- The Life of Katherine Anne Porter by Joan Givner
Cape, 572 pp, £15.00, March 1983, ISBN 0 224 02093 5
By God, America is great, and so are its scholarly books. This one is 572 pages long and it took the author twenty years to write. Longer than Katherine Anne Porter found to write the whole of her resplendent work. Joan Givner’s book might be called light plane reading, except that it is heartlessly grave, gravid though fruitless, and would take the most receptive astronauts a moon-flight to try to sleep through, its dulled prose keeping them tossing and turning all the way.
Vol. 5 No. 19 · 20 October 1983
SIR: In her review of my book Katherine Anne Porter: A Life (LRB, 19 May), Penelope Gilliatt makes much of the fact that I spent twenty years writing the book She jeers and sneers at this extraordinary time-span. I do not think it is ridiculous for a biographer to spend twenty years researching and writing a book. There might be more accurate and more well-written biographies if this were done. The only thing is that I did not spend twenty years writing mine. I began the book in 1976 just after Miss Porter invited me to do so and when I happened to have a year’s leave from my teaching job. I lost a year because of illness and finally finished the book in 1980. By a coincidence which has never stopped amazing me, the book arrived on my editor’s desk on the day Porter died – 18th September 1980. It sat there for a very long time – excruciatingly long for me. Finally the book was published in the United States in 1982.
I do not know why Penelope Gilliatt made such an odd mistake. It is true that in the years before I worked on the biography I had written articles on Porter’s work and one on her life, as I had written on other authors – Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf, Hawthorne etc. But I have not been writing on literary subjects for twenty years. I think she must have confused the time I spent on my book with the time that Porter spent writing Ship of Fools. Porter did spend twenty years on that.
There are many other errors in Penelope Gilliatt’s review, such as her statement that ‘Katherine Anne Porter became a reporter, writing stories (short) for a Chigaco newspaper.’ Porter never wrote stories, long or short, or anything else that I have come across (except a letter to the editor) for a Chicago newspaper. These errors are too numerous to list here but will be easily spotted by readers of the biography. Your reviewer seems to have a contempt for accuracy which I find rather strange.
University of Regina, Canada