Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation

By Helen M. Cooper; Adrienne Auslander Munich et al. | Go to book overview

Sharon
O'Brien


Combat Envy and Survivor Guilt:
Willa Cather's "Manly Battle Yarn"

Writing in the Lincoln Courier in 1895, Willa Cather announced her profound disgust with women writers who could not transcend such limited feminine subjects as romantic love to attempt such universal masculine subjects as war. "I have not much faith in women in fiction," she wrote. "Women are so horribly subjective and they have such scorn for the healthy commonplace. When a woman writes a story of adventure, a stout sea tale, a manly battle yarn, then I will begin to hope for something great from them, not before."1 Although by 1895 Cather had discarded the masculine dress she first began to wear during her Red Cloud adolescence, she identified with males no less than she had at fourteen when she transformed herself into William Cather, jr. Associating maleness with the power and autonomy she wanted for herself, Cather saw in war and combat (what historian Jackson Lears calls the late nineteenth century's "martial ideal" 2) the apotheosis of masculinity, a temporary refuge from social definitions of feminine identity, linked in her mind with passivity and victimization.

The young journalist's belligerent advice to the aspiring woman writer reveals the hearty endorsement of masculine aesthetics, plots, and values that we can see elsewhere in Cather's writings of the 1890s. In an 1893 commentary on football, for example, she praised the sport as a rousing, bone-crushing cure for foppishness, "chappieism," and Eastern effeminacy. After conceding impatiently that football was "brutal," she went on to say: "So is Homer brutal, and Tolstoi; that is, they alike appeal to the crude savage instincts of men. We have not outgrown all our old animal instincts yet, heaven grant we never shall! The moment that, as a nation, we lose brute force, or an admiration for brute force, from that moment poetry and art are forever dead among us" ( KA, 212).

Admiring and associating "brute force" with sport, warfare, and creative power, during the 1890s Cather applied the decade's cult of virility to her literary opinions. Her ideal artist was a heroic war-

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Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Notes xix
  • War and Memory 1
  • Arms and the Woman: The Con[tra]ception of the War Text 9
  • Notes 23
  • Works Cited 23
  • "Still Wars and Lechery": Shakespeare and the Last Trojan Woman 25
  • Notes 39
  • Works Cited 40
  • Rewriting History: Madame de Villedieu and the Wars of Religion 43
  • Notes 55
  • Works Cited 57
  • Southern Women's Diaries of Sherman's March to the Sea, 1864-1865 59
  • Notes 75
  • Works Cited 77
  • Civil Wars and Sexual Territories 80
  • Notes 95
  • Works Cited 96
  • The Women and Men of 1914 97
  • Notes 118
  • Corpus/Corps/Corpse: Writing the Body in/at War 124
  • Notes 159
  • Works Cited 164
  • May Sinclair's The Tree of Heaven: The Vortex of Feminism, the Community of War 168
  • Notes 179
  • Works Cited 182
  • Combat Envy and Survivor Guilt: Willa Cather's "Manly Battle Yarn" 184
  • Notes 201
  • Works Cited 203
  • "Seeds for the Sowing": The Diary of Käthe Kollwitz 205
  • Notes 221
  • Works Cited 223
  • A Needle with Mama's Voice: Mitsuye Yamada's Camp Notes and the American Canon of War Poetry 225
  • Notes 241
  • Feminism, the Great War, and Modern Vegetarianism 244
  • Images of Love and War in Contemporary Israeli Fiction: A Feminist Re-vision 268
  • Notes 277
  • Works Cited 280
  • Nuclear Domesticity: Sequence and Survival 283
  • Notes 299
  • "Epitaphs and Epigraphs: 'The End(s) of Man'" 303
  • Notes 319
  • Works Cited 321
  • A Bibliography of Secondary Sources 323
  • The Contributors 331
  • Index 335
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