Willa Cather's Sexual Aesthetics and the Male Homosexual Literary Tradition

Synopsis

Willa Cather is primarily known for her creation of strong female characters, yet her fiction often centers on male friendships. In this first full-length study of male homosexuality in Cather's short stories and novels, John P. Anders examines patterns of male friendship ranging on a continuum from the social to the sexual. He argues that Cather worked in the familiar tradition of friendship literature inspired by classical and Christian texts and also borrowed from a homosexual legacy that is part of, yet distinct from, established literary traditions. In combining these two traditions Cather gave her fiction an unexpected depth and complexity.

Anders argues that Cather's artistic achievement is distinguished by her sexual aesthetics, an elusive literary style inextricably associated with homosexuality. A homosexual ethos and eros helped Cather develop a sensitivity to human variation and a style to accommodate it; the range of male friendship and masculine desire in her fiction demonstrates this gift of sympathy and registers its sincerity. Although Cather's wide play of feelings opened her to the imaginative possibilities of human differences, the subject of homosexuality does more than humanize her fiction. It also enabled her to refine her characteristically subtle and elusive style, becoming, in effect, the objective correlative of her art, dramatizing the diversity of human nature as it deepens the mystery of her w