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Reviews After the World Broke in Two: The Later Novels of Willa Cather. By Merrill Maguire Skaggs. (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1990. 212 pages, $25.00.) Concluding this excellent book, Professor Skaggs observes that “The most exciting fact about Willa Gather’s fiction is that it is inexhaustible”and, as close second, she notes that “scholars have begun to give it the attention it deserves.” Indeed it is and indeed we have. Cather criticism is burgeoning throughout the academe: articles, biographies, and critical studies are appearing in what seems ever-increasing numbers; Cather Studies, a biennial from the University of Ne­ braska—Lincoln, has been established; and (to clinch the point) Modem Fiction Studies was able to publish an essay review by Susan J. Rosowski of nine Catherrelated volumes published between 1987 and 1990 in their special Cather issue (36, no. 1 [1990]). In such a context Skaggs’s After the World Broke in Two appears. The context is worth noting for at least two reasons: first, Skaggs is able to draw gracefully and effectively here on the work of the major biographers and critics whose sustained works have preceded hers; indeed, the power of her argument, clearly, is one borne of accumulation: offering her own readings, Skaggs is as much extending, juxtaposing, and synthesizing as she is originating. The sec­ ond reason for noting this book’s context is for fear it will be lost amid the welter of Cather publication. It should not be, since this book deserves a broad audience: it offers precise control of rich detail and, more particularly, a tone of serene wisdom that is well deserved. Indeed, After the World Broke in Two isjust the sort of criticism Willa Cather’s fiction deserves, for in many ways it mirrors the best qualities of its subject. Using as her departure Cather’s well-known assertion in her prefatory note to Not Under Forty that “The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts . . .,” Skaggs examines the novels published from that year until Cather’s last, from One of Ours (1922) to Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940). The story of this progress, Skaggs asserts, is “worth telling,” for she assumes that “this most autobiographical of writers leaves traces of her intellectual struggles and pas­ sions in the texts of her novels,” and, concurrently, that “after 1922” Cather sought “to find a way to weld her world whole again.”By offering what amounts to an “intellectual history”of the origins of these books—one that finds almost eerie correspondences between Cather’s earliest ideas and her ultimate attain­ ments in fiction—Skaggs demonstrates the primacy of the autobiographical in 64 Western American Literature Cather (by both inclusion and omission), her penchant for experimentation, and her working through opposites (for example, that Lucy Gayheart reverses The Song ofthe Lark). Skaggs’s readings of A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and My MortalEnemy are particularly impressive, but the whole constitutes an impor­ tant addition to Cather studies, not least of all because of its relation to the work of others. After the World Broke in Two will be read, carefully pondered, and responded to—as such, it is scholarship in the very best sense. ROBERT THACKER St. Lawrence University The MarginalMan asNovelist: The Norwegian-American Writers, H. H. Boyesen and 0. E. R0lvaag, as Critics of American Institutions. By Neil T. Eckstein. (New York: Garland, 1990. 203 pages, $50.00.) The Marginal Man as Novelist treats three Norwegian-American authors, Thorstein Veblen, H. H. Boyesen, and O. E. R0lvaag. An only slightly revised version of Neil T. Eckstein’s doctoral dissertation from the 1960s, the book is nonetheless an interesting and useful study of an important aspect of American literature. Most interesting are the chapters on Veblen and R0lvaag. Although Veblen is the only American-born author of the three, Eckstein finds him the most marginal: both Boyesen and R0lvaag, Eckstein writes, “found their identity within American society to a much greater extent than Veblen.” Boyesen is shown to be the least marginal, so much so that one wonders whether the label marginal fits him. The treatment ofVeblen, the only non-novelist of the three...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 63-64
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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