Porter, Katherine Anne: Ship of Fools
(researched by Natalya Vargo)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Katherine Anne Porter. SHIP OF FOOLS. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press/ Little, Brown and Company, 1962. Parallel First Editions: In Canada: Toranto, Little, Brown and Company, 1962. (First Edition, printed simultaneously) In England: London, Secker and Warburg, 1962. (New Edition) Copyright: Atlantic Monthly Press/ Little, Brown and Company; 1962.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The First American Edition is published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
258 leaves. pp.[2] [i-x] xi-xiii [1] [1-2] 3-68 [2] 70-360 [2] 363-497 [1] [2]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
Includes publisher advertisement for other Katherine Anne Porter novels on the second page. The book is dedicated to Barbara Wescott; it reads "1932: Paris, Rambouillet, Davosplatz, Salzburg, Munich, New York, Mulhocaway, Rosemont: 1962." There is an explanation about the origin of the novel and title by Katherine Anne Porter before the introduction. The introduction is simply a list of characters (similar to one that would be found in a play), divided by ethnicity.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book is in excellent condition, to the point where is unclear if it has ever been read. There are no marks, dog-ears, stains or tears. Although there are no chapters, there are three parts that break up the novel. The text size is quite readable, but the text itself is not centered on the page (the outer margin is larger than the inner margin). 83R. Book size: approx. 211 mm x 138 mm. Size of text: approx. 164 mm x 105 mm.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The book is printed on wove paper that has slightly discolored over time, but it is not overly noticeable. The paper is a little thicker than most novels, and the paper "blocks" are not always the same size, so they look unevenly bound from the spine. (It is difficult to thumb through the novel.) This copy does not look its age, probably because it is kept in Special Collections and has limited reading use.
11 Description of binding(s)
The book is bound with bright yellow trade cloth binding. On the front, Katherine Anne Porter's signature is stamped in red on the lower right-hand corner. The same color ink is used on the spine, which has a long, vertical design running down the majority of it. Transcription of front cover: Katherine Anne Porter's signature Transcription of spine: Katherine|Anne|Porter|SHIP|OF|FOOLS (Design) Altantic (italic) Little, Brown (regular)
12 Transcription of title page
Title Page (front): Katherine|Anne|Porter SHIP|OF|FOOLS (design) An|Altantic|Monthly|Press|Book (italic) Little,|Brown|and|Company|Boston|Toronto (regular) Title Page (verso): Copyright 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950 (c) 1956, 1958, 1959, 1962. All Rights Reserved Disclaimer. Library of Congress Card Catalog No. 62-9557. First Edition. Earlier versions and some scenes from the novel have been published in Accent, Altantic Monthly, Harper's, Mademoiselle, Partisan Review, Sewanee Review and Texas Quarterly. Altantic Monthly Press Information (Publisher Box). Published Simultaneously in Canada by Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited. Printed in the United States of America.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
First editions of Katherine Anne Porter's SHIP OF FOOLS can be found in the following university libraries: Bridgewater College, College of William and Mary, Duke University, Emory and Henry University, George Mason University, Harvard University, James Madison University, Marymount University, New York University, Syracuse University, University of California (Berkeley), University of Maryland (College Park), University of Pennsylvania, University of Richmond, University of Virginia, and Washington and Lee University. (Sources: Library Catalogs Around the World, WorldCat)
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Reissue Edition Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1984. Reissue Edition London: Secker and Warburg, 1974. (Source: WorldCat)
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
SHIP OF FOOLS had three printings up to its April 2, 1962 publication date. On Tuesday, April 3, a fourth printing was ordered. The following day, April 4, Little, Brown started work on a fifth and final printing. (Source: Publisher's Weekly)
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
International Collectors Library, 1962. New American Library, 1962. New American Library/Dutton, 1963. Penguin Books, 1965. Amereon, Limited, 1984. Panther Books, 1985. Risner Books, 1987. (Source: WorldCat)
