Vision, Plague, and Apocalypse in “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher


As evident in Mrs. Wheeler’s culminating vision in One of Ours and Clarissa Dalloway’s reciprocal visuality in Mrs. Dalloway, women’s literary narratives of the 1918 influenza pandemic emphasize the generative powers of feminine vision. In Katherine Anne Porter’s fiction, the character of Miranda Gay, frustrated by wartime propaganda’s hegemonic control of language, fulfills this visionary role. Although her perceptive abilities initially may seem ironic or diminished rather than redemptive, Miranda’s alternative states of consciousness—including dreams, feverish delirium, and a near-death mystical vision—grant the private experience of influenza iconic meaning and historic depth. In “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter evokes the iconography of both the Biblical apocalypse and the late medieval Black Death to represent the 1918 influenza pandemic. She combines the visual vocabulary of World War I propaganda posters, end time, plague, and pestilence to convey Miranda’s elegiac attempts to find proleptic consolation for the impending losses of Adam and possibly herself. Yet the apocalypse of simultaneous war and global pandemic Miranda faces is not obviously commensurate with the traditional consolations provided by elegy, which focus on cyclical renewal and rebirth. The novella’s conclusion allows for the creative possibilities of apocalypse, according Miranda, who survives, a new identity. Transformed into a walking caricature of Death, she becomes an independent flâneuse ready to both perceive and write in an altered world.


Gender Role Influenza Pandemic Female Character Visual Vocabulary Female Observer 
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© Jane Elizabeth Fisher 2012

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  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher

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