With these final sentences of "Old Mortality" (1937), Katherine Anne Porter qualifies the progress eighteen-year-old Miranda has made toward self-knowledge and sophisticated reading strategies. This long story is a bildungsroman of sorts, tracing Miranda's development from childhood to young adulthood, but focusing particularly on her apprenticeship as a reader. Porter links Miranda's quest for self-discovery with her attempts to determine fact from fiction in the stories her family tells about the love affairs, brief marriage, and early death of her beautiful Aunt Amy. By dismissing both her father's romantic legend and her Cousin Eva's feminist critique as untrue--by focusing on narrative as representing reality rather than producing reality--Miranda misses not only the "truths" that both versions of the story contain but also the nature of the ideologies that shape these "truths." By failing to comprehend the complexity of the reading experience, Miranda undermines her own ability to see how she has unconsciously used the romance narrative to script her elopement and the feminist critique to write the erotic plot out of her life. In the end, Porter herself shies away from the feminist politics of the reading experience, by concluding "Old Mortality" with a typical modernist ambiguous ending that runs counter to the plot's interest in creating feminist readers.
Copyright © 1993 University of Virginia Press.
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Jones, Suzanne W. "Reading the Endings in Katherine Anne Porter's 'Old Mortality'" In Famous Last Words: Changes in Gender and Narrative Closure, edited by Alison Booth, 280-99. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1993.