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Reviews 375 raphies of E. K. Brown and James Woodress, and the scholarship of Mildred Bennett and Bernice Slote. Ambrose describes her approach as personal, rooted in the sympathy which she, an aspiring young writer born in the South and transplanted to an unfamiliar world, feels for the artist who underwent similar experiences before becoming one of the most successful American women of letters. Ambrose is particularly sensitive to the challenges facing the female artist, yet her work lacks the high coloring of an appreciation, reflecting instead the influence of previous scholarship. The biography correctly identifies the critical settings and turning points of Gather’s life, but occasionally Ambrose leaves an emphasis undeveloped, or a possible source unacknowledged. She suggests that earlier biographers have slighted the significance of the first years in historic Virginia, and she hints at the importance of Cather’s relationship with her mother, a cultivated Southern lady. However, in the few pages allotted to the early years, Ambrose barely suggests the importance of influences which Sharon O’Brien closely examines in Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice. Although in her preface Ambrose mentions O’Brien’s work as an “overtly feminist approach,” Ambrose fails to acknowledge the broader contributions of the biography most directly concerned with Cather’s formative years. Ambrose is more effective in reviewing crucial periods illuminated by Slote, Lewis and Woodress. Following Slote, Ambrose highlights Cather’s developing aesthetic theory in her early journalism; like Lewis, Ambrose emphasizes Cather’s years as editor for McClure’s and her travels in the South­ west. Ambrose generally echoes Woodress’s accounts of the fiction, yet con­ cerning M y Antonia she repeats Lewis’s assertion that Cather composed chap­ ters of the novel in Nebraska in 1916, although Woodress states that Cather began the novel after returning to New York. Woodress’s Willa Cather: A Lit­ erary Life is the definitive source, yet Ambrose’s deepest allegiance rests with Lewis, whose appealing tone she often recaptures. Eleven photographs, includ­ ing Lucia Woods Lindley’s Virginia Prairie, an evocation of Cather’s frontier, enrich this useful addition to the Berg series on women. CHAPEL PETTY-SCHMITT University of New Mexico Mother Earth: An American Story. By Sam D. Gill. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 196 pages, $24.95.) This slim but fully packed and well-researched book provides a welcome respite from the mother-goddess cliché so lovingly expounded by New Age gurus, Indian-faddists, and others who love Native Americans but hate research. Gill supplies no panacea for those who insist on viewing Indians in a vacuum, but he certainly gives a wealth of data, interpretation, perspective, and (alas) agitation for any reader seeking a more holistic account of the cultural interactions between Whites and Indians. 376 Western American Literature Through careful and exhaustive textual comparison, Gill is able to show that much of our belief in the existence of an aboriginal mother-goddess derives from a very few accounts (mainly of comments by Tecumseh and Smoholla) which have been mistranslated, misinterpreted, and misquoted, not only by scholars and journalists, but—ironically—by many Indians as well. The con­ cept, as Gill sees it, is one that grew among and between Whites and Indians during more than a century of stress over treatment and ownership of the land. Thus it is an emergent story, and not transmitted directly from ancient heritage; not unimportant, but unrecognized in its complexity and depth of interaction. Gill argues (and this will surely perturb those who already have an opinion on the matter) that there was no aboriginal Mother Goddess among American Indians, but rather that they used the idea of the earth as the mother of all things in the way of symbol and metaphor—especially in dealing with Whites, for it seemed to be the only figure of speech which could convey any sense of the familial relationship the Indians felt between themselves and the natural world. Many tribes do have female mythic figures, and they often do play a role in personifying fertility or relations to the earth. However, they are not thought to be the earth, nor are they regarded as goddesses. Most refer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 375-377
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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