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Not Now

The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990

112 Southwestern Historical Quarterly
For its editors, Time to Wrte is a labor of love: O'Quinn collects
O. Henry manuscripts and memorabilia; Jenny Lind Porter is a cousin
of William Sidney Porter. Her essay examines fictional and biographi-
cal connections; O'Quinn's examines Will Porter's experiences in Aus-
tin of the 1890s.
Porter, who spent about a third of his life in Texas, found his fic-
tional materials in "people who have crossed my lifeline." Tzme to Write
stories draw on "crossings" from his southern boyhood, his stay in Hon-
duras (where he fled to avoid trial in Texas), and, most importantly,
his Texas years. Though the anthology gathers Porter's early fiction,
these stories are vintage O. Henry: a way of saying their methods, like
their materials, belong to the nineteenth century. To "new" patterns in
American fiction around 1900oo, he was impervious. His stories imply no
debt to Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, or Henry James.
With the anthology's earliest story, Porter claims his best-known
pseudonym; with these twelve stories, he claims his trademark fictional
mode. At its most contrived, this mode relies inordinately on devices
critics at least since Aristotle have questioned. At best, O. Henry's plot
surprises come when his characters surprise themselves by unexpec-
tedly noble actions. Although he doesn't deal in villains, he often trades
in scoundrels-here, the burglar/doctor of "The Marionettes" or the
consumptive prize-fighter McGuire in "Hygeia at the Solito." Both
stories turn on the central character's revealing an unanticipated but
credible generosity and integrity.
Probably Will Porter's informing vision was deterministic. As he
wrote in a Houston Post sketch, "High above us omnipotent hands pull
the strings that choke our laughter into sobs and cause strange sounds
of mirth to break in upon our deepest grief." But if we are "marionettes
that dance and cry" before the final rest "in our wooden boxes," his fic-
tion affirms we can occasionally assert ourselves to make the best of an
otherwise bad job. Personal misfortune might have led Porter to de-
spair of human nature. He doesn't. And perhaps as much as his fic-
tional mode, his optimism separates him from an audience schooled in
twentieth-century literature, which has found in the human condition
more occasion for despair than hope.
Texas Chrzstian University BETSY COLQUITT
Political Education zn the Southern Farmers' Alliance, 1887-z9oo. By
Theodore Mitchell. (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press,
1987. Pp. xiv+242. Illustrations, acknowledgments, prologue,
tables, epilogue, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.50,
cloth; $16.50, paper.)

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed May 3, 2016.

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