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B R U C E B A K E R II University of Omaha Nebraska Regionalism in Selected Works of Willa Gather Although Willa Cather was born near Winchester, Virginia, in 1873,1 her name is usually associated with Nebraska. And well it might be, for her father, Charles Cather, and his family moved to the vicinity of Red Cloud, Nebraska, in 1883, where Willa lived from that time until her graduation from the University of Nebraska in 1895. There among the high grass of the Nebraska prairie lands, Cather was reared in what impressed her as being a bleak, often cruel country inhabited by both native and foreign-born farmers2 who tried but often failed to survive on those plains. In 1890 the State University at Lincoln offered the young, mannishly dressed girl3 some relief from the comparative intellectual sterility of Red Cloud and many of its people. In his account of Willa Cather’s Campus Years, James Shively observes: “It is true that Lincoln, Nebraska, was undoubtedly something less than the Athens of America, but for an alert and ambitious student it provided stimu­ 1Cf. Leon Edel’s note in Willa Cather, A Critical Biography, by E. K. Brown (New York, 1953), p. 17: “In many current works of reference the birth date i9 given as December 6, 1876, a date incompatible with the registered date of her brother’s birth. Brown was told that Miss Cather began to give 1876 as the year of her birth when she was on the staff of McClure’s Magazine and that she did so because S. S. McClure advised her to subtract two or three years from her age. . . . Brown was able finally to determine the date from a letter written by Willa Cather’s father to his brother, George P. Cather, in Nebraska.” 2Cf. Willa Cather, “Nebraska: The End of the First Cycle,” Nation, CXVII (September 5, 1923), 237: “[The census figures of 1910 indicate that there were] 228,648 foreign-born and native-born Germans living in Nebraska; 103,503 Scandinavians; 50,680 Czechs. The total foreign population of the State was then 900,571, while the entire population was 1,192,214. That is, in round numbers, there were about nine hundred thousand foreign Americans in the State, to three hundred thousand native stock.” sNumerous letters written by Willa Cather’s classmates at the University of Nebraska are collected in James R. Shively, ed., Writings from Willa Cather’s Campus Years (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1950). Many of the correspondents comment on their classmate’s rather odd, man­ nish dress; the following excerpt from E. C. Ames’ letter (p. 135) is typical: “She wore her hair cut short like a man’s and was very mannish in her appearance and actions.” 20 Western American Literature lating opportunities. Its university, which had been founded twenty years before, offered a solid, basically classical program of courses, sponsored student activities which were almost entirely intellectual, and included in its circle an amazing group of subsequently disinguished people.”4 Then, too, Lincoln “also held a hint of the Eastern cities for which Willa Cather had begun to long.”5 After graduation Cather left Nebraska in 1896, took a job in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as managing editor of the Home Monthly magazine for a year, and wrote for the Daily Leader until 1901, when she began a five-year interval of teaching in the city’s high schools. During these early years Willa Cather spent much of her time writing—and rewriting—poetry and short stories; in such works is evident her early literary response to the region in which she was reared. The course of that response to Nebraska and its people, an attitude at first vindictive but soon ambivalent, is the subject of this paper. Especially in the short stories of this early period is conveyed what E. K. Brown calls an “almost unmitigated hate and fear” of the Nebraska scene.6 “On the Divide,” first published in Overland Monthly for January, 1896, is, it seems to me, the most vindictive. Canute Canuteson, a gigantic Norwegian, drinks “alone and in solitude not for pleasure or good cheer, but to forget the awful loneliness...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 19-35
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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