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Willa Cather's Lost Boy: "Paul's Case" and Bohemian Tramping
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Terrell Scott Herring  

Terrell Scott Herring recently completed his dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His articles have appeared in PMLA, African American Review, and The Southern Quarterly.


1. For more on the connections between "body-building and nation-building," see Seltzer (149).

2. This seemingly innocuous charge is more severe than twenty-first-century readers would imagine. For more on the politics of social control, spectatorship, and the disciplining of the late nineteenth-century body, see Kasson.

3. Though I am indebted to many of his insights, for the moment I part with Claude J. Summers' intertextual reading of "Paul's Case." Summers' central thesis is that "the thing not named [in the story] is Paul's homosexuality, a presence made palpable not by direct statement but by numerous hints and a distinct emotional aura and verbal mood" (108). For a similar account of Catherian sexuality, see Anders.

4. The forms of mobility I am describing are primarily male. Given their ties to the home and the husband, turn-of-the-century bourgeois adolescent girls were not nearly as free to wander about the city or the nation. This is not to imply, however, that questions of transience and travel were peripheral to the formation of urban— or regional—female identities as well as tacial and ethnic identities. See Wilson, Buck-Morss, and Bowlby for accounts of female mobility in the city. Also, for an inspired reading of rural female transience that has influenced my thinking on anti-communal relationality, see Galehouse.

5. Here I find Muñoz's catchphrase "disidentification" both useful and problematic. He defines "disidentification" as a tactic used by minority queers to distance themselves from social norms in order to construct novel counterpublics (4-11). While I agree that queers of any historical moment should strive to distinguish themselves from heteronormative locales, I also want to explore how certain sexually suspect individuals attempt to overcome the demands of any discernable identity.

6. Though Paul is never explicitly referred to as a "tramp boy," Cather does use this term to describe the wandering adolescent in The Professor's House. Inquiring about the vagabond Tom Outland, Mrs. St. Peter states, "'Well, this is something new in students, Godfrey. We ask a poor perspiring tramp boy to lunch, to save his pennies, and he departs leaving princely gifts'" (121). Also see Trask for an insightful account of transient tramping's relationship to "the crossing of low desires" which are "beyond the decorous settlement of . . . the bourgeois family" (6).

7. This is not the stereotypically free-loving, socialist Bohemian of Greenwich Village. Cather's unique Bohemian ideal was instead heavily based on Continental decadent movements such as the French symbolists and the British aesthetes.

8. Here I follow Slote, who suggests that "Willa Cather had by 1896 gravitated to a fundamentally primitivistic position—histotical, cultural, and human" (33). Yet I also disagree with her claim that Cather rejected discourses of Bohemian primitivism that were circulating in twentieth-century popular literatures. Indeed, Cather tweaks this model to her own ends in "Paul's Case," and we can find vestiges of this ideal in some of her most earthy and critically lauded texts. One has only to recall Jim's exotic infatuation with Ántonia and his journey back into the "primitive" heartland in My Ántonia (1918) or Godfrey St. Peter's obsession with Tom Outland and the Southwest in The Professor's House (1925) to see how Cather extended the Bohemian infatuation with "exotic" locales into an overarching aesthetic.

9. As a figure of supreme social disruption, the tramp inspired numerous attempts at classification and control. In the late 1880s and 1890s, several states such as Illinois and Connecticut passed vagrancy laws that condemned the tramp's wandering as illegal and perverse. See Cresswell for more on juridical moves to suppress the tramp body and Chauncey, especially pp. 90-91, for more on the links between the male tramp and perversion.

10. This is even more striking given the current critical obsession with Cather's names. See Butler, Goldberg.

11. The connection between perversity and tramping that I have been tracing should be even more apposite given...

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