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Life

Cover of James Woodress's Willa Cather                                     A Literary Life

Willa Cather: A Literary Life

by James Woodress
Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987

James Woodress


This book is dedicated to the community of
Cather scholars, past and present
.

PREFACE

Although forty years have passed since the death of Willa Cather in 1947, she never has been the subject of a full-length biography. When she died, her reputation was firmly established as one of the most significant American novelists, and during the succeeding decades her stature has continued to grow. At the time of her death J. Donald Adams wrote in the New York Times that "no American novelist was more purely an artist," and George Whicher declared four years later that "no American writer . . . can be more certain than she to capture ultimately the admiration of posterity." The absence of a detailed biography is probably due to the traps, pitfalls, and barricades she placed in the biographer's path, and until now sufficient material has not been available to flesh out more than a medium-length life. While no biography ever can be definitive, this study contains a great deal more material than any previous one and goes considerably beyond my own earlier biography, as well as the efforts of others, in presenting a life-size portrait of this remarkable woman.

When E.K. Brown's biography of Cather appeared in 1953, Alfred Knopf wrote on the jacket: "Here is all the biographical information anyone is likely ever to gather about Willa Cather." Even though he was understandably interested in promoting the sale of Brown's book, he no doubt also thought Cather had been such a private person that biographical data actually was meager. He was wrong, of course, and since Cather died there has been a steady accumulation of material to fuel the ever-growing interest in her life and work. Hundreds of pages of Cather's journalistic writings have been dug from the dusty magazine and newspaper files where they first appeared and republished. All of her stories have been collected, including many she gladly would have expunged from the record if she could have. She left a trail of published interviews and speeches and public statements that surprises anyone who knows only her own pronouncements desiring privacy. Perhaps fifteen hundred of her letters by now have found their way into institutional collections from Maine to California, even though she and Edith Lewis destroyed as many of her letters as they could lay their hands on. Fortunately, correspondents who outlived her had the good sense to realize that Cather belongs to the world and her letters ought to be preserved. It is still impossible to publish or quote from her letters (her will forbids it), but they are available for consultation, and the information they contain is public property.

Knopf tried his best to preserve Cather's privacy, but it was difficult. He said himself at the time of the centennial celebration of her birth in 1973 that "anyone who abhors contact with members of the public is best advised not to produce work which has public interest." Cather resented the fact that she could not sit on a bench in Central Park without being recognized and accosted by strangers, but all her efforts to keep out of the limelight arid control access to her life have been unsuccessful in keeping biographers off her trail. She certainly made the task of writing her life more difficult; yet she and other writers who have wanted to cover their tracks always have been doomed to failure. Still, one envies the chroniclers of those public figures who carefully saved for posterity the documentation of their lives.

The problems that the biographer of Cather has to face, however, are more complicated than merely locating the raw materials for the life. She threw up roadblocks, consciously and unconsciously, to frustrate pursuit. During her own lifetime she managed her image rather successfully by writing biographical sketches of herself and telling interviewers what she wanted printed about her. She changed her birth date; she altered details of her life; she exaggerated many events; she revised her opinions. She made no effort to be accurate in recalling facts, and it is hard sometimes to tell where the reality leaves off and the fiction begins. The biographer continually has to separate the fact from the fantasy, and he never can be sure he has succeeded completely. To make matters still more difficult, Lewis's memoir of her friend also tries to manage the image, and one has to use her data with caution.

If he can successfully negotiate the minefields, the biographer of Cather has a great deal of autobiographical fiction to help in his task. She turned her own life and experiences into literature to a degree uncommon among writers. I have used many passages from her fiction to document her life, keeping in mind constantly the need for caution. There are, fortunately, enough letters and contemporary documents, such as interviews and reminiscences of friends, to corroborate many events in her life that have passed through the crucible of her imagination to emerge in her stories and novels. My notes make it clear when I am working from letters and when I am drawing on her fiction.

Sir Isaac Newton in a letter to his rival scientist Robert Hooke wrote in 1676 that "if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I feel somewhat the same in writing Cather's biography four decades after her death. I have built on the work of many scholars, as my notes will indicate, and without their pioneering this book could not have been written. Mildred Bennett, the first of the Cather scholars, wrote an invaluable study of places and people important in Cather's work in The World of Willa Cather (1951). She was on the scene in Red Cloud and able to interview old friends and relatives. Lewis's memoir, which was prepared for the use of E. K. Brown, is, of course, of immense assistance, as it was the work of a friend of more than forty years. Brown's biography is the pioneering life, and when he died before completing his book, the very able Leon Edel finished it for him. Bernice Slote at the University of Nebraska was indefatigable in recovering and organizing Cather's fugitive essays, editing her poems and stories, and writing about her. Virginia Faulkner and the University of Nebraska Press carried out a large publishing venture in making Cather's early work available, and William Curtin, editor of The World and the Parish, two volumes of Cather's journalistic writings, is the benefactor of all Cather scholars. Elizabeth Sergeant's memoir of her long friendship with Cather is another important contribution to Cather studies, as are the reminiscences of Ferris Greenslet, Alfred Knopf, and many others who knew her.

I came to my interest in Cather in 1967 or 1968 when I was invited to contribute a brief critical biography to a series brought out by the nowdefunct publisher Pegasus. My book, Willa Cather: Her Life and Art, appeared in 1970 and was based on much primary material that had not been available to Brown. I was able to correct errors and add details, but my record was far from complete, and it also contained its own errors. I never planned to write another biography of Cather, but after the death in 1983 of Bernice Slote, who had spent nearly a lifetime gathering material for the definitive biography, I decided to return to the project, and I have been able to use her papers.

My present view of Cather does not change in any basic way the image of her contained in my earlier book. I have found no skeletons in the closet or sensational data to titillate the reader. There are, however, hundreds of new details, much fuller accounts of events in her life, new and expanded critical examinations of her works, and details of her reception. I have tried hard to get all the facts right. I have changed many of my opinions about her life and work over the past twenty years, and these are reflected in the portrait that emerges. I also have dealt with the issues of lesbianism and sexual orientation, which interest many contemporary readers, and taken into account recent feminist criticism. I have gone into her personality, beliefs, prejudices, aspirations, loves, and hates in considerable detail. In the past two decades a large and impressive body of criticism has grown up about Cather's fiction, and any biography that ignores this work cannot lay claim to much significance.

The person who moves through these pages is an extraordinarily gifted woman. From her Virginia childhood and Nebraska adolescence she made her way through the world with energy and dedication. She went from college journalism to professional journalism, then to magazine writing and editing, pushing steadily towards her artistic objective. Her progress was slow, however, and she did not publish her first novel until she was thirty-eight. The official face she presented to the public in her collected works was only the one-tenth of the iceberg that appears above the surface, for when she reached the top of her profession, she wanted the apprentice work forgotten. It is the task of the biographer, however, to search among the shards to discover the abandoned designs and the crudities later perfected. The themes and subjects that she treated so luminously in her mature work all appeared in her earliest efforts. She was a Romantic and a primitive from the start, but it was not until she was in her forties that she was able to utilize effectively her own experiences to weave the myths of the American past into the magical fabric of her best fiction. There was much trial and error in her apprenticeship, but the outlines were all present by the time she was twenty.

Although Cather wrote an old friend in 1945 that she never had been very ambitious, the truth was just the opposite. Her career down to the publication of O Pioneers!, her first important novel, reveals a very eager young woman from the provinces determined to make good. She did what she had to do to make a living and was not above writing potboilers and doing hackwork. Yet she had all the while a single-minded dedication to the pursuit of art. During the years of struggle, moreover, her attachment to family, old friends, and home remained strong, and after settling permanently in the East, she returned to Lincoln and Red Cloud frequently to renew her sources. Her feeling for Nebraska, however, was ambivalent until she had been away for about fifteen years; then the post-pioneer period of her childhood became the epic material of her romances and led her still deeper into the past. She went through a period in the twenties when she felt alienated from American life but produced her greatest novels in that era. In the thirties she lived a very private life and continued to write well but with diminishing vitality.

Her old age is not sad, like the blackness of Mark Twain's final pessimism, though her health began to break down in her last years. She hated many things about the world that rotated outside her self-imposed isolation in the forties, but she did not become embittered at the end. She had achieved most of the things she wanted from life and knew that her career had been a success. She did not have to write, as Howells did to James, that she had become a dead cult with her statues cut down and grass growing over them in the moonlight. Her literary reputation was secure, and that was what really mattered.

The critics usually have treated Cather very well, though she often thought otherwise. From H. L. Mencken's delighted discovery of her first novels to the latest international bibliography published by the Modern Language Association, she has been regarded as an important writer. And people have continued reading her work, despite her strenuous efforts to keep her books from being dramatized, anthologized, and reprinted in inexpensive editions. A writer of lesser stature might well have consigned herself to oblivion by such tactics. I know of no other American writer of this century who is more likely to go on being read than Cather. The statement she made in her preface to the stories of Sarah Orne Jewett in 1925 is prophetic: "If I were asked to name three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life, I would say at once: The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs. I can think of no others that confront time and change so serenely." And the last of the three, she added, fairly shines with "the reflection of its long, joyous future." Of the best of Willa Cather, one could say the same.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

During the writing of this book I have received help from a great many individuals, to whom I wish to express my gratitude: to Margaret Anne O'Connor, who read and edited my manuscript, loaned me her collection of Cather reviews, and performed many acts of friendship; to Susan Rosowski, who also gave my manuscript a meticulous reading, the benefit of her impressive knowledge of Cather, and encouragement throughout the writing; to Mildred Bennett, who answered many queries; to Helen Cather Southwick, who loaned me letters, pictures, answered questions, and arranged for me to visit Cather's summer cottage on Grand Manan Island; to Reg Flagg and Kathleen Buckley, who talked to me and showed me about Grand Manan; to Charles Cather, who allowed me to have copies of certain letters; to Elaine Walker Hall, director of the Frederick County Historical Society at Winchester, Virginia, who secured information for me regarding Cather genealogy; to Doris Grumbach, who answered questions; to Patricia Lee Yongue, who let me see correspondence from Cather to Stephen Tennant; to Leon Edel, who answered queries; to David Stouck, who supplied some research materials, to Brent Bohlke, who let me use the manuscript copy of his collection of Cather interviews and speeches; to Mary Weddle, who loaned me letters written by Cather to Aunt Franc; to Harry Finestone, who gave me materials he had used for his dissertation; to John Broderick of the Library of Congress, who searched the Manuscript Division for Cather letters; to Cathy Henderson, Research Librarian at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, and Patience-Anne W. Lenk, Colby College Library, both of whom were helpful in my obtaining copies of letters.

