Pale Horse, Pale Rider: A #Pandemic Love Story

Image result for colorized photos of world war I.

Alert, Contains Spoilers: Now living in New York City, Jane Eyre has been self-isolating–even more than usual–and so has turned to her collection of 20th century lit. written by women. In these times of #coronavirus, we might want to remember things could always be worse–in 1918 the world had to deal with #Spanishinfluenza.  Katherine Anne Porter, whose iron butterfly novellas deserve a resurgence, wrote an autobiographical work entitled “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” based on her experiences with a nasty bout of this notorious flu and with her lover, a soldier, who dies after taking care of her.

It’s an ironic love story right up there with Jack and Rose in Titanic. Adam, a handsome solider (think young Brad Pitt) might have survived the last days of WWI. if he hadn’t met Miranda, a lovely if somewhat disillusioned newspaper reporter. She is in the first stages of Spanish influenza, which in the year 1918 took over 50 million lives. Neither she nor Adam know that she’s contagious, as after meeting cute they begin a whirlwind love affair. This powerful little book conveys its drama through images juxtaposing life and death, love and mortality. Miranda dreams of riding a pale horse called Graylie; “he is not afraid of bridges” and “can outrun Death and the devil.” In this dream she sees a pale stranger, who eerily is no stranger to her.

Adam, the hero of the story, lives in her building. He is off on leave and, in a monochromatic world, he is “all olive, tan and tawny…tall and heavily muscled in the shoulders.” His hair is the color of hay.  Adam smokes constantly but isn’t worried about his health; soon he will be returning to war and imagines he will die in battle. Running into each other outside their building they go to lunch at a drugstore, and one thing leads to another.  Adam is a humble man with no self-importance and no capacity for self-pity, unlike the other men Miranda knows. When she is not with him, Miranda spends her time daydreaming about him. His unique combination of gentleness and vitality, not to mention those muscles, distract her from worrying about the pandemic. She is always “feeling rotten”, unwittingly carrying the first symptoms of the flu within herself.

It is Adam who cares of Miranda when her fever spikes and she becomes delirious. When she has recovered from the worst of her illness, it is to find that Armistice has been declared, the war is over, yet Adam is gone. He contracted the flu while taking care of her and he did not survive it. Friends console Miranda in her depression, reminding her that she is still young and has her whole life ahead of her. Miranda thinks bitterly, “Now there will be time for everything.” Amidst the celebrations of the world, its resurrection from conflict and death, she is hauntingly alone.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider is beautifully written, lucid, poignant, and not nearly as dreary as this post may make it sound! Jane Eyre urges you to read the book if you have not, or if you were forced to read it a long time ago, in high school. All of the characters in Jane Eyre Gets Real by Annabelle Troy wish you a safe journey through these troubled times.

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