Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

Willa Cather's Ecological Imagination

Synopsis

The wide-ranging essays collected in this volume ofCather Studiesexamine Willa Cather's unique artistic relationship to the environment. Under the theoretical rubric of ecocriticism, these essays focus on Cather's close observations of the natural world and how the environment proves, for most of these contributors, to be more than simply a setting for her characters. While it is certain that Cather's novels and short stories are deeply grounded in place, literary critics are only now considering how place functions within her narratives and addressing environmental issues through her writing. These essays reintroduce us to a Cather who is profoundly identified with the places that shaped her and that she wrote about: Glen A. Love offers an interdisciplinary reading ofThe Professor's Housethat is scientifically oriented; Joseph Urgo argues thatMy Ántoniamodels a preservationist aesthetic in which landscape and memory are inextricably entangled; Thomas J. Lyon posits that Cather had a living sense of the biotic community and used nature as the standard of excellence for human endeavors; and Jan Goggans considers the ways thatMy Ántoniashifts from nativism toward a "flexible notion of place-based community."

Excerpt

Susan J. Rosowski

Read together, the essays in this volume introduce us to the greening of literary studies, a.k.a. ecological literary studies, ecocriticism, environmental literary studies—all terms for a field that is young, in flux, and determined to remain so. These essays also reintroduce us to a Cather we risk forgetting in recent decades' focus first on gender, then on class and race. I'm referring to the Cather who is profoundly identified with the places that shaped her and that she wrote about.

Place seems “poised to resume its place as a vital human concept, ” Glen Love observes as he anticipates the next one hundred years when

Literary scholars . . . will find themselves, along with other humanists and social scientists, engaged in important, ecologically based interdisciplinary work with the natural sciences. We will necessarily become more interdisciplinary because we live in an increasingly interconnected world, because we need all the intellectual resources we can muster to find a sustainable place within it, and because we will see more and more the relatedness of all of this to the work we do as teachers and scholars of literature.

Love offers an interdisciplinary reading of The Professor's House that is, “if not overtly scientific, at least leaning in that direction.” He calls for acknowledging archetypes (among other influences) in Cather's art as representing “biology and the commonality of human nature.” Love argues for the role of science in literary criticism, not to replace interpretation but to reinvigorate it, in (for example) “reconsidering the interpretation of archetypes.”

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