Willa Cather: Contribution as American Novelist

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      Willa Siebert Cather, another important woman novelist, was born and bred-up in rural Virginia. She moved with her family to the Red Cloud, Nebraska, in 1883. In an attempt to escape conservatism of the town she moved to Lincoln in 1890 and in the following year entered the University of Nebraska. After graduating she moved to Pittsburg to pursue career in journalism. She spent 10 years there, the first as a newspaper woman, as a high school teacher of English and Latin. April Thoughts, her only volume of poetry appeared in 1903. Two years later she published The Troll Croden, a collection of short stories which showed the influence of Henry James.

      Cather, later reissued four these stories and four more in a collection entitled Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920). When she was 32 she moved to New York City and joined the staff of McClure magazine. Over the next seven years, she published stories in ‘Century Magazine’, and Harpers Monthly Magazine as well as in McClures. In 1912 she came out with her first novel Alexander’s Bridge. Soon after, she resigned from the McClures and traveled to the south. Her second novel O, Pioneers (1913). She returned to south-west in the summer of 1925. The novel of that year The Song of the Lark is partly set in the ancient cliffs dwellings of Walnut Canyon, Arizona. In her next novel My Antonia (1918) she returns to Nebraska of her childhood.

      Her first popular success was One of Ours (1922) which won her Pulitzer Prize. It tells the story of a boy from the western plains who joins the army. He is killed in France in World War 1. Her next novel A Lost Lady (1923) deals with stages of moral decline of a woman from a small Nebraska town. The Professor’s House (1925) is set in small Midwest College and in New Mexico in the post war years. My Mortal Enemy (1926) is set in New York and in the West coast in the early 1900s. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) reflects Cather’s continuing love for the south-west, composed after several visits of Quebec. Set in French Canada at the end of the 17th century Shadows on the Rock (1931) won her the first Prix Femina Americaine in 1933. Obscure Destinies (1932) consists of three tales of the mid west. Lucy Gayheart (1935) narrates the story of the daughter of a German-born watch-maker who leaves a small Nebraska town to study music in Chicago. Ivor under Forty (1936) is volume of critical essays. Sapphira and the Slave (1940) is her last novel set only in the Virginia of the grandmothers. During her lifetime, she became increasingly alienated from the materialism of modern life and wrote of alternative visions in the American southwest and in the past. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) evokes the idealism of two 16th-century priests establishing the Catholic Church in the New Mexican desert. Cather’s works commemorate more important aspects of American experience outside the literary mainstream - pioneering, the establishment of religion, and women’s independent lives.

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