Axes: Willa Cather and William Faulkner

Axes: Willa Cather and William Faulkner

Axes: Willa Cather and William Faulkner

Axes: Willa Cather and William Faulkner

Synopsis

Axes traces the intimate relationship between the texts published by Willa Cather and William Faulkner between 1922 and 1962. When those texts are juxtaposed and examined carefully, the two writers seem intensely conscious of, and responsive to, each other's work. In fact, both at some point appear to have caricatured or parodied the other in print. Judging by the texts they left behind, they titillated, offended, exhilarated, and--especially--energized each other. Some readers may conclude that for forty years they helped create each other--the rival geniuses and axes of American fiction in the twentieth century. At the end of their lives, Cather planned a story to appear posthumously as advice to Faulkner about life and literary style; he planned his last novel to answer her in spirit and published it a month before his death. This groundbreaking study is provocative and sure to ignite the imaginations of literary critics and devoted readers of each author.

Excerpt

The title of this book originates in Joseph R. Urgo's assertion that Willa Cather and William Faulkner represent β€œthe horizontal and vertical axes of American literature.” According to Urgo, Cather's work conveys horizontal movement in space, over a changing landscape, while Faulkner suggests vertical movement in time, or a historical rootedness, especially movement emerging from, then flowing backward into, past time. Urgo's figure of opposite measuring lines seems to me splendidly helpful as a metaphor. I start by applauding it and end, after our writers show they can play each other's side of the board, by reassigning it. I believe the two authors eventually and deliberately change not only their positions but their methods, having carefully assessed each other's life and work. That final gesture to the other may have started as a wave of the fingers with the thumb to the nose, but it ended as a salute and bow. Each writer could play the other's game and each proves it by doing so. and each ends a lifetime's work with an homage to the other.

The purpose of this book is to explain that considered, deliberate set of authorial gestures. To accommodate this volume's design (a word sacred to both writers and to such shared mentors as Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Henry James), however, I confess immediately that my title is meant to . . .

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