6 Last date in print?
Whitaker's Books in Print 1989 is the last date where SHIP OF FOOLS is listed as being in print.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
1,515,880; Little, Brown (70 Years of Best Sellers, 1967) 1,055,678; New American Library (70 Years of Best Sellers, 1967)
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Sales by year could not be found after consulting Publisher's Weekly, The Bowker Annual (1962 edition), and Keith Justice's Bestseller Index.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
In Publisher's Weekly on January 8, 1962 (which was almost four months before the actual publication on April 2, 1962), there was a full-page advertisement for SHIP OF FOOLS. It has a very large photograph of the book with a caption below that reads, "In a year of important novels, Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter stands alone. It is a proud event in American publishing- the most eagerly awaited novel in two decades. It will be published on March 26 by Atlantic-Little, Brown. It has been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club for April. $5.95." At the very bottom there is a publisher's logo for Atlantic-Little, Brown. In Publisher's Weekly in the Spring of 1962, there was a full page advertisement for Little, Brown, and Company's books from January to June. The ad lists SHIP OF FOOLS as the last book published in March. The blurb reads, "Ship of Fools, By Katherine Anne Porter. A novel. $5.95."
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
SHIP OF FOOLS was the Book-of-the-Month Club selection for April, 1962. Publishers' Weekly wrote a brief preview on January 22, 1962 that said, "'Ship of Fools' is the long-awaited novel by Katherine Anne Porter, author of 'Pale Horse, Pale Rider' and 'Flowering Judas.' The author tells the story of a strange voyage from Mexico to Germany and gives a passenger list that is disturbingly real and human. Altantic Monthly Press book." (In the same review, the bottom notes: "Book-of-the-Month Club for April", "Very large advertising and promotion campaign", "Posters and co-op ad mats available.") On March 31, 1962, The Saturday Review had two articles about Porter and SHIP OF FOOLS. Granville Hicks wrote a somewhat favorable review on SHIP OF FOOLS and Rochelle Gibson wrote a piece on Porter's life experiences and voyages.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
MOVIE: Ship of Fools (Not Rated). Burbank, CA: Columbia Pictures, 1965. 4 film reels, 149 min: B&W, 16 mm. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Vivian Leigh. ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK: Original Music from the Motion Picture "Ship of Fools." New York, NY: RCA Victor, 1965. 1 sound disk: 33 1/3 rpm, stereo; 12 in AUDIOCASSETTE: 20th Century American Novel Cassette Curriculm- Ship of Fools. Deland, FL: Everett/Edwards, 1971. 1 cassette, 32 min, 1/2 track. AUDIOCASSETTE: Ship of Fools. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio Books, 1995. Reader: Grace Conlin 16 cassettes. (Source: WorldCat)
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Language- Place of Publication: Publisher, Year Published. Chinese- T'ai-pei Shih: Chiu Ko Ch'u Pan She, 1987. Czechoslavakian- Bratislava: Nakladadatel'stvo Pravda, 1974. Finnish- Jyvaskyla: K.J. Gummerus Osakeyhtio, 1967. French- Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970. German- Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1965. Greek- [Greece]: D. Daremas, 1970. Hungarian- Budapest: Europa Konyvkiado, 1965, 1977. Italian- [Italy]: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1974. Japanese- Tokyo: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1965, 1966. Norwegian- [Norway]: Den Norske Bokklubben, 1981. Portuguese- Sao Paulo: V. Civita, 1974. Slovenian- Ljubljana: Cankarjeva Zaloazba, 1970. Spanish- Barcelona: Editorial Bruguera, 1963. Swedish- Stockholm: Bonniers, 1963. Ukrainian- Kyiv: Dnipro, 1983. (Source: WorldCat)
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
EXCERPT: "Mademoiselle." New York: Conde Nast Publications, July 1958. pg. 26-41, 85, 89-90, illustrated. Other excerpts of SHIP OF FOOLS were also published in "Accent," "Atlantic Monthly," "Harper's," "Partisan Review," "Sewanee Review," and "Texas Quarterly." (Source: WorldCat, SHIP OF FOOLS)