I am also grateful to librarians and libraries at the following institutions which I visited in the course of collecting material for this book: Elizabeth Anne Falsey and the Houghton Library of Harvard University, Virginia Renner and the Huntington Library, Saundra Taylor and the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Barbara A. Paulson and the Morgan Library, Andrea I. Paul and the Nebraska State Historical Society Library, Joseph Svoboda and Elsie V. Thomas and the University of Nebraska Archives, Carolyn A. Sheehy and the Newberry Library, John A. Stinson and the New York Public Library, Connell Gallagher and the University of Vermont Library, Gregory Johnson and the Barrett Collection at the University of Virginia Library, Ann Billesbach and the Willa Cather Historical Center at Red Cloud, David E. Schoonover and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Other libraries I want to thank for supplying me with photocopies of Cather letters: Allegheny College, Amherst College, the University of Arkansas, the American Antiquarian Society, the Boston Public Library, Brown University, Bryn Mawr College, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, the Chicago Historical Society Library, Colby College, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Enoch Pratt Free Library (Baltimore), Georgetown University, the University of Kentucky, Holy Cross College, Loyola University (New Orleans), Middlebury College, the Newark Public Library, the State University of New York (Binghamton), the University of Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, Phillips Exeter Academy, Princeton University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, Sweet Briar College, the University of Texas, the Virginia Baptist Historical Society (Richmond), Wellesley College, the Western Reserve Historical Society (Cleveland), and the Wisconsin State Historical Society (Madison).

In addition, I wish to thank Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and Houghton Mifflin for permission to quote from the Cather titles on which they hold copyright; William A. Koshland for supplying me with photos of Alfred Knopf and for permission to quote from Blanche Knopf's letters to Cather; the Lilly Library for permission to quote from S. S. McClure's letters to Cather; the Houghton Library of Harvard University for permission to quote from the letters of Ferris Greenslet to Cather.

My final debts are to the Research Committee of the University of California at Davis for grants that speeded and facilitated the preparation of this book; to Delfina Redfield for many kindnesses; to Diana Dulaney, who put the entire opus into the word processor, promptly, efficiently, enthusiastically; to Roberta Woodress, who has been a scholar's ideal companion for nearly half a century.


JAMES WOODRESS

PROLOGUE

Pittsburgh passengers waiting to board a train for Chicago at the Union Station one day in early April 1912 might have noticed among their ranks a handsome woman, perhaps even beautiful, whose bearing and composure suggested a person of some importance. Though she was no longer young, she had a sturdy build and a clear complexion. Her skin was off-white, perhaps creamy,"rather like the outside of any well-washed plate." Her rosy cheeks indicated boisterous good health. Weighing 125 pounds and standing five feet six, she had eyes of a distinct blue, and when she looked at one, her glance was open and direct. Her hair, what one could see under a large hat, was straight and dark brown, combed back simply and parted slightly offcenter. Her lashes were dark, her eyebrows strongly marked. Her other features were regular and pleasant to look at, her mouth was generous and good-humored, and her hands were broad and strong. She looked like a person used to getting things done, someone accustomed to giving orders; maybe she was, a rarity in those days, a successful business woman. The more observant passengers would have detected an air of keen anticipation in her manner as she stood with her luggage watching the train pull into the station.

This was Willa Cather, thirty-eight years old, recently managing editor of the spectacularly successful McClure's Magazine, on leave from her job, en route to Arizona to visit her brother, and at a critical juncture in her career. For nearly six years she had been editing, dealing with contributors, reading other people's manuscripts, curbing the half-baked impulses of her boss, Sam McClure. She had become one of the most important women editors in magazine journalism, but those six years had kept her marking time in her own literary career. A few months before, she finally had broken away from the grind of putting out a monthly magazine, taken a leave of absence, and gone to upstate New York for rest, recuperation, and writing. Now she was ready to strike out in a new direction, and as it turned out, she was never again to return to the office routine at McClure's. Although she had managed to write her first novel while she still worked for McClure, it was a novel she later wanted to disown. Although she also had published a few stories during those years, none did she ever think worth reprinting. The trip to the Southwest that began on a spring day in 1912 was to leave an indelible impression on her and to mark the turning point in her career. The successful magazine executive who left Pittsburgh that April morning returned the novelist that we know. The Pennsylvania, Burlington, and Santa Fe railroads, which carried her from Pennsylvania to Arizona, transported her from one life to another.

After changing trains in Chicago, she boarded the Burlington and headed west. As she crossed the Mississippi, she again experienced the tightness in her chest and a bit of the fright she had felt as a child when she was taken to Nebraska at the age of nine. The West always paralyzed her a little, she wrote, but when she was away from it, she remembered only the tang on the tongue. Though she had lived in the East a long time by 1912, she still had trouble letting herself go with the current when she reached the wide, rolling prairies of Nebraska. She felt like a person who could not swim when dropped into the water. There were just so many, many miles of the West. When she was a child growing up in Nebraska, she had been sure that she would never, get away and that she would die in a cornfield. Now that she had escaped, she no longer had that fear, though she still got attacks of fright. But after a few days in Red Cloud visiting her parents and old friends, she was ready to push on farther west, and she boarded another Burlington train, this time for Denver.

Colorado and the Rocky Mountains were familiar territory for her, as her oldest brother, Roscoe, lived in Wyoming and she had visited him on a number of occasions. Once she left Colorado, however, she was seeing new and exciting country. From Trinidad to Albuquerque the land was utterly splendid, she wrote. The Valley of the Rhone was nothing to it. All the way from Trinidad, Colorado, to Las Vegas, New Mexico, she wrote her good friend Elsie Sergeant, there was a continuous purple mountain that tuned one up. Albuquerque delighted her, though she stayed only a few days before continuing on to Arizona. There was a strong pull about the place, something Spanish in the air that teased one. She had known Mexicans during her Red Cloud adolescence, but Albuquerque far exceeded her expectations. Such color! The Lord had set the stage splendidly there. It was the most beautiful country she had seen anywhere, even more brilliant than the French Riviera. She caught sight of some of the most wonderful Indian villages, each one built close about its church, and there were abandoned villages, too, she marveled, that had been Spanish missions during the time of Queen Elizabeth. She wanted to return later with her brother Douglass for a longer visit.

On April 19 she arrived in Winslow, a little desert town on the Santa Fe where Douglass, who worked for the railroad, made his headquarters. He immediately began showing her about the pueblo towns and taking her to see ancient cliff dwellings nearby. They planned to visit an Indian snake dance and projected a trip to Old Mexico. How splendid this part of the world is, she wrote McClure. But then there was a letdown.

Douglass had to go off with his construction crew for three days, leaving Willa alone in his little eggshell of a house with his roommate, a brakeman named Tooker. Staying alone with Tooker, she wrote, was quite in accord with the proprieties of Winslow, but even Tooker had been off on his run for the past two nights, and then she had no protector except the drunken London cockney whom Douglass had picked up to do his cooking and housekeeping. He was no protection at all. She did not mind being left alone, however, because Tooker was a great bore. He read Emerson all the time, looked just like a character in William Vaughn Moody's The Great Divide, and dressed the part. Life, she thought, was nothing but a poor imitation of art. Tooker was simply encrusted with information gleaned from millions of magazines, and though he was one of nature's noblemen with a square jaw and bold carriage, she did not know how long she could stand either his nobleness or his information. She was doing target practice with a pistol and might let drive at Tooker, she wrote. He never permitted himself an action in one syllable. He "arrived" and he "removed" his hat, and he "reflected" that when the wind blew it "retarded" his train. The cockney Englishman was great fun, but he was reeling drunk all the time and had to be sat upon and sent away. He once had worked in a stable in Paris and spoke a queer kind of fluent French, and when he was the drunkest, he always wept and began reciting the same sentimental verses.

When Cather looked about outside, she found that Winslow was an ugly little western town. It had been founded some thirty years before as a division point on the Santa Fe, and there was no one there but railroad people. The only excitement occurred when the trains stopped and passengers got off to eat at the Fred Harvey hotel, La Posada. Although the desert was very fine, one had to cross two miles of tin cans and old shoes to get to it. There were bright red sunsets, like brick dust, but the sandstorms were a terror and often stopped the trains. If she had arrived two months earlier, there would have been plenty of excitement, for on Valentine's Day 1912, President Taft in Washington had signed the proclamation admitting Arizona to the Union as the forty-eighth state. For the first time in history movie cameras had photographed a president signing a law, and when the news had been telegraphed to Arizona, there was wild celebrating everywhere. Whistles shrieked at mines, church bells rang, schools and businesses closed, and parades surged through the streets. Even William Jennings Bryan came west to make a two hour speech in the state capital at Phoenix.

Life was very quiet for the first two weeks. Then things began to happen so fast that she had no time to write letters. She did manage a postcard to Sergeant on May 12, reporting that she had caught step at last and was very happy. She had been on a trip with the local priest, Father Connolly, a friend of Douglass's, who had taken her to visit some of the missions. They had talked about the country and the people, and he had filled her full of Spanish and Indian legends. He was the first of many Catholic missionary priests she came to know in the Southwest, and like a sponge she soaked up the land, the people, and the culture for future use. Her letters from this trip west reveal an intoxicating sense of discovery. The Southwest became one of the passions of her life.

