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A N N M O S E L E Y East Texas State University The Dual Nature of Art in The Song of the Lark The Song of the Lark is Willa Cather’s most thorough treatment of the mysteries of art, a novel which is not only an artistic creation within itself but which also presents in fictional form an intelligent and well developed theory of art. This theory, like Susanne K. Langer’s thesis in Feeling and Form/ acknowledges and even affirms the universal polari­ ties of reason and passion, soul and sense, discipline and freedom, while nevertheless maintaining the ideal state of art to be one of unity and totality. The dichotomy of Cather’s life and art has often been a source of comment, both for herself and her critics. In many of the early essays reprinted in The Kingdom of Art,2 she reveals the tortured division of her soul between the emotions of life and the solitary demands of art; moreover her friends Edith Lewis and Elizabeth Sergeant, as well as 1Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), pp. 16-17. 2Willa Cather, The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles and Critical Statements, 1893-1896, ed. by Bernice Slote (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), p. 109. 20 Western American Literature numerous critics such as Woodress, Cunliffe, and Miller,3have described her personal struggle between the call of the West, which gave her cour­ age and inspiration, and that of the East, which gave her control and perspective. These universal polarities are perhaps best expressed, how­ ever, by Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian and Appollonian4 aspects of life and art, the former representing passion, power, and freedom and the latter indicating beauty, clarity, and form. These opposing principles of Apollo and Dionysus and the accom­ panying search for a synthesis are present in Cather’s art from the earliest theoretical statements5 of the 1890’s. Moreover, when Cather turned her major energies from the role of critic to that of novelist, she retained her deep concern with the dichotomous nature of art and artists. In Alexander’s Bridge, for instance, Bartley is a talented architect whose inner conflict is represented by his Dionysian mistress Hilda and his Apollonian wife Winifred; and in O Pioneers! Alexandra, who makes an artistic arrangement of her farm, personifies the ordered Apollonian aspect of art and nature as opposed to the Dionysian passion and dis­ order of Emil and Marie. In The Song of the Lark, however, the Dionysian -Apollonian conflict is internalized within one main character — 3References to this conflict are scattered throughout Edith Lewis, Witla Cather Living: A Personal Record (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953); Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, Willa Cather: A Memoir (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1953) : and James Woodress, Willa Cather: Her Life and Art (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970). For more specific statements, see Marcus Cunliffe, “The Two or More Worlds of Willa Cather,” in The Art of Willa Cather, ed. by Bernice Slote and Virginia Faulkner (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974), pp. 21-47; James E. Miller, Jr., “Wharton and Cather: The Quest for Culture,” Quests Surd and Absurd: Essays in American Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 91-92; and Cather, The Kingdom of Art, pp. 143, 407, 423. \Slote. Jones, and Borgman have also used these terms to refer to the duality inherent in Cather’s art. In The Kingdom of Art, p. 81, Slote says that in her uni­ versity years Cather “was caught in that ancient pull of the gods, torn between the Dionysian and Apollonian forces of rapture and repose, release and containment” ; in an excerpt from The Bright Medusa reprinted in James Schroeter’s Willa Cather and her Critics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), p. 248, Howard Mumford Jones emphasizes the Dionysian aspect of Cather’s art as opposed to James’ Appol­ lonian art; and in “The Dialectic of Willa Cather’s Moral Vision,” Renascence, 27 (Spring 1975), 145-59, Paul Borgman correlates the Dionysian-Appollonian conflict with the Cain-Abel relationship as well as with his dialectic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 19-32
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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