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Katherine Anne Porter is considered one of the most important American short story authors of the twentieth century. Born on May 15, 1890 in Indian Creek, Texas, she was named Callie Russell Porter. She was the fourth of five children to her parents Mary Alice Jones Porter and Harrison Boone Porter. She spent most of her life traveling and living city-to-city all over the United States, Mexico, and Western Europe. Porter's mother died during childbirth when she was only two years old, and her father was unable to care for his family. Porter and her sibling were raised by their paternal grandmother, Catherine Anne Porter. Porter's grandmother was a strong woman, and she ran the household almost independently (which was rather unusual in the late nineteenth century). Porter's grandmother greatly influenced Porter's early views on gender roles and aspirations, and she encouraged Porter to pursue a career. Tragedy struck Porter's family again when her grandmother died when Porter was eleven years old. Parentless and in poverty, Porter was sent to live with her cousins on a Texas diary farm. When Porter realized that this environment gave her very little chance to achieve anything, she ran away at the age of sixteen. The only real education that she had received was only two years of private Methodist schooling. In order to get by financially, Porter married John Henry Koontz a few months after she left Texas. The couple had monetary and emotional troubles from the beginning, and Porter decided to leave him in 1915. Porter would end up being married a total of four times, and she seemed to find the constraint of marriage unbearable. When she left Koontz, Porter realized that she did not fit the role of being a housewife, and began making steps toward her career as an acclaimed author. Before she began formally writing, Porter worked as a journalist in Chicago and Denver, where she covered social and entertainment events. With a little experience under her belt and the aching need to go abroad, Porter traveled to Mexico in 1920. Porter did not publish her first work until December 1922, when Century Magazine printed her short story "Maria Concepcion." Set in Mexico City, it describes a strong female character who triumphs over her weak husband and takes control of her life. Porter often drew from personal experiences to create plots and characters, and she has even placed herself in the shoes of several main characters. In fact, some consider Porter almost an autobiographical author, since her works contain so many references to her upbringing and travels. Porter gained the majority of her acclaim from her short stories; "Ship of Fools" is her only long novel. Her last major short work, "The Never-Ending Wrong," was published in 1977, only three years before her death. Porter died on September 18, 1980, and her ashes were taken to Indian Creek Cemetery. She was buried next to her mother's grave, as she had requested. Sources: Anderson, Jennifer. "Katherine Anne Porter." Personal Website. Updated 14 September 1997. 1 page. Viewed 31 October 1999. http://www.kutztown.edu/~regan/porter.html "Katherine Anne Porter." Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980. Gale Research Company: Detroit, Michigan. © 1981. "Katherine Anne Porter." American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939. Gale Research Company: Detroit, Michigan, © 1980. "Katherine Anne Porter." American Short Story Writers, 1910-1945: Second Series. Gale Research Company: Detroit, Michigan. © 1991. "Katherine Anne Porter." Women's History Encyclopedia. 2 pages. Viewed 28 October 1999. http://www.teleport.com/~megaines/porter.html Passmore, Maureen. "Katherine Anne Porter: 1920-1930." Personal Website. 4 pages. Viewed 31 October 1999. http://www.la.psu.edu/~jselter/burke/kapover.html Wilson, Sara. "A Writer's Writer: Preserving the Archives of Katherine Anne Porter." National Endowment for the Humanities. 4 pages. Viewed 28 October 1999. http://www.neh.gov/html/magazine/98-09/porter.html
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
SHIP OF FOOLS has an unusual mix of reviews where some praise the novel and others tear it apart. Interesting enough, some do both in the same article. For the most part, SHIP OF FOOLS was very well received immediately after its release. Many were excited about Porter's transition from short stories to novels, and they were eager to praise her first long work. They were in awe of her imagination, characters, and attention to detail. It seems that critics were most impressed with Porter's ability to create an entire cast of characters and make each one come to life. Unfortunately, two factors caused negative responses toward the novel. First, Porter took over twenty years to write SHIP OF FOOLS, which made a few feel that the final product did not justify the time-length spent. Second, there were several unexplained publication delays that created anxious reader to form growing expectations about the actual novel. By the time it was released, SHIP OF FOOLS had been