Even more exciting was the appearance one day of four Mexicans who came to serenade her: two section hands, a bartender who played divinely, and a boy of unearthly beauty who sang. The last reminded her of a statue she had seen in Naples of Antinous, who was loved and deified after his death by Emperor Hadrian. This boy was simply Antinous come to life. The Mexican trio returned night after night, and Cather was captivated by the singer, whose name turned out to be Julio (pronounced Hulio, she explained to Sergeant). Her letters for the next several months were filled with Julio. He was too beautiful to be true and utterly different from anyone she ever had met. He was from Vera Cruz, knew a great many Mexican and Spanish songs, and he was won-der-ful, she wrote Sergeant, as she enclosed the translation she had made of one of his songs. After singing to her nightly, Julio took her off to visit the Painted Desert, and it took her days to get over that expedition. Julio was without beginning and without end. He had a personal elegance, the like of which she had never known, and a grace of expression that simply caught one up. He wasn't soft and sunny like an Italian; he was indifferent and opaque. He had the long, strong upper lip seen in Aztec sculpture, somber eyes filled with lots of old trouble, and the pale yellow skin of very old gold and old races. Talking to him was like learning a new language because he spoke so directly. He would drive any number of miles to see flowers or running water, but she could not get him the least bit interested in the ancient cliff dwellers. Why, he said, raising his brows, was she interested in los muertos? We are living. It was fitting to say masses for the dead, but that was the end of it. Further attention was a waste of time. But he did tell her one memorable story of ancient times, the tale of an Aztec Cleopatra,"The Forty Lovers of the Queen." Cather wrote Sergeant that she must come to the Southwest, and if she did, she was sure to pick up a Mexican sweetheart, who would take as much time and strength as she would give him. Afterwards Sergeant remembered that when someone asked how Mabel Dodge could have married Tony Luhan, an Indian, Cather replied,"How could she help it?"

Cather never found occasion in her later career to put Julio into a novel, unless there is a bit of him in Spanish Johnny in The Song of the Lark, but she remembered the story of the Aztec Cleopatra. At the time she heard it, she said she was going to write it up when she visited the place where it happened, but she never got to Old Mexico. She also thought she remembered reading the tale in Prescott's Conquest of Mexico, but Julio's account was much more alive. He never had read anything but prayer books and had no stale ideas, in fact not many ideas at all. The story, a brutal tale of forty secret lovers, each killed after the queen tired of them, appears in Cather's 1920 story "Coming, Aphrodite!" and is told by Don Hedger to Eden Bower the night he becomes her lover.

Also in May Julio took Cather to a Mexican dance, where she was the only Anglo-Saxon present. This dance may well have been the source for the Mexican dance scene in The Song of the Lark, for it made a strong impression. Such dancing! she wrote. There was in particular a curious pantomime waltz in which a man danced with two women, the prettiest dance she ever had seen. Cather's feeling in the novel for the natural grace of the Mexicans, their love of music are very much of a piece with her letters from this trip to the Southwest: "The Mexican dance was soft and quiet. There was no calling, the conversation was very low, the rhythm of the music was smooth and engaging, the men were graceful and courteous." There were no constraints of any kind but a kind of natural harmony about their movements.

But Cather had other things to do with her life than idle away the days with a beautiful Mexican boy, no matter how captivating he was. She finally severed what she called Julio's strong Egyptian fetters, went to Albuquerque, and then back to Nebraska. He was wonderful but could not take the place of a whole civilization. However, after returning to Red Cloud she wrote that she might still go back for Julio. He would look lovely in Boston at Mrs. Fields's house, but then Mrs. Isabella Gardner would sweep him up and take him to Fenway Court, which he would like better than her apartment. Earlier she had thought that she must get him to New York, where he could make an easy living as an artist's model. Artists would fight for him. In August, after returning to Pittsburgh, she was still talking about Julio, but after that he disappears from her letters completely.

In between outings with Julio, Cather had plenty to occupy her time. On Douglass's next three days off they went out with Tooker on daily excursions to nearby canyons: Clear Creek, Chevelon, and Jack's, all gorges carved by tributaries of the Little Colorado River. Those were lovely days with all the advantages of a camping trip and none of the disadvantages. They started off each morning with a wagon and light camping gear, canteens, coffee, bacon, fruit, cream, and so forth; and each night they returned to town, where they had hot baths and beds to sleep in. Cather had canvas shoes with red rubber soles that she had bought in Boston, and with them, she said, she could walk up a forty-five-degree rock surface. One day they went down a cliff for 150 feet, using handholds to descend. The experience was exhilarating. Tooker, a great bore in town, turned out to be a splendid companion on the trail. All his miserable information fell away, Cather wrote Sergeant, like a boy dropping his clothes to go swimming. The real Tooker, who had worked in the sheep camps and the mines, was strong, active, and resourceful. He was full of interesting stories, she found, once one got through the sediment deposited by the magazine articles. Tooker later turns up very sympathetically portrayed as Ray Kennedy, the brakeman, in The Song of the Lark.

These expeditions were a prelude to the Grand Canyon, where Cather went on May 16. She was properly impressed with this "wonder," and agreed it was indeed wonderful, but she thought that not even this marvel, which had only a geologic history, could be interesting for more than a limited time. But besides the great spectacle of the canyon, there was wonderful walking and riding, and one day she accompanied some English visitors down to the Halfway House in the canyon. It was an awful pull, she wrote, but she was always a good walker, and her climbs around Winslow had been good conditioning. She was pleased to find that the canyon was still completely unspoiled, not one shop. A visitor couldn't even buy an orange, and there was not one civilized amusement. It was still seven years before the Grand Canyon would become a national park. There were two hotels, however, one magnificent and one excellent, set down in the immense pine forest, and there were modest lodgings at Bright Angel Camp. She stayed at the last, which was comfortable, simple, and only cost her three dollars a day. It was the only reasonable place she could find. Everything was very expensive, and all the places one wanted to see were off the railroad. To get to them it was necessary to hire a horse for two-fifty a day or a team and open wagon for five dollars. The scenery was worth it, however, and she urged Sergeant to come and see for herself

As soon as she left the Grand Canyon, she retraced her steps to Flagstaff, where she met her brother. They were going to explore more cliff dwellings. Walnut Canyon, now a national monument, was only a few miles outside of Flagstaff, and there she could see a spectacular collection of some three hundred cliff dwellings about one thousand years old. These houses, which were built into the limestone walls of the canyon, had been abandoned probably because of a prolonged drought in the twelfth century. But they had remained largely intact, preserved by the dry desert air, as though in a time capsule, a silent, ghostly city. They are a smaller version of the cliff dwellings now protected within the boundaries of Mesa Verde National Park, which Cather visited three years later.

As she and Douglass drove by wagon out of Flagstaff, they could see the blue slopes and snowy summit of San Francisco Mountain to the north. They then entered the first great forest she had ever seen, magnificent stands of huge ponderosa pines spaced well apart. The wagon road dipped lower, falling away from the high plateau on which Flagstaff sat, and soon the forest closed behind them and the mountain disappeared. Then they left the forest, the sparse growth of pinon pine and scrub began, and the country broke into open, stony clearings. Finally they came to Walnut Canyon, called Panther Canyon in The Song of the Lark. It was "like a thousand others—one of those abrupt fissures with which the earth in the Southwest is riddled; so abrupt that you might walk over the edge of any one of them on a dark night and never know what had happened to you." The canyon walls for the first two hundred feet below the surface were perpendicular cliffs, striped with evenrunning strata of rock.

"From there on to the bottom the sides were less abrupt, were shelving, and lightly fringed with piñons and dwarf cedars. The effect was that of a gentler canon within a wilder one. The dead city lay at the point where the perpendicular outer wall ceased and the V-shaped inner gorge began. There a stratum of rock, softer than those above, had been hollowed out by the action of time until it was like a deep groove running along the sides of the canon. In this hollow (like a great fold in the rock) the Ancient People had built their houses of yellowish stone and mortar. The overhanging cliff above made a roof two hundred feet thick. The hard stratum below was like an everlasting floor. The houses stood along in a row, like the buildings in a city block, or like a barracks."

Although Cather's surviving letters do not report the visit to Walnut Canyon, she was deeply moved by the experience. In her first fictional setting in the Southwest her memories of Walnut Canyon inform an important section of The Song of the Lark, written three years later. The canyon is the scene of a pivotal decision in the career of Thea Kronborg, its protagonist. Thea leaves Chicago for Arizona to rest, recuperate, and think. She has been ill during the previous winter and needs the dry desert air of the Southwest. But more important, she needs to get "out of the stream of meaningless activity and undirected effort." Ever since leaving home for Chicago to study music, she has always been a "little drudge" working to get on in the world and never having time to sort out her values or chart her future. But on the ranch she visits near Flagstaff "the personality of which she was so tired seemed to let go of her," and as she climbs into her big German feather bed the first night, she feels a complete sense of release from the struggles and anxieties of her former life. Day after day while she is at the ranch, which adjoins Panther Canyon, she takes her lunch basket and descends to one of the cliff houses, where she lies lazily in the sun high above the bottom of the canyon. All her life "she had been hurrying and sputtering, as if she had been born behind time and had been trying to catch up." Now it is as though she were waiting for something to catch up with her. At the end of her stay at Panther Canyon, Thea makes up her mind to go to Germany to continue her musical education. This is the turning point in her career. She finally knows what she wants out of life and goes on to become a great Wagnerian soprano.

The Song of the Lark is heavily autobiographical in its early books, as it details the life of the young singer-heroine. Cather herself was at a crossroads in her career when she went to the Southwest for the first time. She had been ill during the previous winter and needed the bracing air of Arizona and New Mexico. She too was tired and felt unfulfilled in her journalistic career. She too had been a little drudge hurrying from one task to another. Undecided about her future when she left the East, she was planning to return to McClure's Magazine as a staff writer, though she had resigned already as managing editor, but during her weeks in the Southwest she saw clearly that she had been frittering away her life in the editorial routine. It was time to get out completely. She gathered her courage and struck out in a new direction. This time of rest, recuperation, and thought gave her a clear vision of where she wanted to go in the future.

