Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century

Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century

Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century

Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century

Synopsis

Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century explores, with textual specificity and historical alertness, the question of how the cultures of the nineteenth century--the cultures that shaped Willa Cather's childhood, animated her education, supplied her artistic models, generated her inordinate ambitions, and gave embodiment to many of her deeply held values--are addressed in her fiction.

In two related sets of essays, seven contributors track within Cather's life or writing the particular cultural formations, emotions, and conflicts of value she absorbed from the atmosphere of her distinct historical moment; their ten colleagues offer a compelling set of case studies that articulate the manifold ways that Cather learned from, built upon, or resisted models provided by particular nineteenth-century writers, works, or artistic genres. Taken together with its Cather Studies predecessor, Willa Cather and Modern Cultures, this volume reveals Cather as explorer and interpreter, sufferer and master of the transition from a Victorian to a Modernist America.

Excerpt

Anne L. Kaufman and Richard H. Millington

In the well-known studio photograph (c. 1910) that serves as the frontispiece for this volume, Willa Cather appears— to some advantage—wearing a “necklace given to her by Sarah Orne Jewett.” We propose this elegant image, with its implicit acknowledgment of a twentieth-century writer’s bond to a nineteenth-century predecessor, as an emblem of the intellectual enterprise of Cather Studies 10. But the emblem is not a simple one: instructed by a dress historian of our acquaintance, we note that Cather’s outfit—“a brown silk [and] velvet dress with a matching hat trimmed in gold and osprey feathers,” in Mildred Bennett’s description—is thoroughly up to date, a “dressy” afternoon outfit with an especially “stylish” hat. Intriguingly, Jewett’s gift necklace—made of “white jade tinted with pink and green” (Bennett again)—may well be the most fashion-forward part of the ensemble (this style later came to be called a “tango necklace”). We thus glimpse in this arresting image no antiquarian figure, clad in the sartorial vestiges of a lamented Victorian world; rather, Willa Cather has here composed her quite . . .

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