The ABCs of Katherine Anne Porter: O is for…

Old Mortality!

First published in 1937 by Southern Review and in volume 5 of Fiction Parade, Old Mortality is a short novel written by Katherine Anne Porter. It tells the story of Miranda and her sister, Maria, growing up in the South. The pair live in the shadow of their deceased Aunt Amy, who is remembered by most family members as faultlessly beautiful and charming.

Every woman in the family is continuously compared to Amy causing friction and rebellion — and because of that adulation one aunt despises the whole family, Amy’s sister never wed and became a stern suffragist, and Miranda runs away from school to elope. It is later revealed that Amy was indeed rebellious herself, causing scandals with strange men and strife within her family. Ultimately, the story is about how memory shapes one’s sense of self and the need to find your own path in life.

Old Mortality is often examined together with Porter’s other “Miranda stories,” which include The Circus, The Fig Tree, The Grave, Pale Horse Pale Rider, and Holiday. Although the Miranda in each is story is not the same woman, she is thought to be Porter’s fictionalized self, exploring Porter’s own struggles with society expectations and personal growth.

You can explore digitized letters by Katherine Anne Porter’s online in the online exhibit Katherine Anne Porter: Correspondence from the Archives, 1912-1977.

Browse the finding aid to the Katherine Anne Porter papers to learn more about Porter’s hobbies and manuscripts!

Mattie Lewis is a student in the Masters of Library and Information Sciences program and Graduate Assistant with the Katherine Anne Porter Collection at UMD.

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