There is a difference, however, between Thea's decision, which is concentrated dramatically in the Panther Canyon episode, and Cather's, because life is often less dramatic than fiction. Cather's departure from the magazine was aided by a change in ownership and a shake-up in staff, but when she returned to New York, she felt obliged to give the magazine some of her time in the balance of 1912 and in 1913 before severing all connections. And she also had a good start on her rest and rehabilitation during the autumn of 1911 at Cherry Valley, New York, where she did some important writing. But the trip to the Southwest, nonetheless, was a watershed in her career.

After she visited Flagstaff, she returned to Winslow briefly; then she and her brother continued on to Albuquerque at the end of May. Ten days later she wrote McClure that she was just back from a long and delightful horseback trip into the desert. She was then at Lamy, the nearest town to Santa Fe on the main line of the railroad, and about to leave for Red Cloud. She went roundabout through El Paso, where she caught a Southern Pacific train that took her back into the Middle West. By June 12 she was home and writing to McClure about his problems. But she also summarized her stay in the Southwest. She had not written a line since leaving the East, but she had returned with such a head full of stories that she was dreaming about them at night. She had ridden and driven hundreds of miles in Arizona and New Mexico, and McClure would not recognize her, she was so dark-skinned and good-humored. She urged McClure to forget how cranky she used to be when she was tired. She could not bear to be remembered that way, and she resolved never to get fussy like that again. She was now happier than she had been since she was a youngster. Those weeks off in the desert with her big, handsome brother were weeks that she would never forget. They took all the kinks and crinkles out, and she felt as if her mind had been freshly washed and ironed and made ready for a new life. She felt somehow confident, as if she had gotten her second wind.

In describing her return to civilization to Sergeant she put it another way. The Southwest had been so big and so consuming that she was now glad to be back in the East, where she could slowly come to herself without that swift, yellow excitement to think of. Before she left, the real meaning came to her of a sentence she once had carelessly read in Balzac: "Dans le desert, voyezvous, il y a tout et il n'y rien; Dieu sans les hommes" ("In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing; God without men"). That sentence really means a great deal, she wrote. She was sitting mournfully beside the Rio Grande one day, just outside a beautiful Indian village, Santo Domingo, when she looked up and saw that sentence written in the sand. It explained what was the matter with her. One could play with the desert, love it, and go hard night and day and be full of it and quite tipsy with it, and then there came a moment when one must kiss it goodby and go, go bleeding, but go.

CHAPTER 1

Virginia

Back Creek Valley in Frederick County, Virginia, at the end of 1873 was a thinly settled district on the Northwest Turnpike linking Winchester and Romney, some thirty miles to the west. The farms in that part of the Shenandoah Valley, which lies some fifty miles west-northwest of the national capital, were mostly hilly, and their thin, rocky soil was not well suited to agriculture. The farmers would have been poor even if marauding soldiers had not destroyed their crops, driven off their stock, and burned their barns during the Civil War. Because the land was poor, field hands were not needed there as on the richer plantations farther east. No family had owned more than a few slaves before the war, and many settlers who did not believe in slavery owned none and worked their slatey acres with their own sweat. So much of the land was still wild forest that the lumber they had in abundance was of no value at all. The people along Back Creek were predominantly Protestant, a mixture of Calvinists from Northern Ireland and German Lutherans, many newly arrived in the United States, augmented by native Pennsylvanians or older immigrants who had moved down into Virginia. Some, like Willa Cather's parents, were fourth-generation Virginians.

Less than a decade after the Civil War ended, the South was still recovering from the wracking agonies of the terrible conflict. Although Virginia escaped much of the punishment inflicted on the Confederacy during Reconstruction and was readmitted to the Union by 1870, the state had lost thousands of its young men and had been a battleground during much of the war. The Shenandoah Valley in particular was a strategic highway connecting North and South. Winchester, the county seat, stood at the crossroads of major highways running north and south, east and west, the latter being the Northwest Turnpike. The area had been stubbornly fought over throughout the four-year struggle, and Winchester changed hands many times. One resident of the area remembered:"So rapidly did it change hands that the inhabitants found it necessary [each morning] to look to the surrounding forts to see which flag was floating over them." The register at the Taylor Hotel had many pages with names of officers of both sides under the same date: Union officers had eaten dinner; Confederate officers had spent the night.

"Stonewall" Jackson had humiliated the Union forces under General Nathaniel Banks in the Shenandoah Valley in May 1862. General Philip Sheridan had turned defeat into a victory with his famous ride from Winchester to Cedar Run in October 1864 and had finally defeated Confederate general Jubal A. Early there the following March, a few weeks before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Although the valley was largely Southern in its sympathies and did not, as West Virginia did, split away from the Confederacy, many pro-Northerners lived there, and the sectional differences that divided father and son, brother and brother, sister and sister, were nowhere more evident. Prominent among the Union supporters in the valley was William Cather, grandfather of Willa.

The Cather family originated in Wales. After Willa Cather had become a well-known novelist, she received a letter one day from a Cather in England asking if she were a descendant of the Jasper Cather who had emigrated to America from Northern Ireland. This distant English cousin explained that the original family home was the Cadder Idris, the highest mountain in Wales, from which the name apparently had come. An ancestor in the seventeenth century, the cousin also reported, had fought for Charles I, and in appreciation Charles II after the Restoration had given land in Ireland to Edmund and Bertram Cather, twin brothers, who then had settled in County Tyrone. There is a Cather coat of arms in British records of heraldry: a buck's head cabossed on a shield surmounted by a crest of a swan among reeds with the motto "Vigilans non cadet" ("He who is vigilant will not fall").

This Jasper Cather, who was the first Cather in America, was a red-haired schoolteacher who settled in Western Pennsylvania around the middle of the eighteenth century. He fought in the Revolution, but little is known about him until he turned up in Frederick County, Virginia, after independence and bought land on Flint Ridge, two miles southeast of Back Creek Valley. In 1786 he married Sarah Moore, who bore him seven children, one of whom was James Cather, the great-grandfather of Willa, born in 1795. James in 1819 married Ann Howard, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland in the last year of the eighteenth century, when she was an infant. She bore James eight children, one of whom was William, the grandfather of Willa.

James Cather, who was much admired by his grandson Charles, Willa's father, was a man of some distinction in the community. A local historian describes him as "above the average farmer in intellect. Possessed with rare physical strength and wonderful energy, these qualities gave him an advantage over weaker men. Always informed on the current topics of the day, his conversational abilities were admirable. Young men were always benefited by having him as a friend." James, who lived to be eighty, is much like Mr. Cartmell, the postmistress's father in Sapphira and the Slave Girl. As young Rachel Blake overhears him talking to his daughter, she thinks that his "talk had a flavour of old-fashioned courtesy." Mr. Cartmell also believes, as James Cather and his widowed daughter Sidney Gore did, that owning slaves is wrong.

James, however, sided with the South during the Civil War. Though he opposed both slavery and secession, he believed strongly in states' rights, and as a member of the legislature voted with the majority when Virginia left the Union. He made the same painful decision many southerners made that fateful spring. Robert E. Lee wrote his sister on April 10, 1861: "With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor service may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword." The choice was easier, however, for James Cather, farmer, than for an army officer and West Point graduate.

William Cather, Willa's grandfather, grew up on the Flint Ridge farm and in 1846 married Emily Anne Caroline Smith. William and Caroline are important characters in My Ántonia (1918), though they are seen there as an elderly couple after they have joined the westward movement and resettled in Nebraska. Cather's narrator, Jim Burden, who goes to live with his grandparents after the death of his Virginia parents, describes his grandfather: "My grandfather said little . . . . I felt at once his deliberateness and personal dignity, and was a little in awe of him. The thing one immediately noticed about him was his beautiful, crinkly snow-white beard . . . . His bald crown only made it more impressive. Grandfather's eyes were not at all like those of an old man; they were bright blue, and had a fresh, frosty sparkle." In his photograph William looks like an Old Testament prophet, and in keeping with this appearance, he was deeply religious. In his youth his conscience had led him to drop his inherited Calvinism and become a Baptist.

Caroline Cather, whose father kept a popular tavern on the turnpike, was descended from Jeremiah Smith, who came to Virginia from England in 1730. He had been deeded land on Back Creek in 1762 by Lord Fairfax, who, one remembers, once had employed George Washington to survey his vast holdings. The deed to this small parcel of Fairfax's five million acres still remains in the possession of Cather descendants. To Jim Burden his grandmother appears "a spare, tall woman, a little stooped, and she was apt to carry her head thrust forward in an attitude of attention . . . . She was quick-footed and energetic in all her movements. Her voice was high and rather shrill, and she often spoke with an anxious inflection . . . . Her laugh, too, was high and perhaps a little strident, but there was a lively intelligence in it. She was then fifty-five years old, a strong woman, of unusual endurance."

In 1851 William and Caroline settled on a farm about a mile east of the village of Back Creek. William bought 130 acres and later more than doubled his property. He built a large, solid three-story brick house on the north side of the turnpike and named it Willow Shade. It still stands on the outskirts of what is now the town of Gore. Across the façade are five large single windows, each with twelve panes, and behind is a brick extension rising two stories. Each room once had a fireplace, and surrounding the house in the nineteenth century were great willow trees. A stream ran through the front yard, spanned by a rustic bridge, and a spring from the mountain behind provided cool water for refrigeration and household use. A flight of steps still leads to a porch supported by white columns and an entranceway into the second story. Across the turnpike is a steep hill that cuts off the view from the lower story.