hyped as a masterpiece. Therefore, some critics felt that the novel did not live up to its reputation and considered it a disappointment. The further away the review was from its April 2, 1962 release date, the more negative the criticism seemed to become. Some complained that the novel had no real centralized plot, and they called the storyline anti-climatic. The public's final verdict on SHIP OF FOOLS remains unclear: a few argued that it was Porter's best work to date, while others held bitterness toward it. "Miss Porter's book is rich enough to be read on different levels and will keep the lovers of symbols happy? The reader feels that he has been on board the Vera for the twenty-six days of her voyage, but unlike [the characters], he is reluctant to disembark." - Louis Auchincloss. "Bound for Bremerhaven- and Eternity." NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE. April 1, 1962. "Katherine Anne Porter has written a tremendous novel. It took twenty years? And here it is at last? The Great American novel has appeared? Miss Porter's style is elegant and precise; it is straight without being thin, rich without the slightest trace of cloying? In fact, it is a very fine style, put to use with great skill?" - Sybille Bedford. "Voyage to Everywhere." SPECTATOR [London]. November 16 1962, p. 763-764. "Miss Porter's ship is a real, not purely symbolic, ship traveling from Vera Cruz to Bremerhaven during the early thirties and is peopled with passengers talking and traveling in that troubled time? In doing so she shows us the common manner in which we make the voyage, and she shows us the necessarily concomitant subject of what she views life to be." - Smith Kirkpatrick. "SHIP OF FOOLS." SEWANEE REVIEW. Winter 1963, p. 94-98. "Katherine Anne Porter us sometimes thought of as a stylist. 'Stylist' is likely to call up images of coloratura, acrobatics, elaborateness of gesture? It is not so with Miss Porter. There is nothing of arresting facade in her style, nothing of showmanship? She is an absentee presence: in one sense her style is no-style? Her style has neither birthmarks nor those plaintive rebirth-marks, tattoos... [Her writing is] plain, direct, ordinary, [and] unpretentious..." - Robert Heilman. "SHIP OF FOOLS: Notes on Style." FOUR QUARTERS. November 1962, p. 46-55. "It is hard not to judge the book in relation to the extended period of gestation; the temptation is to proclaim that it is either a fulfilment of a great hope or a sorry disappointment. But if it is certainly not the latter, neither is it quite the former. It shows that Miss Porter is one of the finest writers of prose in America... On the other hand, it is something less than a masterpiece." - Granville Hicks. "Literary Horizons: Voyage of Life." SATURDAY REVIEW. March 31, 1962, p. 15. "Her method is sporadic, almost desultory, and her unity is based on theme and idea rather than coherence of action. We flash from group to group, scene to scene, mind to mind, seldom remaining with any group or observer for longer than three or four pages together... Why, why did Miss Porter feel that she should try to get everything in?" - Wayne Booth. "Yes, But Are They Really Novels." YALE REVIEW. Summer 1962, p. 632-34.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
SHIP OF FOOLS has an unusual mix of reviews where some praise the novel and others tear it apart. Interesting enough, some do both in the same article. For the most part, SHIP OF FOOLS was very well received immediately after its release. Many were excited about Porter's transition from short stories to novels, and they were eager to praise her first long work. They were in awe of her imagination, characters, and attention to detail. It seems that critics were most impressed with Porter's ability to create an entire cast of characters and make each one come to life. Unfortunately, two factors caused negative responses toward the novel. First, Porter took over twenty years to write SHIP OF FOOLS, which made a few feel that the final product did not justify the time-length spent. Second, there were several unexplained publication delays that created anxious reader to form growing expectations about the actual novel. By the time it was released, SHIP OF FOOLS had been hyped as a masterpiece. Therefore, some critics felt that the novel did not live up to its reputation and considered it a disappointment. The further away the review was from its April 2, 1962 release date, the more negative the criticism seemed to become. Some complained that the novel had no real centralized plot, and they called the storyline anti-climatic. The public's final verdict on SHIP OF FOOLS remains unclear: a few argued that it was Porter's best work