Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Willa Cather

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Willa Sibert Cather is an important women in American litature. She played an important part in the development of of modernist writing in America. Although her writing is consistantly concise and to the point it is also very vivid with its language and the pictures it paints. Not only was she a writer but she was a teacher, journalish and critic too.

Willa was born in Back Creek, Virginia in 187. Her family moved to to Red Cloud, Nebraska when she was ten years old. Red Cloud was a small town surounded by the tumultuous prairie. The settlers who lived in the town were mainly Scandinavian, Bohemian, and French immigrants trying to make a living off the difficult land. Americans seemed to be a minority. Most people who lived in this area where fresh off the boat. This environment greatly influenced Cather’s life. She used her experiences growing up in that area and used them to create vivid descriptions of her characters and settings in her writing. It made her concentrate on the land, the immigrants and Europe, the essence of American pioneer experience.

In 185, she graduated from University of Nebraska in Lincoln and became one of the very few women to achieve a college education in her day and age. Her studies had led her toward a creative life and career. Cather composed several short stories and worked for the Nebraska Journal writing reviews of books, plays and music during her college years.

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After graduating, she continued along the same lines and took an editorial job at a magazine in Pittsburg. Five years later she began teaching high school English. The career change did not supress her creative work though. While teaching she published her first literary work, April Twilights (10), a book of poetry. Later she published a collection of short stories, The Troll Garden (105).

In 106 she moved to New York City and found work as editor of the prosperios McClure’s magazine. Then, in 108, she met Sarah Orne Jewlett, a New England writer. They were to become lifelong friends. Jewett was an inspiration of Cather. She expressed a love of life on “the land”.

Willa Cather published her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, in 11. She was 40 years old at the time and felt ready to enter the literary scene. Her next three novels, O Pioneers! (11), The Song of the Lark (115), and My √Āntonia (118), shared a common theme. The hero of each of them was a great woman who had to face hardship on the praire. They firmly established her as an important writer on the American literary scene. She had started down the path that would put her amongst many of the most important modernist women writers.

Cather never had any romantic interest in men. She centered her emotional life around women. The question of her being a homosexual is greatly debated. It does seem that her beliefs influcened the main characters of her stories. In her personal life, Cather lived with Edith Lewis, another Nebraskan which she had met in 10, from 108 until her death in 147.

Cather’s life was impaired by poor health, but she magaged to have relatively happy life. She did, however, become increasingly distressed with the world around her. She, like many other modernist writers, was troubled by the growing mechanization and mass-produced quality of American society. Her upbringing seemed to draw her to prefering a simpliar way of life. This was also the time when her writing took a new direction and became more concerned with finding alternative values to the materialistic life she increasingly felt around her. Both of the novels from this perior in her life, A Lost Lady (1) and The Professor’s House (15), deal with spiritual and cultural crisis for the main characters. The frustration with modern society and the sense of spiritual decline in the world were also reflected in Cather’s personal life. In 1 she the Episcopal Church looking to improve her quality of life.

In 16, Cather’s writings entered a third stage. This period began with the novel Death Comes for the Archbishop (16). A new theme is revealed about the vanished past of the American Southwest. It shows how nature and Christianity supressed by modern urban life and society. This was highly critical view of the present as opposed to the past. She shared this view with most modernists and it became more stronger the older she grew.

Along with her fictional writing, Cather was also an accomplished literary critic. She produced an extensive body of critical work on the nature of art and how it affected life in general. Her view as a critic on literature and art passs up her fictional writings in their style, language and form.

Cather’s main focus is the description of her characters over the plot. She let a life unfold through a steady but loose gathering of conversation and reminiscence of her characters. The narrator stays at a distance to the characters. Her characters are then evokeing rather than just fully expained. The human side of them can been seen easier through this method. Cather often gives priority to the expressing the setting.This lets the individuality of the character disappear in human nature against the background of nature.

Cather’s style is often very condensed. It seems minimalistic at times.She described her work as unfurnished. She went on to say it gave a sense of ‘the top of the iceberg’, much like Hemingway’s writing. She is undoubtedly among the most important American modernist writers.

Heuss, Michael R. “About Willa Cather.” Great Literature Online. 17-00


(1 Apr, 00)

Cather, Willa. “Cronology” The Willa Cather Archive.


(1 Apr, 00)

Wells, Kim “Willa Cather” Domestic Goddess.


(1 Apr, 00)

Lindhard, Anne “An introduction to the life and writings of Willa Cather” Willa Cather Site.


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