Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

Synopsis

Linking Willa Cather to "the modern" or "modernism" still seems an eccentric proposition to some people. Born in 1873, Cather felt tied to the past when she witnessed the emergence of twentieth-century modern culture, and the clean, classical sentences in her fiction contrast starkly with the radically experimental prose of prominent modernists. Nevertheless, her representations of place in the modern world reveal Cather as a writer able to imagine a startling range of different cultures. Divided into two sections, the essays in Cather Studies, Volume 9 examine Willa Cather as an author with an innovative receptivity to modern cultures and a powerful affinity with the visual and musical arts. From the interplay between modern and anti-modern in her representations of native culture to the music and visual arts that animated her imagination, the essays are unified by an understanding of Cather as a writer of transition whose fiction meditates on the cultural movement from Victorianism into the twentieth century.

Excerpt

Melissa J. Homestead and Guy J. Reynolds

To some, linking Willa Cather to “the modern” or more narrowly to literary modernism still seems an eccentric proposition. As Richard Millington has pointed out, “one will look in vain for Cather’s name in the index of most accounts, whether new or old, of the nature and history of Anglo-American modernism” (52). Perhaps she fails to feature in these accounts because in her public pronouncements and certain recurring motifs in her fiction, she appeared to turn her back on modernity. Cather was skeptical about many aspects of the culture that took shape around her in the early decades of the twentieth century, in that most modern place, the United States of America. Born in rural Virginia during the decade following the Civil War, Cather felt herself to be part of a vanished world. She was already in her twenties when the generation of canonical American modernist novelists (F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway) was born, and late-Victorian culture formed her childhood world. By the time the modernist moment had decisively crystallized in the 1920s and 1930s, Cather was issuing jeremiads condemning aspects of modern life she felt to be cheap or “gaudy.” in her essay “Nebraska: the End of the First Cycle” (1923) she attacked movies, consumerism, and education policy (including the changes at her alma mater, the University of Nebraska, that, in her eyes, made it a “trade” school). Cather’s title . . .

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