to date, while others held bitterness toward it. "Miss Porter's book is rich enough to be read on different levels and will keep the lovers of symbols happy? The reader feels that he has been on board the Vera for the twenty-six days of her voyage, but unlike [the characters], he is reluctant to disembark." - Louis Auchincloss. "Bound for Bremerhaven- and Eternity." NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE. April 1, 1962. "Katherine Anne Porter has written a tremendous novel. It took twenty years? And here it is at last? The Great American novel has appeared? Miss Porter's style is elegant and precise; it is straight without being thin, rich without the slightest trace of cloying? In fact, it is a very fine style, put to use with great skill?" - Sybille Bedford. "Voyage to Everywhere." SPECTATOR [London]. November 16 1962, p. 763-764. "Miss Porter's ship is a real, not purely symbolic, ship traveling from Vera Cruz to Bremerhaven during the early thirties and is peopled with passengers talking and traveling in that troubled time? In doing so she shows us the common manner in which we make the voyage, and she shows us the necessarily concomitant subject of what she views life to be." - Smith Kirkpatrick. "SHIP OF FOOLS." SEWANEE REVIEW. Winter 1963, p. 94-98. "Katherine Anne Porter us sometimes thought of as a stylist. 'Stylist' is likely to call up images of coloratura, acrobatics, elaborateness of gesture? It is not so with Miss Porter. There is nothing of arresting facade in her style, nothing of showmanship? She is an absentee presence: in one sense her style is no-style? Her style has neither birthmarks nor those plaintive rebirth-marks, tattoos... [Her writing is] plain, direct, ordinary, [and] unpretentious..." - Robert Heilman. "SHIP OF FOOLS: Notes on Style." FOUR QUARTERS. November 1962, p. 46-55. "It is hard not to judge the book in relation to the extended period of gestation; the temptation is to proclaim that it is either a fulfilment of a great hope or a sorry disappointment. But if it is certainly not the latter, neither is it quite the former. It shows that Miss Porter is one of the finest writers of prose in America... On the other hand, it is something less than a masterpiece." - Granville Hicks. "Literary Horizons: Voyage of Life." SATURDAY REVIEW. March 31, 1962, p. 15. "Her method is sporadic, almost desultory, and her unity is based on theme and idea rather than coherence of action. We flash from group to group, scene to scene, mind to mind, seldom remaining with any group or observer for longer than three or four pages together... Why, why did Miss Porter feel that she should try to get everything in?" - Wayne Booth. "Yes, But Are They Really Novels." YALE REVIEW. Summer 1962, p. 632-34.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
To most of her critics and avid readers, Katherine Anne Porter is considered a great short-story writer, not a novelist. However, it was not her short-stories that gave her fame and fortune: it was her first and only novel, Ship of Fools. While it may seem unusual that Porter's anomaly was so popular, Ship of Fools's success can primarily be linked to one thing: timing. Porter had spent more than twenty years working on Ship of Fools, and by the time it was published, the public felt a great deal of curiosity toward the novel. A secondary factor for Ship of Fools's success was text references to political events like the Cold War and historical controversies like the Holocaust. A final factor was the 1965 feature film that helped Porter's novel regain brief attention from the public. The high quality film was well-liked by audiences and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. The combination of these three things contributed to the sales figures and the overall popularity of Porter's novel. The most important factor that launched Ship of Fools's fame was that the novel had years to build up a positive reputation before it was even published. Porter worked on and off on Ship of Fools for twenty-two years, and Diane Unrue said that "Porter's habit of writing- quick bursts, usually long enough to finish a story, followed by extended periods of inactivity- was not propitious for writing novels." (Unrue, 164). In 1945 and in 1954 Porter made great efforts to finish the novel, but she lost her motivation and left it incomplete. While Porter was struggling to finish Ship of Fools, people began falsely assuming that she was almost ready to publish her first long book. People began to get excited because of past critical acclaim for Porter's short works like "Flowering Judas" and "Pale Horse, Pale Rider." Granville Hicks said that "because of Miss Porter's high reputation as a