This 1939 Novella Provides Peek Inside 1918 Pandemic

Texas author Katherine Anne Porter published “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” a tale about surviving the influenza outbreak of 1918.

By Terri LangfordApril 20, 2020 2:59 pm, ,

For a peek inside surviving a pandemic, Texas Monthly writer Michael Agresta turned to the 1939 novella by Katherine Anne Porter: “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” The slim volume by an author who was raised in Kyle, Texas,  is set in Denver, where Porter worked for a time as a newspaper reporter. Her childhood home is maintained by Texas State University.

But it was her experience during the 1918 influenza outbreak that influenced one of her most enduring works. Porter herself caught the flu that would eventually kill 670,000 Americans. She was 28 years old.

“She just moved to Denver recently when she came down with the flu,” Agresta said “She was so near death that funeral arrangements were actually made for her. The legend is that her curly black hair turned entirely white from her high fever experience.”

Even though Porter’s novella takes place more than one hundred years ago, there are a lot of parallels with what people are experiencing now, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“To the extent that it’s an autobiographical novel, she walks us through this experience of a funeral protagonist who goes through this hospitalization in a very overcrowded hospital and really writes quite movingly, quite compellingly,” he said.

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