As an adult, Cather remembered the kitchen on the ground floor as being the most pleasant room in the house, also the most interesting. The parlor was stiff and formal except when it was full of company, which was often, but the kitchen was comfortable. Besides the eight-hole range, there was a huge fireplace with a crane to lift heavy pots. There was always a roaring fire in the winter, which was kept up at night after the stove fires went out. There were three kitchen tables: one for making bread, another for pastry, and a third covered with zinc used for cutting up meat. There were also tall cupboards used for storing sugar and spices and groceries. The farm wagons brought supplies from Winchester in large quantities so that the Cathers did not have to make the trip often. There was a special cupboard that held jars of brandied fruit, ginger, and orange peel soaking in whiskey. Vegetables for winter were kept in a storeroom at the back cooled by the spring that supplied the house. This house and its surroundings are the center of all of Willa Cather's early memories.

Before she was born, however, the war split the Cathers and alienated neighbors. William and Caroline, as strong Union supporters, broke with William's father and brothers and sisters. Their two sons, Charles (Willa's father) and George, were too young for military duty at the beginning of the conflict, but before the end they were sent across the border less than five miles away to West Virginia to avoid conscription into the Confederate Army. As the war went on around them, the Cathers lived in fear of trouble. Both Confederate and Union troops were continually moving up and down the turnpike and demanding of local residents food and shelter. The Cathers were lucky, however, and survived the war with no great loss of property. On one occasion a neighbor who had remained friendly warned them that Confederate soldiers were about to raid the valley and take all the stock of Northern sympathizers. The Cathers took their animals to the neighbor's barn until the threat passed. Later they returned the favor when Union troops swept through the area. At still another point in the war when an epidemic of measles broke out among occupying Confederate troops, the Cathers turned Willow Shade into an emergency hospital.

The events of the war in Back Creek Valley are vividly recounted in the diary of William Cather's sister, Sidney Gore, a widow who lived in the village and kept a rooming and boarding house. She quartered and ministered to soldiers of both armies and could hear the cannon and rifle fire from the battles fought around Winchester. But no real battles were fought in Back Creek. The Gores' greatest problem was hiding food, money, and livestock from thieving bushwackers who straggled through the valley. Mrs. Gore's son remembered that they put their bread in pillowcases after each meal. They tied their money up with medicinal herbs that were hung from the rafters. They built secret closets in the attic, induced the hens to lay their eggs deep in the woods, fattened their hogs in pens hidden in large piles of firewood, and hid the family silver under a false bottom in the kitchen woodbox.

There were agonizing moments, however. Mrs. Gore was stunned when Union troops killed her neighbor in August 1863. The neighbor had been surprised when asleep by soldiers' appearing at the window and without reflecting had grabbed a gun and fired a shot. Whereupon fifty Union soldiers opened fire. On another occasion Willa Cather's Aunt Sidney opened the door to find a Union officer who asked for James Cather. When she said that she was his daughter, the enemy officer introduced himself as her cousin, but family members on opposite sides during the Civil War was a commonplace in Back Creek.

The tragedies of fratricidal war are poignantly set down in Walt Whitman's memory of his experiences as a volunteer nurse in Washington hospitals: "I staid to-night a long time by the bedside of a new patient, a young Baltimorean, aged about 19 years . . . very feeble, right leg amputated, can't sleep . . . held on to my hand and put it by his face, not willing to let me leave. As I was lingering, soothing him in his pain, he says to me suddenly, 'I hardly think you know who I am . . . I am a rebel soldier.' I said I did not know that, but it made no difference . . . . In an adjoining ward I found his brother, an officer of rank, a Union soldier . . . wounded in one of the engagements at Petersburgh . . . . It was in the same battle both were hit. One was a strong Unionist, the other Secesh; both fought on their respective sides, both badly wounded, and both brought together here . . . . Each died for his cause."

After Lee's surrender the Back Creek boys came home to their farms and set about planting their neglected fields, which had been farmed in their absence by the women and children. Most of them had been Confederate soldiers. They still had their land, but there were few horses left to work the soil, most having been driven off or killed as the tide of battle surged back and forth. They also had to replenish their livestock. Cather writes in Sapphira: "The Rebel soldiers who came back were tired, discouraged, but not humiliated or embittered by failure. The country people accepted the defeat of the Confederacy with dignity, as they accepted death when it came to their families. Defeat was not new to these men. Almost every season brought defeat of some kind to the farming people. Their cornfields, planted by hand and cultivated with the hoe, were beaten down by hail, or the wheat was burned up by drought, or cholera broke out among the pigs. The soil was none too fertile, and the methods of farming were not very good.

"The Back Creek boys were glad to be at home again; to see the sun come up over one familiar hill and go down over another. Now they could mend the barn roof where it leaked, help the old woman with her garden, and keep the woodpile high. They had gone out to fight for their home State, had done their best, and now it was over. They still wore their army overcoats in winter, because they had no others, and they worked the fields in whatever rags were left of their uniforms. The day of Confederate reunions and veterans' dinners was then far distant."

William Cather, however, profited by his Union allegiance and after the war was appointed sheriff for Frederick County by the military government, a job that he performed with the aid of his sons as deputies. He also ended the war more affluent than his neighbors, and after life returned to normal hired a Baptist preacher to conduct a school at Willow Shade. All the people of the neighborhood, Northern and Southern sympathizers alike, were invited to send their children. In addition, he sent some of the older ones-including his son Charles and a neighbor's daughter, Mary Virginia Boak, who had had three brothers in the Confederate Army-to school in Baltimore. These acts helped heal the wounds caused by the war, and the healing process was abetted further when Charles Cather and Mary Virginia Boak fell in love. They were married on December 5, 1872, in the home of the bride's mother, Rachel Boak.

Rachel Boak, whose influence on her granddaughter was considerable, has been portrayed indelibly as Old Mrs. Harris in Cather's story of that name and as Rachel Blake in Sapphira. Her family history furnished the plot of that novel: her father was the miller and her mother the title character. She was the one who helped the slave Nancy escape via the underground railway to Canada. In real life she had been born Rachel Elizabeth Seibert in 1816. She married William Lee Boak at the age of fourteen and was widowed at thirty-eight. Her husband, who was three times a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, died in Washington as an official of the Department of the Interior. When Rachel returned to Virginia with a family of five, her father bought her a house in the village. There she raised her children and ministered to the sick, as Rachel Blake does in the novel. She abhorred slavery, as the William Cathers did, but when the war came, her three sons served the Confederacy. Only two returned from the war. William Seibert Boak died at nineteen as the result of wounds received at Manassas.

Cather in 1902 dedicated a poem to his memory,"The Namesake," and after going to Pittsburgh adopted Seibert as her own middle name, though she always spelled it Sibert. She also liked to pretend that she was named for this uncle she never had met. She writes:
Somewhere there among the stones,
All alike, that mark their bones,
Lies a lad beneath the pine
Who once bore a name like mine,—
Flung his splendid life away
Long before I saw the day.

And the poem ends:
And I'll be winner at the game
Enough for two who bore the name.

Cather also wrote a story in 1907 with the same title as the poem, in which a sculptor explains to his colleagues that the inspiration for his statue The Color Sergeant came from his uncle who was killed in the war. Cather's mother always revered this brother and kept his sword and a Confederate flag with her when the family moved to Nebraska.

When Cather was editing the Home Monthly in Pittsburgh, she wrote an article on nursing as a profession for women. She used her grandmother as an example "of those unprofessional nurses who served without recompense, from the mere love of it. She had a host of little children of her own, poor woman, but when a child was burned, when some overworked woman was in her death agony, when a man had been crushed under falling timber, or when a boy had cut his leg by a slip of the knife in the sumach field, the man who went to town for the doctor always stopped for her on the way. Night or day, winter or summer, she went . . . . I have often heard the old folks tell how, during those dreadful diphtheria scourges that used to sweep over the country in the fifties, she would go into a house where eight or ten children were all down with the disease, nurse and cook for the living and 'lay out' the dead."

Grandmother Boak as Rachel Blake in Sapphira is a "short, stalwart woman in a sunbonnet, wearing a heavy shawl over her freshly ironed calico dress . . . a woman of thirty-six or-seven, though she looked older." The set of her head was "enduring yet determined," her face broad,"highly coloured," her "fleshy nose, anchored deeply at the nostrils," her eyes grave and dark,"set back under a broad forehead." As Grandma Harris, she is seen by her neighbor Mrs. Rosen: "There was the kind of nobility about her head that there is about an old lion's: an absence of self-consciousness, vanity, preoccupation-something absolute. Her grey hair was parted in the middle, wound in two little horns over her ears, and done in a little flat knot behind. Her mouth was large and composed,-resigned, the corners drooping."

Charles Cather, Willa's father, was an amiable young man, soft-spoken and tender-hearted. He was tall, fair-haired, gentle, and did not inherit the inflexible will and evangelical zeal of his Calvinist-turned-Baptist father. He was handsome in a boyish southern way and never hurt anybody's feelings. Willa Cather loved him dearly and was always much closer to him than to her mother. Before his marriage Charles had studied law for two years, and though he never practiced, he often was called on to help his neighbors untangle their affairs; when he gave up farming in Nebraska to open an insurance office in Red Cloud, his legal training was useful. He appears in a partial portrait in "Old Mrs. Harris" as Mr. Templeton, an easygoing businessman who hates to press his debtors: "His boyish, eager-to-please manner, his fair complexion and blue eyes and young face, made him seem very soft to some of the hard old money-grubbers on Main Street, and the fact that he always said 'Yes, Sir,' and 'No, sir,' to men older than himself furnished a good deal of amusement to by-standers." But his appearance was deceiving. Charles Cather operated Willow Shade profitably, later made money farming in Nebraska, and as a businessman in Red Cloud supported a large family.

