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TitleOn the divide: the many lives of Willa Cather
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Total Pages417
Table of Contents
Part I: Cather on Cather
	1. Three Autobiographies and an (Auto)interview
	2. Dust-Jacket Copy
Part II: Entering the Kingdom of Art
	3. The Quest to Excel
	4. Cather Caught in the Eddy
	5. Two Alter Egos
Part III: At Home on the Divide
	6. O Pioneers! and My Autobiography
	7. The Song of the Lark
	8. My Ántonia
Part IV: Confronting Medusa
	9. “Hard and Dry”
	10. Youth and the Bright Medusa
	11. One of Ours
Part V: “The Seeming Original Injustice”
	12. A Lost Lady
	13. The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett
	14. The Professor’s House
	15. My Mortal Enemy
Part VI: Recapitulation
	16. Cather Talks with Cather
Part VII: “In the End Is My Beginning”
	17. Death Comes for the Archbishop
	18. Fiction of the 1930s
	19. Cather, Jewett, and Not Under Forty
	20. Sapphira and the Slave Girl
Works Cited
Plate Section
Document Text Contents
Page 208

One of Ours

would actually invent some clever shift to save himself from dissolution”

(). We know how Willa Cather felt about such foolish optimism, be

it Claude’s or Eddy’s, and the rest of One of Ours both refutes his notion

that he might escape death and provides a reductio ad absurdum for his

notion that life is more interesting in hell than it is in Eden. The whole

second half of the novel surrounds him with death, and with evidence of

evil’s omnipresence. When Claude’s mother at the end speaks of “nothing

coming of it all but evil,” she is echoing an earlier passage describing the

spread of the war and “the destruction of civilian populations. Something

new, and certainly evil, was at work among mankind” (). We can only

compare this “something new, and certainly evil,” with the “something

splendid” that Cather’s hero sought, and for which he loses his life.

There are other troubling echoes of Mary Baker Eddy as well. Though

Claude is very different from Eddy in his generosity of spirit, he has a

violent temper, his strength often asserts itself “inharmoniously,” and

“[t]he storms that went on in his mind sometimes made him rise, or

sit down, or lift something, more violently than there was any apparent

reason for his doing” ().17 Violent, inharmonious, the storm of the

mind—and in a child who felt, and was, out of tune with those around

him: all of this, not least the language itself, strongly recalls what Cather

had written about Eddy. So does the fact that Claude, like Eddy, is adrift

until he suddenly finds his calling, his ideal, in “the final adventure which

releases the baffled energy of the boy’s nature,” as the novel’s jacket puts

it—language similar to that which Cather had used to describe Eddy’s

discovery of her mission. And once he finds his “mission,” Claude serves

it with the same unthinking certitude that Eddy brought to hers. Given

the ravages of war that fill the second half of this novel, and the role of

“noble ideals” in motivating this war, we recall the question Cather at one

point asks about Mary Baker Eddy—“whether there is anything else in

the world that can be quite so cruel as the service of an ideal” (MBE ).

It is a cruelty in which Claude is doubly implicated, for he both serves

this ideal and becomes its victim.

If echoes of Eddy implicitly impugn Claude’s quest, so does Cather’s

jacket description of him as “a sort of young Hamlet of the prairies,”

Page 209

Confronting Medusa

words we know are her own.18 Shakespeare’s play was a frequent topic of

Cather’s essays during her college years, and from those essays two recur-

rent themes emerge. First, Hamlet was to Cather not only Shakespeare’s

greatest play but a “Holy Thing,” something comparable to the ark with

its censer of fire in the lives of the early Israelites: “That play and the

Magna Charta are the two most worthy things that the Anglo-Saxon

people has done from its beginning” (KA ). Second, Hamlet himself,

for all his soaring language and rich humanity, is clearly mad: “The mad-

ness of Hamlet is the highest point in tragedy which Shakespeare ever

reached,” Cather wrote in an  essay. Three years later she went yet

further in resisting the idea that Hamlet’s madness is merely feigned:

“Give Hamlet one grain of common sense and you have no play at all.

Everything depends upon his being beautifully but unreasonably stupid”

(KA , ). Cather commented that these last words were overstated

for emphasis, and carried a grain of humor, but the fact remains that

she insists from the start on the reality of Hamlet’s delusions, and this

fact must certainly color our response to her description of Claude as a

“Hamlet of the prairies.” His devotion to the cause of the war may, in the

jacket’s words, “release the baffled energy of the boy’s nature,” but at every

level One of Ours raises questions as to the uses he makes of this released

energy. That Cather associates Claude with Hamlet in her description

of the novel but underscores the validity of such questions.

Page 416


brochure, –; and “The Profile,”

; in YBM jacket copy, , –.

See also Youth and the Bright


truthfulness as motif: in 

brochure, , ; and Cather’s

fabrications, , ; in early writ-

ing about artists, –, –; in

Eddy, –; influence of Jewett,

; in MA, ; in OP jacket copy,

; in SOL, ; in SOL brochure,

; and stories of –, ;

in Thea, ; vs. self-promotion,

; in YBM, 

“Two Friends” (OD), , , –

“unaccented style” in DCA, 

“Uncle Valentine,” , , n,


“unfurnished style,” , , ,

–. See also “The Novel

Démeublé” (NUF)

unique and uncommon people:

Alexandra Bergson, ; Ánto-

nia, –; Eddy as, , ,

–; Jewett, –, ;

Marian Forrester, ; Myra Hen-

shawe, ; Thea, , 

using people for her own ends: in

Cather, –, ; and Eddy,

–, ; in “Her Boss,” ;

Myra Henshawe, –; in

Sapphira Colbert, ; in Thea,

–; in “A Wagner Matinée,” 

Vickie (“Old Mrs. Harris”), , ,


Virginia (“The Profile”), 

Virginia (state): in  brochure,

; in  sketch, ; contrast-

ed to Nebraska, ; and SSG, 

“A Wagner Matinée” (in Troll Garden,

YBM), , , , 

war, theme of: in OO, –, n;

in SSG, 

West, background of: downplayed in

YBM jacket copy, 

West, decline of: in LL, –, ; in

OO, –. See also Nebraska

West, nostalgia for, 

Western scene of her earlier novels:

return to in OD, 

Wharton, Edith, , , , , ,


Wick Cutter (MA), , , n.

See also My Ántonia

Wilde, Oscar, –, 

“The Willing Muse,” –

woman’s voice, writing in: and Jewett,

, –; in MME, ; in OP,

xix, 

women: models of female fulfillment

in MA, –, n; conditions

Eddy faced as woman, ; in SOR,

; work and careers of, n

women protagonists: absence of in

DCA, ; and influence of Jewett,

; in LL and MME, ; in novels

of the twenties, ; in NUF,

–; in SOL, –; in writings

of the teens, –, , , ,

; in YBM, , 

Woolf, Leonard, 

the world and the parish, , ,

–, 

worldly temptations for the artist. See

addictive dangers of courting the


Youth and the Bright Medusa, –;

idealism in, –; jacket copy,

, , , , , , –,

Page 417


Youth (cont.)

, ; jacket copy text, –,

fig. ; and LL, , ; mundane

side of life in, –; and OO,

–; self-promotion in, ;

tension of opposing pulls in artist’s

life, xxii, –. See also Troll

Garden; specific stories

youthfulness: in jacket copy of early

books, , , –; in Marie,

; in McClure, ; in LG, ;

in YBM, xxii

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