Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part II, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

Katherine Anne Porter was a young, aspiring writer when she contracted influenza during the 1918 pandemic in Denver, Colorado. Her case was so severe she was essentially given up for dead before making a surprising, albeit slow recovery. Read more about her experiences in “Katherine Anne Porter and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Part I, The Influenza Pandemic in Colorado”. Shortly following her recovery, Porter moved to New York and began her professional writing career. By the 1930s, she waswell on her way to becoming an established author, publishing, among others, the short stories “Maria Concepcion” (1922) and “Flowering Judas (1930).

Katherine Anne Porter portrait, circa 1934-1935. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

Nearly two decades after surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic, Porter drew upon her experience for the short novel “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”. First published in 1938, it is a tragic, surreal, and striking portrayal of facing death during both a pandemic and a period of American history that was already dominated by the immense death and devastation of the First World War.

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Katherine Anne Porter & the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part I: The Spanish Flu

“I think of my personal history as before the plague and since the plague.” 
– Katherine Anne Porter to Alfred Crosby, 13 June 1975

An unknown illness, shortage of hospital beds, fever induced hallucinations, and growing fear about a contagious and deadly plague. All of these frightening realities take place against the backdrop of young love and the First World War in Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”  tells the story of trauma and survival during the 1918 Influenza pandemic. A masterfully written short novel woven with poetic and, at times, surreal prose, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is also a personal story for Porter, recalling her experience contracting the illness in Colorado in October 1918. With striking similarities to the current pandemic, it is a beautiful, complex, and intimate glimpse into the experience of making it through the other side of a pandemic and the First World War.

Portrait of Katherine Anne Porter taken in early spring, Texas, 1918. Katherine Anne Porter papers, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Maryland Libraries.

In the years leading up to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) was a bright, aspiring writer who had already faced a tumultuous life. Born in Texas, she was largely self taught and moved often with her family following the deaths of her mother and grandmother in 1892 and 1901 respectively. She was married and divorced three times, briefly worked as a movie extra in Chicago, taught children in a Dallas hospital, and wrote for several newspapers. Although she had begun writing, she had yet to publish in earnest.

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Modernist Writers in Special Collections

For years, works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Frost have been staples of high school English classes across America.  While The Great Gatsby and “The Road Not Taken” may now be regarded as classics, modernism, the literary movement that Fitzgerald and Frost participated in, was originally considered to be a disruptive force against the literary establishment.

Modernist works by Fitzgerald and Frost, along with Katherine Anne Porter, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Franz Kafka can all be found in the Literary and Rare Books Collections in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland.

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Digital Resource: German Periodicals

We may be self-isolating for the time being, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t travel the world!  If you want to learn more about German history and culture, visit the Internet Archive to view digitized items from the University of Maryland’s collection of German books and periodicals.

This digital collection of 29 items spans from 1832 to 1923 and includes a variety of topics.  With works on subjects as diverse as the Napoleonic Wars, the Dada movement, bacteriology, art and architecture, World War I, and German poetry, there is something for everyone! 

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Digital Resource: The Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven Papers

Happy National Poetry Month!  As we celebrate some of our favorite poets, it’s also an opportunity to discover someone whose poetry you may not have read before.

One poet worth examining is the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927), the avant garde German poet.  Von Freytag-Loringhoven was a woman of many talents. In addition to her work as a poet, von Freytag-Loringhoven was an artist who was active in the Dada movement, which rejected logic and reason in favor of absurdity. 

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New Acquisition: The Little Prince

While we’re self-quarantining, one thing many of us have been looking for to pass the time is a good book!  If you’re looking for something to keep you company while social distancing, or to read to the family, you may want to find a copy of The Little Prince, the classic novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  First published 77 years ago (April, 1943) in France, it is a beautiful and heartwarming story that continues to be a favorite for the young, old, and everyone in between. If you don’t own a copy of the book, you can also find a film adaptation streaming on Netflix.  Although The Little Prince was originally written as a children’s book, its themes of love, loneliness, and friendship have made it popular with readers of all ages.

Before Special Collections and University Archives closed to the public, our Literature and Rare Books staff received a generous donation of over 50 editions of The Little Prince published all over the world, translated in 38 languages! It’s a wonderful addition to our collections, covering topics ranging from book history to modernist literature.

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Navigating the Early Modern Era in Special Collections

What do Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, and Galileo have in common? All three were among the most prominent figures of the Early Modern era, a time period lasting roughly from 1500 to 1700. The Early Modern era was a time of political and religious upheaval.  Catholics and Protestants battled with one another for power, and both France and England experienced bloody civil wars.  It was also a time of innovation.  Advancements in science and technology changed how people saw the world and writers such as Shakespeare contributed the period’s developing literary culture.

To learn more works printed in this era, check out our new subject guide – Early Modern Works in Special Collections!

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