資料彙整   /   作家  /  Willa  Cather  維拉•凱瑟
Willa  Cather
維拉•凱瑟
圖片來源:http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~cather/catherpix.html
主要文類:Novel
資料提供者:Kate Liu/劉紀雯;Joseph Murphy/墨樵;Ray Schulte/蕭笛雷
關鍵字詞:Introduction to Literature 1998;American Literature

Willter Cather: An Introduction
Joseph C. Murphy

 Life and Works 
  Fictional Method and Style 
  Modernism 
  Cather and History 
  Willa Cather's America

 
 Life and Works
 

 

The following biographical materials are available online at the Willa Cather Archive:

https://cather.unl.edu/

 
 
 
 Fictional Method and Style
 
  Cather stated her credo of fiction most forcefully in her essay ¡§The Novel Demeuble¡¨ (1922), meaning ¡§The Unfurnished Novel.¡¨ The title refers to her idea that the best fiction does not merely ¡§catalogue¡¨ the furniture of life¡Xphysical things, processes, and sensations¡Xbut selects such details carefully to ¡§present [the] scene by suggestion rather than enumeration.¡¨ She praises novelists like Hawthorne and Tolstoy whose settings ¡§seem to exist not so much in the author's mind, as in the emotional penumbra of the characters themselves.¡¨ Cather argues that, paradoxically, by saying less, writers can say more. They can create a sense of something beyond words:
 
    Whatever is felt upon the page without being specifically named there¡Xthat, one might say, is created. It is the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the overtone divined by the ear but not heard by it, the verbal mood, the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel or the drama, as well as to poetry itself.
 
 

Cather invokes the bare stage of ancient Greek theatre and the New Testament image of ¡§that house into which the glory of Pentecost descended¡¨ as examples of the kind of suggestive simplicity she favored in fiction. By ¡§not naming,¡¨ Cather was not rejecting realism completely, but seeking a greater truthfulness to how life is experienced, and to what is most durable in experience.

Cather's restrained method can be witnessed not only in her choice of words but in her choice of narrative structures. She was as exacting with plot as she was with language. She tended to reject sensational storylines in favor of unconventional or indirect presentations of experience. Her novel My Antonia (1916) is, she said, ¡§just the other side of the rug, the pattern that is supposed not to count in a story. In it there is no love affair, no courtship, no marriage, no broken heart, no struggle for success. I knew I'd ruin my material if I put it in the usual fictional pattern. I just used it the way I thought absolutely true.¡¨ In Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) she strove to write ¡§something without accent, with none of the artificial elements of composition¡¨¡X¡§not to use an incident for all there is in it¡Xbut to touch and pass on.¡¨ In both My Antonia and A Lost Lady (1923) she employs male characters as filters through which to study her heroines. In The Professor's House (1925), Cather inserts the first-person narrative of a young man, who died years before in the Great War, in order to illuminate the life of her title character. Her novels achieve unity not through strong plotline but through the cumulative power of incidents carefully selected and selectively viewed. Frequently, sensational or violent events are reported indirectly, in passing. Although less sensational than Faulkner's, Cather's novels often share with his a strategy of weaving together shorter narratives into a total structure.

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 Modernism
 
  Cather is sometimes not named alongside major modernists like Joyce, Proust, Woolf, Faulkner, and Hemingway¡Xpartly because she gets categorized as a Nebraska regional writer, and partly because her fiction seems, on the surface, less challenging, experimental, or disillusioned than we expect modernism to be. But in fact, Cather was a contemporary of these writer and developed a brand of modernism that was as sophisticated as theirs. The American modernist poet Wallace Stevens once remarked of Cather: ¡§We have nothing better than she is. She takes so much pain conceal her sophistication that it is easy to miss her quality.¡¨ Other modernists too, like Woolf, Faulkner, and Sinclair Lewis, read and admired Cather's work. Like them, she sublimated the trauma of modern experience into new literary forms. Like them, she found her own way amidst the various aesthetic options at the turn of the century: realism, naturalism, symbolism, impressionism. She sought a deeper account of experience than was typical of realism or naturalism, but she valued the attention of those movements to common people and social realities. Impressionism and symbolism (which she absorbed through painting as well as literature) both influenced her fictional method (impressionistic descriptions of landscapes and cityscapes; and her knack for iconic symbols: the plough framed by the setting sun in My Antonia, the strong swift man in Alexandra's dream in O Pioneers! [1913], the mysterious ¡§stone lips¡¨ cave in Archbishop ); however, she rejected the brands of those movements tending toward decadence or art for art's sake. Cather's work demonstrates a number of qualities often identified with modernist literature:
 
   
  •  experimenting with narrative structures, temporal frameworks, narrative voices, and symbols;
  •  exploring inner consciousness as a major theme;
  • adapting the abstract methods of modern painting to literature;
  • embracing communities steeped in tradition and history (both Western and "primitive" traditions) as a relief from the upheavals and alienation of modernity.