Mary Virginia Boak, Willa's mother, who had taught school in Back Creek Valley before her marriage, was a woman of energy and force. Handsome and domineering, she provided the power that drove the household, often producing sparks, and she more than made up for Charles's easygoing manner. She ruled her family tyrannically, exacted strict obedience to a domestic discipline, and punished disobedience with a rawhide whip. Her children, however, apparently never objected to her draconian measures for enforcing good behavior. She also had a great capacity for enjoying life and for caring about things—whether the coffee was hot, whether a neighbor's child was ill, whether the weather was right for a picnic. She had the good sense to let her children develop their own personalities. Willa Cather remembered in her old age that her mother kept her seven children clean but allowed them to be individuals from the time they could crawl. She cared for their bodies and kept her hands off their souls. They were all different, and she let them be different. As Victoria Templeton in "Old Mrs. Harris," she is seen through the eyes of the title character: "Victoria had a good heart, but she was terribly proud and could not bear the least criticism." Willa inherited her mother's temperament, and the two often clashed.

One of Mary Virginia's projects early in her marriage was to bring her divided families together again. She planned a large party at Christmastime in 1875 and drove about the valley issuing her invitations in person. Because of her charm and the fact the Boaks had been staunch supporters of the Confederacy, none of the pro-Southern relatives was able to decline. The war, of course, had been over for a decade, and it no doubt was time for reconciliation. Besides, as the William Cathers were such a prominent part of the family, it was very inconvenient to keep up the enmity. Everyone showed up, and the party was a great success. William's mother, Ann Howard Cather, then seventy-seven, attended the festivities and had the satisfaction of seeing her sons and daughters once again at peace with each other.

Charles and Mary Virginia (usually called Jennie) lost no time in starting a family. By March 1873 Jennie was pregnant. Caroline Cather, her mother-in-law, wrote to one of her daughters after Jennie began to have morning sickness that Charles's Jennie was sick and had called the doctor twice. "I went up to see her with your Aunt Sidney and I think we understand her case as well as the Dr. and think he was not needed as much now as he may be after while, but I did not tell her so for she is so easily insulted. I knew she would fly right up for she thinks she is awfully sick. Her mother and Charley [have] a happy time waiting on her." Less than eight months later, as the winter began mildly, Willa Cather was born in her grandmother's house in Back Creek Valley on December 7, 1873.

She was named Wilella after her father's youngest sister, who had died of diphtheria in childhood, but she was always called Willie by her family and oldest friends. Willa was her own invention and appears in her own hand in the family Bible, altered from the original Wilella. The weather turned cold in January, when the first report of the baby appears in the record. Charles wrote his brother George, who had gone west to Nebraska: "We have just been treated to a slice of cold weather; the first of the season-last week we had three of our coldest days so far. The thermometer stood at 10 above zero . . . . We filled our ice house during the freeze . . . . Jennie and I were at town today. Jennie went to have a tooth drawn, the first time she has been out. We left the baby at home with its grandma. She said it did not cry once while we were gone. She grows very fast, and is just as good as she is pretty." This description is perhaps a proud father's exaggeration, for the earliest photograph extant is not particularly attractive. It shows a rather square head, very prominent ears, and a large nose, but by the time Willa was a little girl her features had refined, and she begins to be recognizable as the adult Willa Cather.

In the fall of 1874 William and Caroline Cather left Virginia to visit their son George, who had married a New England girl and had taken up a homestead in Nebraska. They left Charles and Jennie in charge of the farm. The young Cathers and the baby moved into Willow Shade, where they lived until they too, in 1883, decided to go west. In mid-February Jennie wrote her sister- and brother-in-law in Nebraska that Willa was walking and beginning to talk. She was then fourteen months old. While Jennie minded the baby and looked after the house, Charles supported his wife and child by raising sheep. Not much of his father's land could be farmed profitably, but sheep found a ready market in Washington and Baltimore. He ran the farm efficiently and, according to his nature, tender-heartedly. When his favorite sheep dog cut its paws, he fashioned little leather shoes to protect its feet from the rocks, and, Willa Cather remembered, the dog would come begging for its shoes. Her most vivid memories of early childhood, however, were the times her father carried her with him when he went out at night to drive the sheep into the fold. Her poem "The Swedish Mother," published in McClure's Magazine in 1911, recalls this early experience. The mother is telling the child about her childhood:
All time in spring, when evening come,
We go bring sheep and li'l' lambs home.
We go big field, 'way up on hill,
Ten times high like our windmill.
One time your grandpa leave me wait
While he call sheep down. By de gate
I sit still till night come dark;
Rabbits run an' strange dogs bark,
Old owl hoot, and your modder cry,
She been so 'fraid big bear come by.
Last, 'way off, she hear de sheep,
Li'l' bells ring and li'l' lambs bleat.
. . . . . . .
Then come grandpa in his arms
Li'l' sick lamb that somet'ing harm
He so young then, big and strong,
Pick li'l' girl up, take her 'long.

Early memories of childhood are like islands in an empty sea—isolated and unconnected to each other. As an adult, Cather's earliest memory was of a ride in a steamboat when she was still an infant. She could remember the terror she felt as she held tightly to her mother while being taken on board. She also recalled another occasion at about the age of three when her parents went ice-skating on Back Creek and took her with them. Skating was a sport they loved and one that she also enjoyed later in Nebraska. She was not content to sit and watch, however, but wanted attention. Her indulgent father cut a pine bough, set her on it, and pulled her across the ice. She remembered still another time when she was taken visiting up on Timber Ridge. She was supposed to walk home because it was all down hill, but as she was on her way a violent rainstorm came up, and she was wearing only a pair of light slippers. Providentially, Snowden Anderson, a man she hardly knew, came up from his house on the Hollow Road riding a gray horse and wearing an old gray Confederate Army overcoat. He stopped, picked her up, sat her on the old cavalry saddle in front of him, and took her home. She remembered feeling contented and safe. Children, she thought, knew when people were honest and good. They did not reason about it. They just knew. At least that is the way she felt about her Virginia childhood some sixty years after.

Many of the incidents of her childhood, however, come from the recollections of her parents. Her mother was fond of showing her daughter's early linguistic proficiency by telling of the visit of a little cousin named Philip Frederic, who came to Willow Shade with his parents. The house was full of guests, as it often was, and Philip Frederic was put in Willa's crib while she slept with her grandmother. After the cousin left, however, Willa refused to go back to her bed: "No, no," she kept repeating, "my cradle is all Philip Frederic'd up." Her precocity was demonstrated other times after she had listened to her grandmother read to her from Peter Parley's Universal History, one of Samuel Goodrich's enormously popular children's books. She would make a chariot by putting one chair upside down on another, climbing on top, and driving the chariot. She would sit silently for long intervals riding while an invisible slave ran beside her repeating the words," Cato, thou art but man! "

Her grandmother Boak, who had come to live with them, took charge of her preschool education, read to her from the Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress, as well as from Peter Parley. The Bible she absorbed so thoroughly that her writing throughout her life is loaded with biblical quotations and allusions. John Bunyan's allegory of the Christian life made a deep impression. It was a book, she wrote nearly half a century later, with "scenes of the most satisfying kind; where little is said but much is felt and communicated." At the end of her career, in Sapphira, she has her miller read Bunyan as he wrestles with the moral problem of slavery. Before she was old enough to go to school, her father took her to a private school nearby where older children were being taught, and she was allowed to sit quietly and listen. Her father would carry her over on his horse and leave her there for half a day. Later she attended a school kept by a Mr. Smith in Back Creek.

There is no record of serious illness during Cather's childhood, but she had the usual colds during the damp winters. When she was shut up in the house, she remembered many years later, her parents would send for Mary Ann Anderson (the mother of Snowden), who lived up on the ridge, to come down and help out. Cather used to watch out of the front windows, hoping to see Mrs. Anderson come down the road: she was such fun to talk to and very kind to a sick child. She became a great favorite and appears as Mrs. Ringer in Sapphira, the woman who "was born interested." Cather renewed her childhood friendship with Mrs. Anderson when she returned to Virginia in 1896 and heard from her all the stories of the lives of people she had known as a child. "She got a great deal of entertainment out of the weather and the behaviour of the moon. Any chance bit of gossip that came her way was a godsend . . . . Her spirits bubbled into the light like a spring and spread among the cresses."

Mrs. Anderson's simple-minded daughter Marjorie was one of Cather's companions, though much older, after she came to work at Willow Shade as nurse and housemaid. She and Willa roamed the woods and fields together and often walked up the double-S road, which Cather later thought the most beautiful piece of country road she had found anywhere in the world, to visit Margie's mother and listen to her tales of local folklore. Cather loved Margie, who served the family with single-minded devotion for the rest of her life. She and her brother accompanied the Cathers to Nebraska, and she was ultimately buried in the family plot in Red Cloud in 1928. Margie lived in Cather's imagination as Mahailey in One of Ours, Mandy in "Old Mrs. Harris," Sada in Death Comes for the Archbishop, and the title character in the poem "Poor Marty," written after Margie died. In One of Ours Cather writes: "She had never been sent to school, and could not read or write. Claude, when he was a little boy, tried to teach her to read, but what she learned one night she had forgotten by the next. She could count, and tell the time . . . and she was very proud of knowing the alphabet . . . . [However] Mahailey was shrewd in her estimate of people, and Claude thought her judgment sound in a good many things. He knew she sensed all the shades of personal feeling, the accords and antipathies in the household, as keenly as he did, and he would have hated to lose her good opinion." Cather understood this humble and defenseless woman, felt very protective of her, and when she visited Red Cloud in later years she often spent hours talking to Margie in the backyard or working with her in the kitchen. Both women shared a fondness for children. Margie loved to talk of old times in Virginia; and Cather's father, who subscribed to the weekly Winchester paper, always told her the news from home. After she died, Cather wrote in "Poor Marty":
Little had she here to leave,
Nought to will, none to grieve.
Hire nor wages did she draw,
But her keep and bed of straw.

