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Reviewed by:
  • Seeking Life Whole: Willa Cather and the Brewsters
  • Laura Winters
Seeking Life Whole: Willa Cather and the Brewsters. By Lucy Marks and David Porter. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009. 235 pages, $35.00.

Seeking Life Whole: Willa Cather and the Brewsters possesses a companionable style, a seriousness of purpose, a superb use of the Cather Archive materials at the Drew University Library in Madison, New Jersey, and represents a genuine contribution to Cather studies. In addition to offering a rich vein of new research for all of us to mine and respond to, this volume is also a fascinating and powerful meditation on friendship, beauty, the spiritual quest, the tensions and connections between Western and Eastern understandings of transcendence and Oneness, the artistic process, the mysterious relation between life and art, the joys and challenges of living in exile, as well as the complexities of marriage and child-rearing. It, of course, helps us read the whole body of Cather's fiction more fully while it beautifully reveals a significant chapter in Cather's life—her decades-long friendship with the artists Earl and Achsah Brewster, and the profound impact of her friendship with the Brewsters on her fiction.

David Porter's chapter, "Happy Working Days," is so interesting and so compressed while it raises so many questions about Cather's work in light of the influence of the Brewsters that it will keep many Cather scholars busy making connections and following threads of influence [End Page 307] for many years to come. I can honestly say that Porter's work has made me rethink Cather's fiction from her earliest stories through "Old Mrs. Harris" (1932).

At the same time, I had no idea how fascinated I would become by the Brewsters who, according to this volume, "had a radiant and unshakeable sense of a noble purpose in art and life that had little to do with societal recognition or reward" (18). Lucy Mark's chapter, "Earl and Achsah Brewster: A Biographical Sketch," brings this couple and their daughter Harwood so fully to life that any person who possesses even the slightest understanding of the compelling power of the restless search for answers about ultimate reality will want to stay in the Brewsters' company for many years, as Willa Cather did.

This volume includes a biographical sketch of the Brewsters, an exploration of the aesthetic connections between Cather and the Brewsters, a checklist of the materials in the Brewster Archive at Drew, a description of Cather books and letters owned by the Brewsters (and housed at Drew University), the text of Earl Brewster's essay written for Willa Cather Living, as well as Edith Lewis's revisions to that essay (the essay, of course, never appeared in that memoir), also selections from Achsah Brewster's memoir "The Child," selections from Harwood Brewster Picard's "Fourteen Years of My Adventures," selections from "To Frances and Claire, Some Memories of Your Grandparents Earl Henry Brewster and Achsah Barlow Brewster by Your Mother Harwood Brewster Picard," selected letters of Earl and Achsah Barlow Brewster, as well as wonderful photographs and illustrations.

How this volume describes Earl Brewster's essay for Willa Cather Living could also apply to the many excellences of Seeking Life Whole by Lucy Marks and David Porter: "Given its explicit focus on Cather ... it identifies ... those qualities that so drew the Brewsters to Cather—her candor and sincerity, her directness, her appreciation both of the refinements of life and of its simple pleasures, her warmth and receptiveness" (140). I hope readers will all appreciate as much as I do the candor, sincerity, directness, warmth, receptiveness, and appreciation of the refinements of life as embodied in this wonderful new work. [End Page 308]

Laura Winters
College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, New Jersey


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pp. 307-308
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