid but at once decided that nowhere but Paris would be acceptable. On the strength of an offer of two weeks’ work, Gene accompanied her back, but at the end of this short job he had to return to Madrid. On commission from Monroe Wheeler and Barbara Harrison, owners of the fine art press Harrison of Paris, she turned to the pleasant task of assembling a volume of old French songs translated into English to fit their origi­ nal melodies . Her French not being very strong, the translations were probably provided by friends for her to touch up, just as “her” translation of The Itching Parrot was provided by Pressly. The songs made a fine volume that folksinger Pete Seeger, for one, used in performance for many years. Porter finished the French song book during a stay in Basel, Switzerland, from June to De­ cem­ ber 1932. There she also gathered ideas that would ultimately shape Ship of Fools and resumed work on her family-­ history novel but 6. Katherine Anne Porter, age forty-­ one, aboard the Werra bound for Germany. Snapshot probably taken by Eugene Pressly. Inscription on the back reads, “On board ship, mid-­ Atlantic, sunset, Sep­tem­ber 1931.” Katherine Anne Porter Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. 56 / Chapter 4 soon concluded that she would never be able to finish it. This conclusion proved, however, to be a positive one. She was able to identify six well-­polished segments from the manuscript to pull out as short stories. These, plus an earlier-­ written seventh that was located among her papers many years later, made up the sequence of linked stories she titled, as a group, “The Old Order.” Long under...


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