Companions more Cather's own age included Mary Love, the daughter of the doctor who delivered her. Mary's grandfather had been minister to France in 1860-61, and Mary's mother liked to talk about her education in France and her experiences as a diplomat's daughter. Cather's lifelong love affair with France may well have begun with these accounts. Willa also had the companionship of her brother Roscoe, called Ross by the family, who was born in 1877. Douglass, who came along in 1880, did not become her close friend and confidant until they were growing up in Red Cloud years later. Jessica, the fourth and last child born in Virginia, was eight years younger, very different from Willa in temperament, and the two sisters had little to say to each other.

Young Willa Cather roamed the woods and the fields. She visited the mill house where her grandmother had grown up and the mill on Back Creek where her Great-grandfather Seibert had been the miller. There were plenty of rabbits in the woods, and she set traps that her father made for her. When she revisited Virginia thirteen years after the family moved away, she walked straight to her traps and found them still intact. A little to the west of Willow Shade was a suspension bridge over the creek. There she liked to walk to the middle and recite, "I stood on the bridge at midnight, / As the clocks were striking the hour."

Life at Willow Shade was orderly, comfortable, and continuously interesting. It was a stable world for a child to grow up in. The Cathers were better off than many of their neighbors, and there were always servants in the house to talk to and a few field hands, both black and white, on the farm to watch. There was a huge sheep barn, standing three stories and a loft above its ground-floor pens, where children could play. Spinning and quilting, butter-making, preserving, and candle-making went on regularly. Old women from the mountains came down to help during the busy seasons. Butchering, sheep-shearing, tanning of hides were done on the farm. During the winter evenings the black help sat around the kitchen fireplace, cracking nuts, telling stories, and cutting old clothes into strips, winding the strips into balls to send to Mrs. Kearns, a neighbor who made them into rag rugs. There was also a steady stream of guests at Willow Shade. The tin peddler and Uncle Billy Parks, the broom-maker, came often and were housed overnight in the two-story wing at the back of the house. Cather remembered once emptying her savings bank and giving the contents to Uncle Billy. More important guests, relatives from all over, friends from Winchester, sometimes even Washington, came to visit or stop over on their way somewhere else. It was open house most of the time.

The orderliness and continuity of Lather's first nine years in Virginia left their mark on her values and personality. Her old friend Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who knew her from the time she was sixteen, wrote that she spent this formative "period of life which most influences personality in a state which had the tradition of continuity and stability as far as they could exist in this country, and in a class which more than any other is always stubbornly devoted to the old ways of doing things." Cather always cherished tradition, and the older she grew, the more she felt the need to cling to the values she had grown up with. She watched with profound sorrow the ravages of World War I, then the Great Depression, and finally, late in her life, World War II and felt at the end that the world she knew had largely vanished.

By far the most memorable event of Cather's childhood occurred when she was five. This was the return of Nancy Till, the ex-slave her grandmother had helped escape. The event is recreated as the epilogue for Sapphira. On a clear, windy March day in 1879 Cather was in bed with a cold in her mother's bedroom on the third floor of Willow Shade. She had been put there so that she could watch the turnpike to see the stage when it appeared. Nancy was coming home from Montreal, where she had lived for twenty-five years following the midnight flight in which Rachel Boak had taken her across the Potomac River and delivered her to agents of the underground railroad. Suddenly her mother hurried into the room, wrapped her in a blanket, and carried her to the window as the stage stopped before the house. A woman in a black coat and turban descended. Then she was put back to bed. Old Till, who worked for the Cathers and was Nancy's mother, stayed in the room with the child so that the recognition scene could be enacted in her presence. There was talking on the stairs, and a minute later the door opened: "Till had already risen; when the stranger followed my mother into the room, she took a few uncertain steps forward. She fell meekly into the arms of a tall, gold-skinned woman, who drew the little old darky to her breast and held her there, bending her face down over the head scantily covered with grey wool. Neither spoke a word. There was something Scriptural in that meeting, like the pictures in our old Bible."

Sixty-four years later Cather still could remember the scene as though it had just happened. She wrote in 1943 that Nancy's dress in the novel is described in more detail than she could remember about a friend she had seen the week before. It all happened just as she told it, and it was the most exciting event of her life up to that time. Nancy already had become a legend in the community, and Mrs. Cather often had sung her daughter to sleep with,
Down by de cane brake, close by de mill,
Dar lived a yaller gal, her name was Nancy Till.

Another dramatic event occurred about the same time with five-year-old Willa as participant, but that experience was terrifying rather than exciting. She was playing by herself in an upstairs room at Willow Shade when a half-witted boy, the son of one of the servants, slipped into the room brandishing an open jackknife. He said he was going to cut off her hand. She was terrified. In recalling the experience, however, Cather remembered that she was scared, but she also knew that she must not show any sign of fear. She began talking to the boy to distract him and edging towards the window. Outside the room was a tall tree whose branches one could reach out and touch. She suggested to the boy that it would be fun to climb out the window and descend to the ground without having to go back down the stairs. The new idea drove out the old one. The boy forgot what he had planned to do, went out the window, and climbed down the tree.

Though the strategem worked, the experience left a deep trauma. Throughout her life Cather had a horror of mutilation, especially of the hands. Time and again in her fiction this horror appears—almost like an obsession. In an early story written while Cather was still in college,"The Clemency of the Court" (1893), Serge is tied by his arms in prison until "they were paralyzed from the shoulder down so that the guard had to feed him like a baby." In "The Profile" (1907) one of the characters speaks of the human body as sanctified by nature,"but lop away so much as a finger, and you have wounded the creature beyond reparation." In "The Bohemian Girl" (1912) Eric tears his hand on a cornsheller. In "The Namesake" (1907) Lyon's hand and forearm are torn away by exploding shrapnel. In "Behind the Singer Tower" (1912) an opera singer jumps from a burning hotel, flings his arm out, and his hand is "snapped off at the wrist as cleanly as if it had been taken off by a cutlass." In One of Ours (1922) Claude Wheeler and his company move into a captured trench, at the top of which the hand of a dead German reaches out "like the swollen roots of some noxious weed." In Shadows on the Rock (1931), when a missionary is feasting with a group of Huron Indians,"they pulled a human hand out of the kettle to show him that he had eaten of an Iroquois prisoner." When Aunt Jezebel, the old slave who was born in Africa, is dying in Sapphira and will not eat, she is told that she must eat to keep up her strength. She replies that nothing would tempt her "lessen maybe it was a li'l' pickaninny's hand." In Cather's unfinished novel laid in medieval Avignon, which she was writing when she died, one of the main characters was punished for thievery by being strung up by the thumbs so that his hands became useless.

In respect to this horror of mutilation Cather's life imitated her art. In 1934 she tore the big tendon in her left wrist and had to have her hand in splints for over a month, and four years later someone accidentally smashed one of her hands while she was shopping in a drugstore. In 1940, after signing five hundred copies of a de luxe edition of Sapphira for Knopf in three days, she had to have her right hand tied up in splints. The next year her hand was still in such bad shape that an orthopedic surgeon designed a special brace, which she wore for eight months in 1941 and off and on for the rest of her life.

If her quick wit saved her from the half-witted boy, on another occasion her wit must have embarrassed her elders. Among the guests who streamed through Willow Shade was an old judge to whom she apparently took an immediate dislike. The judge took the liberty of stroking her curls and addressing her with a string of platitudes that might have been acceptable to a child of less precocity. She stood it as long as she could, then blurted out: "I'se a dang'ous nigger, I is!" It is tempting to see in this episode the beginnings of Cather's adult distaste for the polite conventions and ritual blather of genteel southern society. Her friend Edith Lewis wrote in her memoir of Cather that "even as a little girl she felt something smothering in the polite, rigid social conventions of that Southern society—something factitious and unreal. If one fell in with those sentimental attitudes, those euphuisms that went with good manners, one lost all touch with reality, with truth of experience."

Cather always had ambivalent feelings about her southern background. When she revisited Virginia in 1913, she was eager to get away from the romantic southern attitude she found in both sexes, but the men in particular were all cowed and broken, good only for carrying wraps, dancing, and tipping their hats. She didn't go back to Virginia for a quarter of a century. In 1931 she did not want to be considered a southern writer and declined to serve on a committee of southern writers. During World War II when her niece and her doctor husband moved to Tennessee, she wrote an old friend that going south had to her a slight connotation of going backward. She told another old friend that southerners, herself included, scorn accurate knowledge and always think they can get by with "pretty near." She also never quite lost her southern accent, though she thought she had, and she was much surprised when she was vacationing incognito in New England in 1942 and someone recognized her, he said, by her southern accent.

On the other hand, she much admired her mother, despite clashes of personality, for her bearing as a southern lady and very much wanted to be one herself. When she was preparing to write her only novel about Virginia, she revisited the Shenandoah Valley in 1938 with Edith Lewis, and then memories refined and softened by time came flooding back. Lewis writes: "It was as memorable an experience, as intense and thrilling in its way, as those journeys in New Mexico, when she was writing the Archbishop. Every bud and leaf and flower seemed to speak to her with a peculiar poignancy, every slope of the land, every fence and wall, rock and stream. [But] I remember how she spoke of the limp, drooping acacia trees in bloom along all the roadsides—how they had the shiftless look that characterized so many Southern things, but how their wood was the toughest of all."

Her mixed emotions about Virginia may have kept her from making significant literary use of her childhood memories until she wrote Sapphira more than five decades after leaving the South. Lewis says she often was urged to write a Virginia novel, but for a long time some sort of inhibition deterred her. She sometimes spoke of incidents of her Virginia life that she might write about someday, but she never did. Several of her early stories, however, make use of Virginia memories: "The Elopement of Allen Poole" (1893),"A Night at Greenway Court" (1896),"The Sentimentality of William Tavener" (1900), and "The Namesake" (1907). While these stories are interesting chiefly as apprentice work, they do show that she began her career making use of the total range of her experience.