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 Cather and History
 
  Willa Cather can properly be considered a historical novelist. She did not write adventure-packed historical romances in the vein of Sir Walter Scott or James Fenimore Cooper; rather, she moderated her romantic vision with a critical, realist edge and with experimental modernist techniques. Her use of history can be divided into three types:
 
   
  1. Three of her novels meet the conventional definition of historical fiction: they are fictional reconstructions of historically remote times and places. Death Comes for the Archbishop recreates the American Southwest of the nineteenth century, and Shadows on the Rock (1931) does much the same for seventeenth-century Quebec. Both are based partly on historical documents and integrate actual historical figures with fictional characters. In her final novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), Cather looks back to the pre-Civil War slave culture of her native Virginia.
  2. Two other novels¡X The Song of the Lark (1915) and The Professor's House (1925)¡Xincorporate history through modern characters' encounters with the archeological remnants of the cliff-dwelling Indians of the Southwest; moreover, Cather's professor in the latter novel, Godfrey St. Peter, is a historian of the Spanish exploration of the Americas.
  3. Much of Cather's fiction is historical insofar as her characters are preoccupied with history. Numerous characters survey their personal histories to make sense of their present lives. For Cather, childhood is the reservoir of the self, the site of what Jim Burden in My Antonia calls ¡§those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be.¡¨ Other characters survey cultural history, within and beyond their own lifespans, as a touchstone for personal experience. This recourse to history is frequently intensified by a character's exile status. Archbishop Latour, for example, looks to his early days in France, and to the history of Catholicism in the Old and New worlds, to gain perspective on his ministry in New Mexico. Likewise, Alexandra Bergson and Antonia Shimerda gauge their American progress against their European memories. Many of Cather's characters are exiles trying to transplant their memories of an older culture into a newer American field. This is the classic American immigrant story. It is a story of both loss and gain: the vastness of the landscape and the diversity of the American population are consolations for the constraints these immigrants left behind. In contrast to Faulkner's characters, who are sometimes overburdened with history¡Xtheir families having lived in the same place for some generations¡XCather's emigres struggle to keep hold of history.

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 Willa Cather's America
 
  Cather's fiction and life ranged across the American continent to an extraordinary degree. Born in the Southern state of Virginia, in 1873, Cather moved with her family to the open Midwestern tableland of Nebraska at age 10. This uprooting was the central event of her childhood and, indeed, of her life. It defined her abiding fictional concern with exile: the adventure of new frontiers, and the attendant longing for what is left behind. She later recalled this childhood displacement in an interview: ¡§I was little and homesick and lonely.... So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn the shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion that I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and curse of my life.¡¨ Cather's experience became that of her narrator Jim Burden in My Antonia, and his response to the Nebraska landscape captures something of Cather's ambivalence: ¡§There was nothing but land; not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.¡¨ To participate in the making of a new country was for Cather, as it was for her character Jim, a heroic and stirring project. And to do so alongside fellow migrants and immigrants from the East Coast, France, Germany, Scandanavia, Bohemia, and Russia gave the experience a richer cultural dimension. If these refugees from the East and Europe made prairie life tolerable for Cather, they also reminded her of older, more sophisticated civilizations against which American pioneering appeared, at its worst, crass and materialistic. This tension between the ideals and realities of the American frontier occupies a number of Cather novels, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, My Antonia, One of Ours (1922), and A Lost Lady. The town of Red Cloud, Nebraska, where her family eventually settled, was the prototype of the small frontier towns she repeatedly depicted in fiction.
Farmland in Webster County , Nebraska , outside Red Cloud. Photograph by Joseph C. Murphy

 
The home of Annie and John Pavelka, Cather's prototypes for Antonia and Cusak in My Antonia and the Rosickys in "Neighbour Rosicky." Photograph by Joseph C. Murphy
 
Cather never lost her yearning for older civilizations, and she increasingly heeded their call. After graduating from the University of Nebraska, she worked as a magazine editor and high school teacher in the teeming industrial city of Pittsburgh, from 1896 to 1906, before joining McClure's magazine in New York. The vital arts culture that flowered alongside capitalism in American cities, especially Pittsburgh, New York, and Chicago, is one of Cather's concerns in ¡§Paul's Case¡¨ and The Song of the Lark. Cather made a home in New York for the rest of her life. While she enjoyed the benefits of America 's cultural metropolis, she also used it as a base from which to explore places that meant more to her. Cather had first visited Europe in 1902, and she returned there repeatedly, with an increasing focus on France in the 1930s.

Mesa Verde, Colorado, around 1915.
Source: http://libtextcenter.unl.edu/cather/gallery/index.html

 
She first visited the American Southwest ( Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona ) in 1912, and immediately recognized there an historical depth she found lacking in much of North America. Here European colonial and missionary contacts dated back to the 1500s, and the Anasazi Indians had built fine stone cities into cliff walls in pre-Colombian times. In The Song of the Lark and The Professors House, Cather's characters seek imaginative connections with these ancient Indians and with the Europeans who first explored the region. Death Comes for the Archbishop, focusing on two French Catholic missionaries in New Mexico, recreates the mesh of French, Spanish, Mexican, Indian, and Anglo cultures in the Southwest during the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1928 Cather visited Quebec City ( Canada ), which inspired her next novel, Shadows on the Rock, set in Quebec in the 1600s.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City, 1928.
Source: http://libtextcenter.unl.edu/cather/gallery/index.html

 


New Mexico and Quebec had a similar appeal for Cather: they were predominantly Catholic cultures with rich histories dating back hundreds of years. She found in them an alternative to American Puritan history, centered in New England and originating in England. Her alternative American history originated in France and Spain, and was ultimately oriented toward Rome. By opening up this history Cather brought cultural and geographical complexity to the American novel. She demonstrated the continuity of the United States with the historically Indian and French territory to the Northeast and historically Indian and Spanish territory to the Southwest.

Cather's final work adds to the geographical complexity of her accomplishment. Her last completed novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, is set in antebellum Virginia, some decades before she was born in that state. At the time of her death in 1947 she was working on another historical narrative, Hard Punishments, set in 1340 in Avignon, France.

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