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Okay, let's be honest: a story about an eighty-year old woman sick in bed doesn't sound all that interesting, right? Well not so fast. "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," a short story by Katherine Anne Porter, was first published in 1929 in a very hip literary magazine called transition (That's right, it was so hip the "t" wasn't capitalized on purpose). transition featured experimental, cutting-edge writing and other art, and is remembered for publishing the work of literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce. Porter's publication in this magazine helped prove that she could totally hang with the biggest (male) literary heavyweights of the day.
Porter herself didn't quite become a rock star of fiction until a year later when her first book of short stories, Flowering Judas, came out, and superstardom didn't come until 1966 when she won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter.
In "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," a crotchety old lady (think Judge Judy at her crankiest) reflects on her life while sick on her deathbed.
Seriously, that's it. No explosions, no car chases, nothing.
What we do get in this story, however, is an all-access pass deep into Granny Weatherall's mind, and, believe it or not, that actually turns out to be pretty exciting.
If you do a little math, you can't help but wonder how Porter was able to write so convincingly from the perspective of an elderly, dying woman. See, Porter was only around forty when she wrote the story, and she ended up living to the ripe old age of ninety. It's not like she was on her own deathbed as she wrote the story, or anything like that.
As other readers of the story have pointed out, though, we've got a pretty good clue to this mystery: When she was twenty-eight, Porter nearly died in an influenza epidemic. Things looked so bad, in fact, that the newspaper wrote up her obituary. Eek. Even though she ended up pulling through, the flu caused all of Porter's hair to fall out and when it grew back, it was completely white. Between the near-death experience and the granny hairdo, Porter probably had no problem channeling her title character.
Granny Weatherall probably has more in common with today's hottest pop singers than you'd think—they're all totally obsessed with heartbreak.
A few contemporary singers have gotten some serious flack for writing song after song about rejection in love (we won't mention any names…but we're not afraid to link), but if Granny were around today, you can bet she would be blasting these songs on her iPod, on repeat.
See, even though she is literally on the verge of death, Granny can't stop thinking about this dude, George, who dumped her sixty years ago (yes, sixty years). Granted, this was not your average breakup: Granny and George had been engaged and, at the last minute, he decided not to show up for the wedding. If you think a text message breakup is humiliating, try being left alone at the altar with everyone you know watching.
The thing is, it's not like Granny didn't live a full life after being jilted. She went on to find love, got married, had kids—the whole shebang. Still, none of that can help her fully overcome the memory of George's rejection and abandonment, which haunts her until her dying day. It just goes to show what a profound and transformative experience heartbreak can be.
So take that, all you Taylor Swift haters.
Who is Katherine Anne Porter, anyway?
This guide to the Katherine Anne Porter collection at the University of Maryland includes a super detailed biography of Porter
Poke around in the newsletter archives of the Katherine Anne Porter Society website to learn more about all things Porter
Granny on the Small Screen
1980 TV movie based on "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall"
So Long, Katherine Anne Porter
An article published the day after her death
Q&A with Katherine P.
Porter gives the inside scoop on her writing process (and slams F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing)
Watch an interview with Ms. Porter
She's way sweeter than Granny
Porter's Pic on a Stamp
A stamp featuring Katherine Anne Porter's image was issued in 2006