Cather Studies: Willa Cather as Culturali Icon

Cather Studies: Willa Cather as Culturali Icon

Cather Studies: Willa Cather as Culturali Icon

Cather Studies: Willa Cather as Culturali Icon

Synopsis

Volume 7 of the Cather Studies series explores Willa Cather's iconic status and its problems within popular and literary culture. Not only are Cather's own life and work subject to enshrinement, but as a writer, she herself often returned to the motifs of canonization and to the complex relationship between the onlooker and the idealized object. Through textual study of her published novels and her behind-the-scenes campaign and publicity writing in service of her novels, the reader comes to understand the extent to which, despite her legendary claims and commitment to privacy, Willa Cather helped to orchestrate her own iconic status.

Excerpt

Guy Reynolds

That Willa Cather, in many ways the most elusive of early-twentieth-century American writers, might now be thought of as an “icon” is one of literary history’s best jokes. Cather had a long career and moved through a variety of places and jobs and roles during her life. She was something of a moving target, able to transform herself from one literary identity to another. in the 1890s she was a wasp and a critical shrew, a precocious reviewer of books, plays, and music, armed with an acid pen. in the early years of the twentieth century she had become her mentor S. S. McClure’s right-hand (wo)man, the managing editor of one of the age’s leading magazines. Across her desk came works by many of the era’s leading authors. She became an adept businesswoman. As she continually adjusted herself to the literary market, looking for cracks in the publishing industry, Cather took on odd projects that have to be fitted—somehow— into a map of her career. She helped to write, or “ghostwrite,” McClure’s autobiography, and she edited a muckraking exposé of the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, written by Georgine Milmine. Even before she became a novelist Cather had written across and within a number of literary discourses: reviewing, poetry, muckraking journalism, autobiography, short fiction.

One might put “novelist” in inverted commas, since Cather’s inflection of this term was ongoing. Her novels sometimes seemed to their readers, in their plotlessness and episodic construction, to be barely novels at all. Cather herself would adopt the term . . .

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