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University of Nebraska at Omaha S U S A N J . R O S O W S K I The Pattern of Willa Cather’s Novels Willa Gather maintained that sympathy lies behind great art, which is “all a thing of feeling, you cannot apprehend it intellectually at all.”1 She wrote her novels out of this assumption and expected others to recognize it in reading them. Objecting to responses to The Professor’s House, for example, Cather maintained “this is really a story of ‘letting go with the heart’ but most reviewers seem to consider it an attempt to popularize a system of philosophy.”2 Yet theme, treated as philosophy, has been the focus of much Cather criticism; and, while studies have appeared on Cather’s search for value, her land philosophy, her religion, and her populism,3 “studies of [her] art, of novelistic techniques, style, and forms, have lagged behind the considerations of attitudes and '[Lincoln] Journal, January 26, 1896, p. 9; quoted in The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles and Critical Statements 1893-1896, ed. Bernice Slote (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1966), p. 120. See also the discussions on sympathy by Professor Slote, The Kingdom of Art, and by Edward A. Bloom and Lillian D. Bloom, Willa Cather’s Gift of Sympathy (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1962). 2Quoted by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, Willa Cather: A Memoir (1953; rpt. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1963), p. 215. 3See, for example, John H. Randall III, The Landscape and the Looking Glass: Willa Cather’s Search for Value (1960; rpt. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1973); Sister Lucy Schneider, C.S.J., essays on land philosophy in SDR, 6 (19681969 ), 53-64; KQ, 1 (1968), 105-110; MQ, 15 (1973). 61-69; MQ, 9 (1967), 75-94; CLQ, 8 (1968), 55-70; Renascence, 22 (1970), 78-86; Catherine M. McLay, “Reli­ gion in the Novels of Willa Cather,” Renascence, 27 (1975), 125-142; Evelyn J. Hinz, “Willa Cather’s Technique and the Ideology of Populism,” WAL, 7 (1972), 47-61. 244 Western American Literature materials.”4 Exceptions are notable. Twenty-five years ago, David Daiches specified that Gather’s novels are valuable “as individual literary works rather than as expressions of philosophy,” then based his own study upon this distinction: Cather “is interesting to me as a novelist rather than as a thinker, and her views are worth careful consideration only insofar as they are bound up with the structure and emotional pattern of the novels.”5 Twenty years later James E. Miller, Jr. still found it necessary to appeal to critics to “turn their attention from external matters . . . and focus on internal matters, on states of feeling and awareness.”0 The “emotional patterns” of Cather’s novels present the age-old duality of human existence. Each of us must mediate between two contrary impulses: on the one hand, we need family and friends who provide stability in the here and now; on the other, we need to break through the finite into the infinite by means of nature, art, and religion. Cather represents these impulses as two selves: one self is personal, temporal, and physical; a second self is impersonal, transcendent, and spiritual.7 Our lives are shaped by alternating between our responses to our two selves. In her novels, Cather explores the ways in which these two selves make up “the pattern of our lives.”8 Early novels present relatively straightforward patterns of growth: in O Pioneers! (1913) and The Song of the Lark (1915), Alexandra Bergson and Thea Kronborg have ideal conditions for such a pattern with the spiritual expanses offered by the Great Plains and by music. In successive novels Cather makes condi­ Bernice Slote, “Willa Cather,” in Jackson R. Bryer, ed., Sixteen Modern American Authors: A Survey of Research and Criticism (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1973), p. 57. 5Willa Cather: A Critical Introduction (1951; rpt. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1971), p. v. 6“Willa Cather and the Art of Fiction,” in The Art of Willa Cather, ed. Bernice Slote and Virginia Faulkner (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1974), p. 146. Marilyn Elizabeth Throne stresses imagery in her...


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