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3 6 6 WAL 3 4 .3 F a l l 1999 reading Austin’s fantasy, Outland, stimulated Cather to complete The Professor’s House, and she outlines some interesting parallels between these two very different texts. Stout is an excellent guide on these literary journeys, but there are a few places where I would have welcomed more discussion. In the chapter on Morrison, why does Stout focus primarily on Beloved and Jazz■ Her insightful discussions of those two texts, and less extensive references to Morrison’s other works, make me wonder why she has nothing to say about Tar Baby. Through the Window, Out the Door should be particularly interesting to scholars of western American literature for several reasons. First, Stout brings a new perspective to western writers such as Austin, Cather, Didion, and Robinson. Second, female versions of the journey balance the mascu­ line images of ritualized flight and self-exploration that have long domi­ nated western literature. Third, Stout draws on the work that has been done by western literature scholars and situates hers within it; for example, in her conclusion she points out how the images she analyzes of home and departure, public and private, are central to the comparison essays, many of them by members of the Western Literature Association, collected by Nancy Owen Nelson in Private Voices, Public Lives. Willa Cather Scholarly Edition of Obscure Destinies. By Willa Cather. Lincoln: U niversity o f N ebraska Press, 1998. 460 pages, $65.00. Reviewed by Martin Padget U niversity o f W ales, Aberystw yth Published in 1932, a year after the appearance of her sixth novel in ten years, Obscure Destinies culminated a decade of popular success and lauda­ tory acknowledgment of Willa Cather’s literary achievement. The book contains three of her best-known stories—“Neighbour Rosicky,” “Old Mrs. Harris,” and “Two Friends”—each of which demonstrates a masterful con­ trol of characterization, plot, dialogue, and narrative pacing. Given the stories were written in the aftermath of her father’s death in 1928, and during the long illness that led to her mother passing away in 1931, it is hardly surprising that each draws on Cather’s experience of grow­ ing up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and meditates on universal themes of life, death, selfhood, and community. Yet although Cather revisits the Great Plains environment with which she had become so identified through her earlier fictions, on this occasion the author’s preoccupation with memory and the homeplace both demonstrates a command of narrative and evinces the tender melancholy of a woman taking stock not only of her parents’ lives but of a generation of Plains inhabitants whose livelihoods had Book Review s 3 6 7 changed in profound ways between the 1880s and early 1930s. This scholarly edition of Obscure Destinies provides an accurate critical text, a historical essay for biographical detail and context, copious explana­ tory notes, a textual commentary, and a historical collation recording changes in the book’s different editions. It enables readers to trace Cather’s thorough and subtle revision process and to appreciate the author’s preoc­ cupation with the appearance and “feel” of the completed book. Having of late used a cheap paperback edition of O Pioneers! for teaching purposes, I must say it is a great physical pleasure to read Cather in her preferred for­ mat of heavy textured paper, large dark type, and wide margins. Beyond this, though, the format of the scholarly edition encourages slow and measured reading. The explanatory notes provide commentary on details and allu­ sions within the text that enrich the readers’ experience of the stories. Speaking personally, until reading this edition I was not aware of what “shingled” hair looked like, and as an Englishman I was a little embarrassed to realize I had little idea of when or why the Embankment was built along the River Thames! These allusions in “Neighbour Rosicky” to Polly’s “modern” appearance and the rationalization of urban space in Victorian London suggest that Cather brought a keen-eyed and cosmopolitan approach to her Great Plains fiction, despite the complaints of some critics in her own time, especially so during the depression, that her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 366-367
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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