short story writer, her first novel was awaited with curiosity and excitement." (Hicks, 15). People greatly anticipated Ship of Fools because they concluding that if Porter's short stories were good, then Porter's actual novel would be even better. Porter finally completed Ship of Fools in early 1962, and the public was quite anxious for its April 2 release date. Excerpts from the novel had been printed as early as July 1958 in Mademoiselle, and Publisher's Weekly had already called Ship of Fools a "long-waited novel" more than two months prior to its planned publication date. People could not wait to buy it, and by the second day it was available, the novel had already gone through its fourth printing. By April 23, Ship of Fools made its first showing on Publisher's Weekly "Bestsellers of the Week" list at number seven. Ship of Fools continued to move up the bestseller ladder, and on May 7, barely a month after its publication, it became a number one bestseller. Ship of Fools stayed at number one for 26 weeks on Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times bestseller lists, but its popularity began to taper off in mid-February 1963. At first, the great length of time that Porter had spent on Ship of Fools encouraged sales because it had boosted the novel's publicity. Many readers and reviewers were so swept up in the novel's hype that they quickly claimed that Porter had written a masterpiece. The initial excitement of the mere appearance of the book caused early reviews to be quite generous with critiquing Ship of Fools. On April 1, 1962, New York Herald Tribune critic Louis Auchincloss wrote a favorable review, saying that Porter made the reader feel "that he has been on board the Vera for the twenty-six days of her voyage, but unlike [the characters], he is reluctant to disembark." (Unrue, 39). Once the thrill died down, however, there was a growing feeling that the finished work did not justify the amount of time that Porter spent creating it. By the beginning of 1963, Ship of Fools had gained a newer, harsher reputation: it was anti-climatic, it was hard to follow, and it did not have the literary merit that Porter's previous works did. This movement from initial praise to later disappointment shows that it was Ship of Fools's hype, and not the novel itself, that caused the majority of its success. One secondary factor that helped Ship of Fools's sales was the intriguing issues that took place within the novel. Although the setting takes place on a German-bound vessel in Pre-World War II, Porter draws connections to then-current conflict of the Cold War. Readers were interested in Ship of Fools's anti-communist and anti-fascist elements, especially when troubles escalated with the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. At this time, Ship of Fools's was at the height of its sales. The ongoing problems with the Soviet Union and the memories of World War II caused many people to feel a strong fear toward totalitarian governments. Therefore, people also began shaping negative attitudes toward foreign policy. (Boyer, 1005). Porter herself was one of these people, and Ship of Fools contains several themes that paralleled American's feelings in the early sixties. Her anti-totalitarian opinions increased noticeably during the forties and fifties, and it became close to an obsession in both her personal and creative writing. On March 4, 1951, she wrote, "I'm entirely hostile to the principle of Communism and to every form of totalitarian society, whether it calls itself Communism, Fascism, or whatever." (Brinkmeyer, 189). Porter felt that many of the conflicts that plagued Europe could be linked to Communism and Fascism, and Joan Givner said that Ship of Fools was written to "solve the riddle of what had gone wrong with the whole Western World in the twentieth century." (Brinkmeyer, 188). An example of anti-communism in Ship of Fools is during a conversation with William Denny and Mrs. Treadwell, two Americans. After Mrs. Treadwell makes several comments in defense of "the Reds," Denny grows suspicious and questions her: Denny's head rolled a trifle; he stared at her as if he had never seen her before. "Are you a Red?" he asked. Without removing his folded arms from the rail he slid along toward her, turned sideways and inspected her... "Do you know the meaning of the word?" she inquired coldly, moving along the rail from him as he approached. . . . She had never known a Red and did not expect to ever know one. "I know what I'd do with them if I were running the government," he said, in a heavy rage. . . (Porter, 61.) Here Denny illustrates the uneasiness that many Americans felt toward Soviets throughout the Cold War. Even though