On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather

On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather

On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather

On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather

Synopsis

Willa Cather's fiction frequently plays out on "the divide," the high prairie land of Nebraska, where the author herself lived as a child. This book suggests that Cather's own life played out on a divide as well, deliberately measured out between different roles and personae that made their way into her writing. On the Divide analyzes the iconic image that Cather helped develop for herself, in contrast to the anonymous face she adopted for promotional activities and the very different private self she shared only with friends and family. Delving into Cather's correspondence and the little-known promotional material she produced anonymously, David Porter provides new insight into the extent-and direction-of her control. He also considers the contrasting influences of Mary Baker Eddy, whose biography Cather ghostwrote, and Sarah Orne Jewett on the author's emerging artistic persona. The study goes on to explore the many ways in which these "divides" in Cather's life found expression in her writing. Extending from Cather's early stories to her final novel, Porter's book documents the degree to which Cather's understanding of her own different and often conflicting sides, and of her penchant for playing diverse roles, enabled her as a novelist to create characters so torn, so complex, and so profoundly human.

Excerpt

How does it happen that someone whose background is in classics and music, and who had never read a book by Willa Cather until his late forties, now has the audacity to write a book about her?

It all began when my late wife, Laudie, who had read and loved Cather since her high school years, finally got around to reading The Song of the Lark in 1982, when we were living in Minnesota and both teaching at Carleton College. One summer day, when she was about halfway through, she said to me, “I’ve decided two things about this book. First, it’s about a musician, and I love it so much that I’m not going to finish it yet—I want to save that for the future. I’ve also learned that Cather cut a good bit out of her original text when she published the version I’m reading. I don’t want to finish the book until I have the first edition and can read everything she wrote.” As a fellow musician—she was a flutist, I a pianist—I was touched by her first comment, and the second came suddenly to mind when I was in New York several months later and realized that Christmas was coming soon, and that I didn’t have a present for Laudie. I visited several New York bookshops and was lucky enough to find a first edition of The Song of the Lark—a bit stained and battered, and without a dust jacket, but the real thing. While I was at it, I picked up a couple of other Cather firsts as well.

The gifts were a great hit with Laudie—about the best I’d ever done at this uncertain business of finding presents for one’s spouse—and they fired both her enthusiasm and mine for finding other first editions of Cather. It’s an addictive pastime, as other bibliomanes know well, and before long we were moving beyond Cather to Edith Wharton and to Virginia and Leonard Woolf ‘s Hogarth Press. By 1985 we had completed a nice run of Cather firsts—one of my most poignant memories is of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.