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Book Reviews A Lost Lady. By W illa Cather. Scholarly Edition edited by Susan J. Rosowski and James Woodress. Historical Essay by Susan J. Rosowski with Kari A. Ronning. Explanatory Notes by Kari A. Ronning. Textual Editing by Charles W. Mignon and Frederick M. Link. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. 371 pages, $55.00. My A ntonia. By W illa Cather. Scholarly Edition edited by Charles Mignon with Kari Ronning. Historical Essay and Explanatory Notes by James Woodress. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. 543 pages, $55.00. O Pioneers! By W illa Cather. Scholarly Edition edited by Susan J. Rosowski and Charles W. Mignon with Kathleen Danker. Historical Essay and Explanatory Notes by David Stouck. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. 391 pages, $55.00. Reviewed by Thom as J. Lyon Carlsbad, California With the publication of the third volume in the Willa Cather scholarly editions, this seems an appropriate time to take stock of the series as a whole. There is something hearteningly honorable in this Cather project, a Illustration: Willa Cather reading to her sister Elsie and brother Jack. Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection. b o o k Re v ie w s 2 0 5 kind of throwback respectfulness in an age of no respect. Its remarkable thoroughness of scholarship— and even the occasional seeming fussiness— comes across as serving something greater than the project itself. A com­ parison to cathedral builders, with old masters and apprentice masons work­ ing on the same wall, say, might not be far off. Cather easily handles this minute sort of attention. As David Stouck points out, she herself was extremely detail-conscious, expertly concerned with the material process by which her books might come to have a look and feel proper to what she felt was in them. She knew a great deal about typefaces, paper, and illustrations. She too honored old values, solid things; and her complaints to Houghton Mifflin about such matters as an urbanstylish rendering of Alexandra on the frontispiece of O Pioneers! were grounded, ultimately, in her resolute nobility of purpose. Eventually, and fortunately, she found a like-minded publisher in Alfred A. Knopf. What we have here in the scholarly editions is a natural carrying-on of Cather’s views. Getting in touch with that earlier world and with Cather’s storytelling mind is one of the great pleasures afforded by a reading of these editions. Spending afternoons reading books you have read before, perhaps several times, you keep a finger at the back, at the informative notes (particularly good, in all three books, on the natural environment, about which Cather was caring and knowledgeable). In this quiet, absorbing time you are reminded, perhaps, of Sarah Orne Jewett’s remark to Cather that there are autumn days worth more to one than anything that might be accomplished in them. Jewett hinted to Cather about stepping aside from the machinery, giving room to pure perception. Cather took the hint, began to write from that deeper consciousness; she had it in her already, no doubt, but Jewett gave confirmation. Cather’s aesthetic practice was to touch the quiet, unhurried source; trust it to fill in the tones and shapes of things “not named.” But she knew the details and even the mechanics counted, too. Something indeed about the look of the type itself in the old, first edition of O Pioneers!— beautifully spaced, obviously impressed into the “heavy, rough-textured paper,” a work of artisan art— connects with that deeper mind. Each word seems to have weight and being. You are nudged somehow into a primal suggestibility— reading these authentic, telling words— and actually/virtually see the little town of Hanover “trying not to be blown away” on a darkening January afternoon. This is not e-mail. For the present edition of Cather’s breakthrough novel, as for the succeeding volumes, the University of Nebraska Press settled on Linotype Janson Text, rather than the original modified Caslon of the 1913 O Pioneers!, and the result, which is very clean and well spaced, seems a clever and reasonable accommoda­ tion to the conditions of today. The production values here demonstrate that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 204-206
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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