Willa Cather

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

Excerpt

Contemporary criticism lacks perspective. There is no better proof of this than the welcome given to' a new book by a writer already famous. Whatever its worth, whatever its girth, it is always So-and-so's latest masterpiece. There is sometimes an attempt to appraise it in the light of the author's former work, but too often the reader is hard put to it to see if the reviewer is praising another Tess of the D'Urbervilles or a work--perfectly charming perhaps, not to be easily matched among its own diminutive peers--of the third or fourth magnitude. The reviewer may damn with faint praise: the book must be very bad indeed for him to dare to say Mr. Famous Writer's latest is bad.

Willa Cather has never published a bad book. Ergo, all of her work is of the same excellence, all of it has the same importance: thus, at least do too many critics and reviewers seem to argue. If they venture to praise one book above the others, even the best must needs choose-- a typical example of the lack of perspective--a novelette like A Lost Lady . I am not insensitive to A Lost Lady's charm. It has some of Willa Cather's finest touches, it has delicacy, it has pathos. I am even willing to call it a perfect full-length portrait--on a small scale. But why call it her best work when she has written One of Ours , The Professor's House , Death Comes for the Archbishop , works of sustained power, breadth of vision and of compass, variety of interest, truly to be called great? Also (shall I confess it, when no critic that I have read has . . .

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