Critical Insights: Willa Cather

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editor: Nicholas Birns, Eugene Lang College
September 2011 · 1 volume · 360 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-826-6
# of Pages: 360
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-879-2
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Willa Cather gives a fresh, general overview of her life and work, exploring why and how she is one of America's most treasured and expansive writers.

The intention of this volume is to serve as a guide for important individual works and their contribution to literature and culture as a whole.

Lisbeth Fuisz gives an overview of Cather's life, which is especially notable in its delineation of how both Cather's reading and her extensive travels contributed to her work. Writers of Cather's ilk do not come out of a vacuum, and Fuisz shows how the depth of attention Cather gave to everything she encountered was a crucial ballast to the fiction. Stephanie Gross makes a penetrating and valuable contribution to our understanding of Cather's cultural position, situating her as at once modernist and conservative.

Cather used radical new literary techniques that could be practiced only in the twentieth century. But she also developed her art as a version of what the notable cultural critic Jackson Lears calls "antimodernism," a sense of the aesthetic as opposed to, resisting, modern technology and commercialism.

Heather Alumbaugh focuses on Cather's novel O Pioneers! This is a particularly crucial book for two reasons. It was Cather's first attempt to write about her most characteristic setting, the Nebraska prairie, and it was the first novel, as she later wrote in "My First Novels-There Were Two" to be fully her own, not an imitation of other people's styles.

Sarah Watson compares Cather's One of Ours to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in light of the themes of the waste land and the Holy Grail, mythic images made popular by the success of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Watson does much to help us understand how Cather's work utilized techniques similar to the other great literary works produced in this era. Watson also shows how, despite her own distinct emotional tone, Cather's fiction resonates with themes of thwarted quest, spiritual despair, and the resiliency of the imagination that also occupied her most esteemed peers.

Finally, Tomas Pollard gives a nimble overview of Cather's reception-history from the earliest days of general appreciation to impact of new political and theoretical developments in later decades, spotlighting along the way the most salient voices in the critical discussion of Cather's works. These essays all represent a synthesis of the various approaches in Cather scholarship: biographical, feminist, formal, and cultural. They demonstrate that, after Cather's rather prominent role in the culture wars of the 1990's, there is, if not a new consensus, at least a shared set of assumptions about Cather that values both her art, her gender identity, and the indulgence of the world in which she lived.

Other essays show how Cather criticism got to this point. We see feminist work, cultural work; work centering on the canvas of culture and history behind Cather's works. One gives a sense of the philosophical assumptions behind Cather's writing and her positioning of gender, showing how various, and how potentially abstract, feminist approaches to Cather can be. Another offers a diagnosis of the underside of small-town intimacy in A Lost Lady, both nostalgic and socially optimistic.

In addition, there are treatments of Cather's major short stories and novels, paying significant attention to work from every point in her career and to the various settings—urban, rural, Southern, Midwestern—from which Cather's narratives take their bearings.

Cather works also explored include O Pioneers!, One of Ours, Cather's First World War novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922, Death Comes For the Archbishop and Sapphire and the Slave Girl.

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index