Mrs. Treadwell is an American like him, he doesn't trust her once she speaks up for the Reds. Ship of Fools emphasized the tension and wariness strangers felt toward one another because of the growing problems with the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that while Porter successfully shows strained relationships between characters, the passage seems to oppose McCarthyism, not Communism. Porter most likely did not intend for this interpretation, since her previous quote agrees with Denny's feelings. The discrepancy probably exists Porter because wrote the bulk of Ship of Fools in the early fifties, when McCarthyism was a strong anti-communist movement. Yet by the time Ship of Fools was published, McCarthyism had long since ended with false, embarrassing accusations on innocent Americans. Despite the confusion, Porter's point is still made: communism should be seen as something evil, and that the problems between the United States and the Soviet Union were far from over. In addition to anti-communism, anti-fascism also plays a role in Ship of Fools. One way fascism is shown negatively is with the German Captain Thiele, who runs the ship in a dictator-like manner. He creates a hierarchy with him on top and determines other passengers' ranks according to their ethnicity. Only other Germans are allowed to dine at his table, which excludes others that he believes belong to a lower status. He overcrowds the steerage (the lowest level of the ship) with deported Spaniards, and he treats them like prisoners: "Hundreds of people, men and women, were wallowing on the floor, being sick, and sailors were washing them down with streaming hose. They lay in the film of the water, just lifting their heads now and then. . ." (Porter, 72). The captain's abuse of authority is responsible for the inhumane and unsanitary conditions that the Spaniards are forced to live in, which was meant show the cruelties of fascism. The relevance of the anti-totalitarian topics made Ship of Fools caught people's attention, which in turn made Ship of Fools popular. While anti-totalitarian components were important in Ship of Fools, the historical controversies of the Holocaust also helped Ship of Fools's success. Since it was published in the sixties, the Pre-World War II setting allows for numerous ironies to exist between the German and Jewish characters. Ship of Fools's caught readers' attentions because they were already aware of the millions of Jewish deaths that Hitler had caused. Even today, more than fifty years after the end of World War II, people are still fascinated with the Holocaust and the treatment of Jewish people during that time period. Porter's references to the Holocaust are often offensive, even shocking. One illustration is a conversation between Lizzi Spockenkieker and Herr Rieber about the Spaniards crammed in the steerage level. When she recounts Herr Rieber's comments to Herr Otto Schmitt, Lizzie's light-hearted words turn appalling: I was saying, 'Oh, those poor people, what can be done for them?' and this monster [Herr Rieber]-" she gave kind of a whinny between hysteria and indignation- "he said, 'I would do this to them: I would put them all in a big oven and turn on the gas.' Oh," she said weakly, "isn't that the most original idea you ever heard? (Porter, 59.) It is not an accident that all three characters are German, since Lizzie foreshadows the gas chambers that Nazis used to kill mass groups of Jewish people. Yet even more surprising than Herr Rieber's remark is Lizzie's reaction: she does not get upset at the comment, in fact, she laughs and considers it creative. Lizzie's nonchalant response to the terrifying idea of murdering others disgusted readers and increased the controversial aspects of the novel. Another way the German and Jewish characters are shown is through the fear that the Jews feel toward the Germans, even when some of them are German themselves. This is especially seen between Lowenthal and Captain Thiele, where the Captain is repeatedly rude and bullying to Lowenthal, who is Jewish. After the Captain forces Lowenthal eat by himself in the dining room, Lowenthal's fear becomes evident: Ah, he needed to be more careful and clever than he was- he suffered waves of fright sometimes because he feared he was not clever enough, [the Captain and other Germans] would play him a trick someday and he would not know it until it was too late. It occurred to him often that he was living in a world so dangerous he wondered how he dared to go to sleep at night. (Porter, 97.) The Captain's hatred toward Lowenthal is significant because it shows how smug the Captain is about his "superiority." The Captain bases his prejudice solely on Lowenthal's religion, and is never able to see Lowenthal as anything but inferior. His mind set remarkably parallels the future Nazis' attitudes toward the Jewish population. Lowenthal, in turn, lives in terror of the Captain's power, similar to the Jewish people lived in fear of the Nazi soldiers. Since Ship of Fools had all these factors making it a selling success, then why did it receive only mediocre reactions from critics and audiences? After all, the previous excerpts are striking and well-written. