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Cather Studies, Volume 9

Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

Cather Studies

Publication Year: 2011

Linking Willa Cather to “the modern” or “modernism” still seems an eccentric proposition to some people. Born in 1873, Cather felt tied to the past when she witnessed the emergence of twentieth-century modern culture, and the clean, classical sentences in her fiction contrast starkly with the radically experimental prose of prominent modernists. Nevertheless, her representations of place in the modern world reveal Cather as a writer able to imagine a startling range of different cultures.

Divided into two sections, the essays in Cather Studies, Volume 9 examine Willa Cather as an author with an innovative receptivity to modern cultures and a powerful affinity with the visual and musical arts. From the interplay between modern and antimodern in her representations of native culture to the music and visual arts that animated her imagination, the essays are unified by an understanding of Cather as a writer of transition whose fiction meditates on the cultural movement from Victorianism into the twentieth century. 

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Cather Studies

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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Editorial Policy

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pp. vii-viii

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, the artistic, historical, intellectual...

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pp. ix-xx

To some, linking Willa Cather to “the modern” or more narrowly to literary modernism still seems an eccentric proposition. As Richard Millington has pointed out, “one will look in vain for Cather’s name in the index of most accounts, whether new or old, of the nature and history of Anglo-American modernism...

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1. Willa Cather in and out of Zane Grey’s West

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pp. 1-20

In her fictions and elsewhere in her life Cather frequently invoked the landscapes and themes of the American “Western”: the Protean, multimedia genre, rooted in the fantastic inscription of European desires on the American continent and people, which achieved its most self-conscious and finished form...

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2. Thea’s “Indian Play” in The Song of the Lark

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pp. 21-44

Much critical attention has been paid to the role of southwestern Indian ruins in The Professor’s House; however, far less space has been devoted to the use Cather makes of indigenous culture in The Song of the Lark. In The Professor’s House, Tom Outland’s experiences with cliff-dweller culture include...

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3. “Jazz Age” Places: Modern Regionalism in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House

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pp. 45-66

To appreciate Cather as a modern writer, we must come to terms with her complex relationship to regionalism; her vivid depictions of the Midwest, although celebrated, can also relegate her to the margins of American modernism. As Guy Reynolds suggests, “this, finally, is the lesson that Cather teaches us about...

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4. Changing Trains: Metaphors of Transfer in Willa Cather

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pp. 67-92

It seems almost silly to write that during all of Willa Cather’s life, trains were the primary mode of transport between cities. Even towns of modest size—for example, wayside Red Cloud—might have at least one eastbound and one westbound trunk-line stop each day. Yet the fact that trains are casually omnipresent...

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5. Chicago’s Cliff Dwellers and The Song of the Lark

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pp. 93-113

Cather throws Thea, the heroine of The Song of the Lark, into the cauldron of social, economic, cultural, and artistic forces bubbling in 1890s Chicago. When Thea needs to recuperate from the exhaustion and illness caused by working in Chicago, she spends time at the Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings...

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6. Willa Cather and Henry Blake Fuller: More Building Blocks for The Professor’s House

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pp. 114-132

In his study of the making of The Professor’s House, David Harrell asserts that the influence of Mesa Verde “accounts for more of the novel’s final form and meaning” than any other material. He concedes, however, that there were clearly many influences on the novel and that...

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7. Cather’s “Office Wives” Stories and Modern Women’s Work

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pp. 133-157

“Miss Willa Cather, the editor of the Home Monthly, is . . . such a thoroughly up-to-date woman she certainly should be mentioned among the pioneers in woman’s advancement” (2), wrote Jeanette Barbour in an 1897 interview with the up-and-coming young editor. Barbour’s short interview appeared...

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8. It’s Mr. Reynolds Who Wishes It Profit and Prestige Shared by Cather and Her Literary Agent

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pp. 158-181

In the introduction to My Ántonia (1918), a fictionalized author, ostensibly an unnamed version of Cather herself, tells a story of soliciting and receiving a manuscript from her childhood friend Jim Burden, adding, “the following narrative is Jim’s manuscript, substantially as he brought it to me” (xiii)...

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9. Thea at the Art Institute

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pp. 182-203

In an important scene in The Song of the Lark, Thea Kronborg finally goes to the Art Institute of Chicago—something she has been urged to do for months. Cather not only describes Thea’s joy at her discovery of this museum but also tells readers which sculptures and paintings Thea finds particularly interesting...

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10. Art and the Commercial Object as Ekphrastic Subjects in The Song of the Lark and The Professor’s House

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pp. 204-224

Although we often note Willa Cather’s devotion to high art and the frequency with which she depicts art and aesthetic experience in her fiction, we do not seem to have identified her use of ekphrasis as such—ekphrasis being the rhetorical figure that is most simply defined as “the verbal representation of a...

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11. “ The Nude Had Descended the Staircase”: Katherine Anne Porter Looks at Willa Cather Looking at Modern Art

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pp. 225-243

The phrase quoted in my title, “the nude had descended the staircase,” comes from Katherine Anne Porter’s essay “Reflections on Willa Cather.” Its allusion is of course to the painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) by Marcel Duchamp, first exhibited in the United States at the 1913 Armory...

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12. “The Cruelty of Physical Things”: Picture Writing and Violence in Willa Cather’s “The Profile”

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pp. 244-265

As one of her earliest works of fiction, Willa Cather’s “The Profile” reveals a great deal about what later became the consistent use of visual imagery and visual art reference in her work. This essay examines the visual semiotics in “The Profile,” assessing Cather’s knowledge of modern art discourses in relation...

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13. “Before Its Romanzas Have Become Street Music”: Cather and Verdi’s Falstaff, Chicago, 1895

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pp. 266-288

In March 1895, as Willa Cather was about to graduate from the University of Nebraska, she traveled with a university librarian friend, Mary Jones, to Chicago to hear five opera performances featuring Metropolitan Opera stars making their annual visit to the Auditorium Theatre.1 The trip was a momentous...


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pp. 289-292


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pp. 293-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780803239753
E-ISBN-10: 0803239750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803237728
Print-ISBN-10: 0803237723

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 8 illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Cather Studies