A Reader's Companion to the Fiction of Willa Cather

A Reader's Companion to the Fiction of Willa Cather

A Reader's Companion to the Fiction of Willa Cather

A Reader's Companion to the Fiction of Willa Cather


In correspondence, Willa Cather confessed to planting some of her allusions deep. This reader's companion contains thousands of lively and informative entries on persons, places, and events, fictional and real, and on quotations, works of art, and other items to reveal meanings or provide background for understanding Cather's fictional world. At the same time, it offers insights into her real world and time, her interests, and her astonishingly broad frame of reference. A lifetime project of encyclopedist John March, the once unwieldy manuscript and notes have been verified, clarified, amplified, and organized by literary scholar Marilyn Arnold, with the assistance of Debra Lynn Thornton. The goal was to develop a work that would be useful to the reader while preserving March's "authorial presence" has resulted in a dictionary that will both enlighten and delight.


The introduction to this volume indicates that it underwent something of a transformation in the hands of its editors. The longer we worked with it, the more we realized it had an important life of its own that probably should not be excessively tampered with. On the other hand, there was something to be gained from having someone with a little distance from the work exercise a bit of careful scrutiny in an effort to make it as useful and meaningful as possible to the reader.

We knew some things had to be done. Insofar as was possible, without retracing John March's steps entirely--and taking forty years in the process--my student associates made a gargantuan effort to verify those facts that are published in books and documents available in and through various libraries, archives, and public records. They also wrote letters and placed phone calls to potentially helpful sources of information. Where sources could be found, we checked all quotations and corrected any apparent errors in them. Where precise passages could not be traced, we deleted, substituted, or paraphrased quotations. In the pattern of encyclopedias, John March did not regularly include documentation in his materials, though occasionally he did. We had odd pieces of his correspondence and thousands of his notecards, however, and they sometimes provided helpful clues or documentary evidence. Rather than change his format and unduly lengthen his already long manuscript, we did not add source notations except where we verified and kept quotations, and in other rare instances where clarity seemed to demand it. All the March notes, as well as our source notations, are available at the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, Nebraska; anyone wishing to pursue a manuscript item in depth could begin there.

The largest liberty we took with the manuscript was in removing entries for Willa Cather's essays and poems. (We did, however, retain the code notations to the considerable number of items that are mentioned in essays and poems as well as in the fiction.) Since most of the essays have not yet been collected and the poems are less frequently read and taught than the fiction, with John March's concurrence, we elected to split the manuscript into two volumes and to prepare at this time only the portion dealing with the fiction. The hope, of course, is that before too long, someone will collect the magazine articles and prepare the second volume of the March handbook. It should also be noted that some of the short fiction that has been attributed to Willa Cather under a variety of pseudonyms does not appear in the March companion. As John March noted in his preface, he stayed with the known autographed canon when he was doing his work. For the most part, he omitted very early stories, pseudonymous stories, and stories of uncertain or collective authorship. In all, he omitted a dozen pieces, most of them slight and none of them well known.

As part of the verification process, we also checked, through a nifty software program called Indexetc (WordCruncher), to see that the textual references occurred where the codes in March's manuscript said they did. The reliability of the software . . .

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