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel is hard to follow and very thick in content. Ship of Fools is almost five hundred pages long, with no chapters and only three noticeable divisions. There is no focus on a central character, since Porter instead decided to write about forty passengers' experiences. On top of that, critics called the ending anti-climatic. Most of these complaints went unnoticed when Ship of Fools first appeared, but as time passed critics voiced their feelings of disappointment. In the summer of 1962 Yale Review critic Wayne Booth said, "We flash from group to group, scene to scene, mind to mind, seldom remaining with any group or observer for longer than three or four pages together... Why, why did Miss Porter feel that she should try to get everything in?" (Liberman, 13). Some readers felt the same way, and considered Ship of Fools an average story that did not live up to its expectations of a masterpiece. It is possible that Ship of Fools would have been remembered in a negative light if it were not for the 1965 movie-version that became a box-office hit. Director and producer Stanley Kramer filled the cast with talented actors, including Vivian Leigh, Oskar Werner, and Simone Signoret. Ironically enough, it seems that Kramer had created the masterpiece, not Porter. When the movie was released, Kramer's Ship of Fools was praised for its high quality and poignant scenes. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said that it was a "powerful, ironic film" that was "perpetually engrossing and thought-provoking... it eminently deserves to be seen." (Crowther, 18). It was also nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Werner), and Best Actress (Signoret). It ended up winning two, one for Best Cinematography in black and white and the other for Best Art Direction in black and white. The favorable publicity from critics and the Academy Awards rejuvenated interest in Porter's novel. Due to the promotion from other media, the novel became more mainstream. The film opened up a whole new market for movie-goers who wanted to read the novel, and Penguin Books released a paperback edition of Porter's Ship of Fools in 1965. Although it did not attain bestseller status again, the movie generated more sales for the novel, and it pumped short-lived interest into the Porter's book while the movie was popular. While Ship of Fools was the number one best-selling book of 1962, its success was bittersweet. Its release was met with enthusiasm and praise, and the bulk of its sales probably occurred in the first six months following its publication. Unfortunately, reviews turned sour after the public's initial excitement died down, since they felt that after all the wait and hype Ship of Fools just wasn't what they had hoped. Specific scenes are captivating and involve present issues and past controversies, yet they get lost in the overwhelming number of people and pages that Porter created. Ship of Fools's greatest disappointment was that although it had potential to reach its high expectations with its interesting story concept and fascinating characters, it did not. Unfortunately, it is just too long and dense, which is maybe why many people consider the two-and-a-half hour movie the best thing that came out of Porter's only novel. Sources: Boyer, Paul. The Enduring Vision: History of the American People. Lexington: D.C. Health and Company, 1993. Brinkmeyer, Robert. Katherine Anne Porter's Artistic Development. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993. Crowther, Bosley. "Ship of Fools." The New York Times. Page 18. July 29, 1965. Hicks, Granville. "Voyage of Life." Saturday Review: January- June 1962. New York: Saturday Review/World, Inc. Vol. 45. Liberman, M.M. Katherine Anne Porter's Fiction. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1971. Porter, Katherine Anne. Ship of Fools. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1962. Unrue, Darlene. Critical Essays on Katherine Anne Porter. New York: G. K. Hall and Co., 1997. Unrue, Darlene. Truth and Vision in Katherine Anne Porter's Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.
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