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Willa Cather and William Faulkner

Merrill Maguire Skaggs

Publication Year: 2007

Axes traces the intimate relationship between the texts published by Willa Cather and William Faulkner between 1922 and 1962. When those texts are juxtaposed and examined carefully, the two writers seem intensely conscious of, and responsive to, each other’s work. In fact, both at some point appear to have caricatured or parodied the other in print. Judging by the texts they left behind, they titillated, offended, exhilarated, and—especially—energized each other. Some readers may conclude that for forty years they helped create each other—the rival geniuses and axes of American fiction in the twentieth century.
At the end of their lives, Cather planned a story to appear posthumously as advice to Faulkner about life and literary style; he planned his last novel to answer her in spirit and published it a month before his death. This groundbreaking study is provocative and sure to ignite the imaginations of literary critics and devoted readers of each author.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Parts of this book have appeared in earlier versions in my following essays: ...

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pp. xi-xx

The title of this book originates in Joseph R. Urgo's assertion that Willa Cather and William Faulkner represent "the horizontal and vertical axes of American literature."1 According to Urgo, Cather's work conveys horizontal movement in space, over a changing landscape, ...

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1. A Starting Point

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pp. 1-20

In 1921 William Faulkner had been educating himself by reading omnivorously for about two years, starting or gathering speed after he was mustered out of the RAF in December 1918. He had determined to be not only a writer but also a great writer, and had started by writing poetry to his lost love Estelle. ...

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2. Buzzing

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pp. 21-40

So far as an eye can presently see,Willa Cather hardly acknowledged Soldier's Pay, with the exception of one nod through a name mentioned briefly in "Before Breakfast," her last story. Nor did she exhibit any embarrassment whatsoever, at any time, about her implanted provocations to William Faulkner in One of Ours. ...

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3. Possession

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pp. 41-56

Now we must face that harder question: why did Willa Cather care so much what Faulkner had done to The Professor's House in Mosquitoes, since nobody was any longer reading Mosquitoes anyway? It was out of print by 1944 when she wrote her story "Before Breakfast." Obviously, these two writers had more unfinished business. ...

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4. The Sounds Become Fury

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pp. 57-78

In 1928, the year following the publication of Death Comes for the Archbishop, Faulkner was working on his great novel The Sound and the Fury, and he snatched for it whatever he pleased. At the least, he reived from Cather's My Ántonia, A Lost Lady, My Mortal Enemy, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. ...

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5. Dust Tracks on Some Roads

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pp. 79-98

What happened between Willa Cather and William Faulkner in the years 1930 to 1932 seems uncanny, as well as disturbing, even if we start (stretching credulity) by positing the possibility that by this time they are both able to anticipate the moves or thoughts of the other, to respond in their preferred ways, and then to leave a sense of inflicted injury behind. Such intuitions can, of course, happen. ...

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6. Sparring

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pp. 99-116

At first Cather's Shadows on the Rock (1931) seems only to address a good girl named Cécile Auclair, who perpetuates a satisfying way of life in Quebec at the end of the seventeenth century (see Skaggs, "Good Girl in Her Place"). Such a wholesome, law-abiding, parent-honoring lass is never portrayed by Faulkner at all, unless in a frigid and fearful coward such as Narcissa Benbow. ...

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7. Tit for Tat

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pp. 117-132

Light in August seemed to leave even William Faulkner feeling ambivalent. He stated, "I seemed to have a vision of it and the other ones subsequent to The Sound and the Fury ranked in order upon a shelf while I looked at the titled backs . . . with a flagging attention which was almost distaste" (Blotner 311).Willa Cather, on the other hand, ...

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8. Literary Hopscotch

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pp. 133-154

When Absalom, Absalom! became the final title for Faulkner's comprehensive rendition of the brave old antebellum South, that title had a relevant biblical ring like Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers and an apt exclamation point like O Pioneers! In this title alone, Faulkner referenced three of the five modern writers he felt were greatest ...

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9. Crossing the Finish Lines

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pp. 155-176

When Cather designed her posthumous volume of short stories, she planned to undermine her prominent female rivals in her first story, review her own career in her second, and summarize her adult conversations with William Faulkner in the third and last - her final word to him and to all. ...


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pp. 177-184

Works Cited

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pp. 185-190


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pp. 191-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780803256477
E-ISBN-10: 0803256477

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: Index
Publication Year: 2007