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Presented at the 1982 annual meeting of the Western Literature Association by Mick McAllister.
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Mick McAllister. "Assaying The Mother Lode: Frederick Manfred's Katherine King". At Wanderer's Well http://www.dancingbadger.com/katherinef.htm (December, 2001).
Summary: Katherine King, the "Jocasta" of Manfred's recasting of Oedipus as a mine camp tragedy (King of Spades), is an important figure in the developing sexual themes of The Buckskin Man Tales. This essay examines her role in the novel, contrasting it with the other heroine, Erden Aldridge.
December, 2001: In 1982 it looked as if I had finally set the course of an academic career. I was married to a fellow academic, a senior editor at a university press. I was teaching fulltime in the disciple I had found I enjoyed most, expository writing, and I was developing two areas of expertise, western American literature and computer-assisted learning. I had a contract to write a book on the Buckskin Man Tales for one of the most prestigious presses in Western American Literature. A year later we moved to Texas and soon after that, Madeleine walked into my classroom. The rest, as they say, is history.
This essay was to be a key in the proposed book. I had written an essay on animal symbology in two of the books ("Wolf That I Am: Animal Symbology in Lord Grizzly and Scarlet Plume," Western American Literature, May 1983) which would be expanded to encompass the other three books. This essay, centered on Katherine King of King of Spades, explores the theme of the feminine, and it would have been augmented by discussion of the Indian women and the women of Scarlet Plume. "The Sundered Egg" would form the basis of a chapter on the theme of sexuality, which required discussing Scarlet Plume and reshaping some of the content of this essay. A chapter on the religious themes would be built around "The First Covenant in Conquering Horse," South Dakota Review (Winter 1982). The foundation and core of the book would be "We Sons of Jacob," a comprehensive essay on the series which had languished for a half a decade in the hands of a friend who intended to anthologize it and never did. (This essay will be posted once I finish reconstructing it from my fragments of the manuscript.) Finally, a chapter would have contrasted the world of Conquering Horse and The Manly-Hearted Woman with the fallen world of the concluding novel, Riders of Judgment.
History. Five years later I had left academe because we could not live on one academic salary. Nine years later my marriage had fallen apart. Eleven years later, Madeleine reappeared in my life like a gift from God. I have learned to be suspicious of gifts from God. Hard lessons, but I don't even open them any more. And now, twenty years after the fact, I am putting my "affairs" in order by making these essays available to anyone pulled here by an interest in that underappreciated American phenomenon, Frederick Manfred né Feike Feike Feikema VII.
Fred was a beloved friend and mentor, and a writer whose gifts, because they were unorthodx, were not much appreciated in his lifetime or since. I wrote my essays on his work as gifts of love, and once he died (September 7, 1994), there seemed no reason to continue the futile exercise of criticism. The essays are honest and accurate assessments, and they pay him the respect of assuming his work was serious fiction, even at its most wrong-headed (King of Spades, I'm afraid). Those were good days, when he and I laughed together.
1. Page references, incorporated parenthetically, will be to the Gregg reprint of the Buckskin Man Tales (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1980).
2. Robert C. Wright, in his Frederick Manfred (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1979), cites a typical sampling of reviews (88). The negative remarks include such words as "lurid," "distasteful," "implausibility," and "titillate."
3. See Joseph M. Flora, Frederick Manfred (Boise: Western Writers Series, 1974).
4. By specifying "white woman" I am distinguishing the major white female charactersJudith Raveling, Theodosia Codman, Mavis Harder, Katherine, Rory Hammettfrom the female Indian characters of Conquering Horse, Lord Grizzly, and The Manly-Hearted Woman. In general, the Indian womenparticularly Leaf, Bending Reed, and the Yankton grandmothers in various booksare presented as models against which to measure the white women.
5. Within a page of his first appearance in the novel, Ransom duplicates the characteristic King family gesture of "adjusting a monocle" on his right eye, and his companion, Sam Slaymaker, vociferously calls our attention to it (67); a page later we are told that "Kate," who wears an eye patch, has Katherine Rodman's long English foot. No one could fail to realize the truth long before the two make love the first time (118). If an inattentive reader missed it, Katherine's calling Earl "daddy husband" surely would set off an alarm (119).
6. On pp. viii-ix of the introduction to the Gregg reprint of King of Spades, Manfred describes the circumstances that could lead the lovers to assume that as little as one year of age separated them.
7. The birth-years of the main characters (with page references that confirm them) are as follows: Magnus King, 1835 (4); Katherine Rodman, 1843 (13); Roddy/Earl Ransom, 1856 (19); and Erden Aldridge, 1862 (160). The main action of the novel occurs in 1875-76.