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Cather Studies, Volume 7

Willa Cather as Cultural Icon

Cather Studies

Publication Year: 2007

Volume 7 of the Cather Studies series explores Willa Cather’s iconic status and its problems within popular and literary culture. Not only are Cather’s own life and work subject to enshrinement, but as a writer, she herself often returned to the motifs of canonization and to the complex relationship between the onlooker and the idealized object. Through textual study of her published novels and her behind-the-scenes campaign and publicity writing in service of her novels, the reader comes to understand the extent to which, despite her legendary claims and commitment to privacy, Willa Cather helped to orchestrate her own iconic status.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Cather Studies


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Editorial Policy

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pp. vii

Cather Studies, a forum for Cather scholarship and criticism, is published biennially by the University of Nebraska Press. Submissions are invited on all aspects of Cather studies: biography, various critical approaches to the art of Cather, her literary relationships and reputation...

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Introduction: Willa Cather as Icon

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pp. ix-xi

That Willa Cather, in many ways the most elusive of early-twentieth-century American writers, might now be thought of as an “icon” is one of literary history’s best jokes. Cather had a long career and moved through a variety of places and jobs and roles during her...

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A Commentary on An Explanation of America

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pp. 1-2

I tried to make An Explanation of America a long poem somewhat in the old, premodernist way: a compendious, heuristic tour of a subject, with many an allusion and submerged quotation. I had in mind a way of allusion (the root of that word is “to play,” as in...

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What Happens to Criticism When the Artist Becomes an Icon?

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pp. 3-12

Critics by themselves do not make writers into literary icons. But the iconic status of writers often owes much to the critics and scholars who edit the anthologies read in schools and colleges, write books and articles that teachers read in preparing their literature classes...

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Advertising Cather during the Transition Years (1914–1922)

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pp. 13-26

On 12 January 1921, Willa Cather wrote to Ferris Greenslet, her editor at Houghton Mifflin, to report that “Claude,” later to become One of Ours, would be published by Alfred Knopf. Although she had voiced numerous complaints about Houghton Mifflin’s...

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Willa Cather and Her Public in 1922

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pp. 27-45

Recent scholarship has substantially displaced the once widely accepted image of Willa Cather as an otherworldly aesthete, withdrawn from society in general (though with a few selected intimates) and unconcerned with material matters. Such a view of her was...

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A Portrait of an Artist as a Cultural Icon: Edward Steichen, Vanity Fair, and Willa Cather

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pp. 46-67

The twentieth-century phenomenon of the icon celebrity has a fundamental relationship to the photographic image. The invention of the camera led to the increasing presence of the visual image in American culture. As Catharine R. Stimpson contends in her foreword...

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Willa Cather and the Book-of-the-Month Club

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pp. 68-85

As if set against ever becoming a “cultural icon,” Willa Cather refused to allow her work to be issued in paperback, forbade its cinematic adaptation, and for several years opposed its distribution through book clubs. Nevertheless, at the urging of her friend Dorothy...

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“Two or Three Human Stories”: O Pioneers! and the Old Testament

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pp. 86-105

Scholarship on canon construction suggests that texts become literary icons in much the same way that symbols accrue meanings, that is, through association. If a canonical work is “authoritative in our culture” (Bloom 1), then an iconic work might be emblematic...

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Barbusse’s L’enfer: A Source for “Coming, Aphrodite!” and “The Novel Démeublé”

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pp. 106-118

Anyone who has read a great deal of Willa Cather’s work cannot help but realize that she was an ardent Francophile. Whether it was painting or literature—or cooking—Cather from an early age was convinced that the French had developed the arts to the highest degree...

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Recollecting Emotion in Tranquility: Wordsworth and Byron in Cather’s My Ántonia and Lucy Gayheart

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pp. 119-139

Matthew Arnold judged Wordsworth and Byron “first and pre-eminent in actual performance, a glorious pair, among the English poets of this century. . . . When the year 1900 is turned,” he added, “and our nation comes to recount her poetic glories in the century...

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“Have I Changed So Much?”: Jim Burden, Intertextuality, and the Ending of My Ántonia

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pp. 140-164

Jim Burden’s question to an Ántonia who does not recognize him after two decades—“Have I changed so much?” (322)—has had an unintended significance over the past thirty-five years, during which Jim has gone from a quiet, romantic memoir writer to the...

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Shadows on the Rock: Against Interpretation

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pp. 165-173

In an early scene in Shadows on the Rock, Cécile Auclair has prevailed upon Mother Juschereau to tell her a story of the exemplary piety of her predecessor, Sister Catherine de Saint- Augustin. As the story comes to an end, Mother Juschereau is preparing to deliver...

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Cather’s Shadows: Solid Rock and Sacred Canopy

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pp. 174-185

Willa Cather seemed to have little interest in developing herself into a popular icon beyond encouraging the early image of a girl on a pony riding over vast prairies on her way to butter-making and story-telling immigrant homemakers, and the later one of the natural artist...

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Cather’s Secular Humanism: Writing Anacoluthon and Shooting Out into the Eternities

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pp. 186-202

When a writer reaches iconic status, we seek less to find a context through which we may comprehend the author (how and why should she be read?) and begin to contemplate the various contexts made available to us through the author’s work. The iconic, in other...

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Subsequent Reflections on Shadows on the Rock

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pp. 203-211

In the spirited discussion that followed the presentation of these three papers at the Breadloaf Seminar, my argument got translated, I believe, into a version of the time-honored “murder to dissect” debate: Should we be interpreting Cather’s works at all? I confess to...

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Cather, Freudianism, and Freud

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pp. 212-228

This essay does not argue for or particularly examine Willa Cather’s cultural iconicity. It grew from my personal conviction of the immense significance of Cather’s writing, and from my old but unexamined habit of linking her mentally with another writer...

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Cather’s Medical Icon: Euclide Auclair, Healing Art, and the Cultivated Physician

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pp. 229-252

Written after the deaths of her parents, amid unstable health, and during her retreats to Grand Manan, Shadows on the Rock was a refuge for Willa Cather, perhaps even a synthesis of values she believed to be disappearing from the culture of the 1930s. As consoling...

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The Dialectics of Seeing in Cather’s Pittsburgh: “Double Birthday” and Urban Allegory

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pp. 253-268

Willa Cather’s stature as cultural icon is inextricable from the iconography of her settings. Her fiction famously engages the spectacles of the Divide and the Southwest, but it draws equally and fundamentally upon those of the modern city. Cather’s modern...

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Antithetical Icons? Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and the First World War

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pp. 269-287

In books and articles devoted to Willa Cather’s fiction, Ernest Hemingway’s name typically appears in connection with just one work—Cather’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel One of Ours, published in 1922. As Cather scholars rarely fail to mention, Hemingway...

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Icons and Willa Cather

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pp. 288-302

I remain skeptical about the political tactic of calling any deeply admired or complex figure an icon. Icons, by definition, are easily recognized by simple people, are quickly replaced by fresher icons, and are magnetic to iconoclasts. Further, Cather’s now-well-known...

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“A Critic Who Was Worthy of Her”: The Writing of Willa Cather: A Critical Biography

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pp. 303-328

Writing to E. K. Brown in October 1946, Canadian poet Duncan Campbell Scott commented favorably on Brown’s essay “Homage to Willa Cather,” which had just appeared in the Yale Review. After naming the Cather titles he is familiar with...


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pp. 329-333


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pp. 335-354

E-ISBN-13: 9780803209916
E-ISBN-10: 0803209916

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: Illus.
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Cather Studies