The first tale,"The Elopement of Allen Poole," published unsigned in The Hesperian, the University of Nebraska literary magazine of which Cather was literary editor, is an amateurish story that attempts to use the dialect of the Virginia mountain people. It is a melodrama of a moonshiner who is shot by the revenuers on the night of his elopement and dies in the arms of his beloved. The sense of place, however, is very strong. After having been away from Virginia for ten years, Cather, even as a sophomore in college, was able to evoke the region memorably, as she later did the Nebraska landscape after she had lived in Pittsburgh and New York for sixteen years. Her creative process required a long immersion of her experience in the deep well of her memory. The landscape she was able to call up in this scene is genuine. Before the fatal shooting in this story Allen throws himself down in the woods beside a laurel bush: "It was the kind of summer morning to encourage idleness. Behind him were the sleepy pine woods, the slatey ground beneath them strewn red with slippery needles. Around him the laurels were just blushing into bloom. Here and there rose tall chestnut trees with the red sumach growing under them. Down in the valley lay the fields of wheat and corn, and among them the creek wound between its willow-grown banks. Across it was the old black, creaking foot-bridge which had neither props nor piles, but was swung from the arms of a great sycamore tree. The reapers were at work in the wheat fields, the mowers swinging their cradles and the binders following close behind. Along the fences companies of barefooted children were picking berries. On the bridge a lank youth sat patiently fishing in the stream where no fish had been caught for years. Allen watched them all until a passing cloud made the valley dark, then his eyes wandered to where the Blue Ridge lay against the sky, faint and hazy as the mountains of Beulah Land."

The next two stories making early use of the Virginia material are less interesting. "A Night at Greenway Court" is a story that takes place in 1752 at the manor house of Lord Fairfax near Winchester, a place Cather certainly had visited as a child. In addition, that noble lord would have interested her because of the land grant he had made to her ancestor. But the story is historical melodrama that probably owes as much to Cather's early fondness for Anthony Hope Hawkins as to her Virginia childhood. It is significant, however, that here Cather makes an early use of a male narrator to tell her story of dueling over a woman's honor. "The Sentimentality of William Tavener" is laid in Nebraska, but the story turns on a reminiscence of Virginia in which a woman urges her farmer husband to let their boys attend the circus. The couple discover that when they were children they both had attended the same circus in their native Virginia. The memory of this experience softens the hardness that had grown up between them, and the boys are sent off to the circus. This is a rather skillful use of what must have been a family story, and it creates what is rare in Cather's fiction—a tender moment of conjugal affection. The feeling is genuine, though the story still is apprentice work.

"The Namesake," which makes the last direct use of Virginia until Sapphira, has intrinsic interest that goes beyond its use of early memories. The story conjures up the image of the uncle who was killed in the Civil War, though the sculptor-narrator who tells the story in Paris makes the uncle a Pennsylvanian. Yet the tale makes clear the powerful pull of family and old memories. Lyon Hartwell, the son of American parents, was born and raised abroad. He is somehow able to capture the spirit of America better in his sculpture than any of his co-artists then working in Paris who have had genuine American upbringings. Hartwell explains to his friends the inspiration for his statue The Color Sergeant, which is the figure of a young soldier running and clutching the folds of a flag, the staff of which has been shot away. Hartwell had gone to Pennsylvania to take care of an invalid aunt living in his grandfather's house on the banks of the Ohio River. During his two years in Pennsylvania he had one day found in the attic an old trunk containing his uncle's clothes, exercise books, letters written home from the army, first books, and even some toys. Inside the cover of a dog-eared Aeneid was inscribed "Lyon Hartwell, January 1862," the year before he had gone off to war at the age of fifteen. Inside the back cover was a crude drawing of the federal flag, and under it in a boyish hand were two lines of "The Star-Spangled Banner." "It was a stiff, wooden sketch, not unlike a detail from some Egyptian inscription," Hartwell narrates,"but, the moment I saw it, wind and color seemed to touch it."

This experience establishes contact between the sculptor and the uncle for whom he has been named. The experience of that night, he relates, almost rent him to pieces. "It was the same feeling that artists know when we, rarely, achieve truth in our work; the feeling of union with some great force, of purpose and security, of being glad that we have lived. For the first time I felt the pull of race and blood and kindred, and felt beating within me things that had not begun with me. It was as if the earth under my feet had grasped and rooted me, and were pouring its essence into me. I sat there until the dawn of morning, and all night long my life seemed to be pouring out of me and running into the ground." Cather's subsequent career was full of epiphanies like this, which inspired her novels, but when she wrote this story in 1907, the pull of family was strong, the tug of Virginia weak. She denied her uncle his allegiance to the Confederacy, for by that time she had not lived in Virginia for twenty-four years.

The Cathers' move to Nebraska was a decade in the making. First Willa's Uncle George and Aunt Franc went west in 1873, and the following year her Grandfather and Grandmother Cather left Back Creek Valley to visit Nebraska. They stayed a year, returned to Virginia, stayed only two years, then moved west for good. The Nebraska Cathers began urging Charles to join them, but he resisted for several years. In 1880 Charles went to Nebraska himself to see his father and brother and found them flourishing in their new prairie homes. But he still wasn't convinced. After he returned to Virginia, however, his four-story sheep barn mysteriously burned to the ground, and he took that as an omen. In February 1883, he auctioned off the farm and his equipment for six thousand dollars, and by April the family was in Nebraska. It was a formidable expedition: parents; four children ranging from nine to infancy; Margie Anderson, the hired girl, and her brother Enoch; Mrs. Cather's mother, Rachel Boak, and two of her grandchildren. Most of the furniture went into the auction, and the few things they moved, like dishes, were packed in barrels and shipped with them. Even Old Vic, the sheep dog, for whom Charles Cather had made shoes, was given to a neighbor. Willa remembered poignantly Old Vic on the day of departure. Just as the family was about to board the train at Back Creek, the old dog broke loose and came running across the fields dragging her chain. Young Willa felt that it was more than she could bear.

CHAPTER 2

On The Divide

Throughout the nineteenth century Americans from the eastern states and immigrants from the Old World were moving westward. The westering spirit was endemic in the restless population of the United States, and the aspirations of landless peasants drew Europeans toward America like a magnet. As soon as the Revolution ended and the Ohio Valley was safe for settlers, New Englanders, tired of scratching a living from their rocky fields, went west. They were joined by Virginians lured by the stories of rich land in Tennessee and Kentucky. Then the land east of the Mississippi began to fill up, and pioneers like Daniel Boone left Kentucky for the still-virgin land and wild forests of Missouri. By the middle of the century people from all over were digging for gold in California and later in Colorado and South Dakota. During the Civil War, in 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, which offered free land in the new territories to those who would live on it, and by 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed, making it easy for settlers to reach the promised land.

Virginians in the Shenandoah Valley, exhausted by the Civil War, dispirited by Reconstruction, and eager for more fertile acres, also caught the westering fever. They talked of going west at corn-huskings, quilting bees, and church suppers. When the young men from Back Creek Valley rode into Winchester on Saturday nights, there was talk of it at the hitching post across from the courthouse. Out on the western prairies there were no trees to fell or stones to haul out of the fields. A man could plow a straight furrow as far as the horizon, and the rich top soil was said to be twelve feet deep. Promotional literature circulated widely among the discontented farmers of Virginia, for the railroads needed passengers and buyers for the large tracts of land given them by Congress. One brochure that reached Back Creek Valley asserted that "you can plant a walnut tree and in five years cut the tree for lumber." No one mentioned the grasshopper plagues that periodically stripped the fields of very bit of living vegetation or the lack of water in many places. Nor did they say that speculators were already busy buying up the choicest land and driving up prices.

George and Frances Cather, who were among the first of many Virginians to go west from the Shenandoah Valley, reached Iowa, where they first planned to settle, in September 1873. But there they found that the free government land was gone and that land on the market was already too expensive. They decided to go further west, either to Kansas or Nebraska. By December they had chosen Nebraska, but the free government land around Red Cloud was gone, and they had to go a dozen miles farther north. George bought 360 acres from the Burlington Railroad and hoped to get more. He also staked a claim for a homestead, onto which they moved the following year. Their first winter was mild, and they sent optimistic reports home. By thee following June they wrote that settlers were coming in rapidly, that George was about to dig a well to avoid having to haul water. He already had planted seven apple trees and was writing home for more seeds. They were joined that year by George's parents, Willa's grandparents, who settled on the land George first had acquired about two miles away. Both parents and children at first lived primitively in dugouts they cut into the prairie and roofed over with sod. Despite the grasshoppers the next year and occasional prairie fires, they prospered. George wrote in 1876 that he had beans a foot long and corn eleven feet tall with ears measuring fifteen inches. By this time there were enough settlers in their area to petition Washington for a post office, but after their suggestions of "Grand Prairie" and "Bloomington" were turned down, George, the leader in the effort, said he was going to name the town after himself. He did, andthe post office became Catherton.

The Cathers had a far stronger motivation for moving west than rich, cheap land: the fear of disease. Tuberculosis was a killer in the Shenandoah Valley, and the Cathers seemed especially susceptible to the bacillus. All four of William Cather's brothers already had died of the disease, and two of his daughters, who had contracted tuberculosis, left Virginia too late. One died soon after moving to Nebraska; the other died later. It is no wonder the climate of Frederick County, Virginia, was generally regarded as unhealthy. Soon after settling in Nebraska, George Cather's wife, Aunt Franc, reported that the dry winters on the prairie were just the thing for people with tuberculosis. Everybody she had heard of who had come with lung trouble had been cured. She was too optimistic, of course, but the air of the high plains was much drier than that of the Shenandoah Valley, and the farther west one went, the better it was for weak lungs.

The state of Nebraska, which Willa Cather first saw in April 1883, at the age of nine, is part of the great plain that stretches west from the Missouri River, gradually rising until it reaches the Rocky Mountains. It is a rolling alluvial plain that grows gradually more sandy toward the west until it breaks into the white sand hills of western Nebraska and eastern Colorado. From east to west this plain measures about six hundred miles, and it is watered by slow-flowing, muddy rivers that run full in the spring, often cutting into farm lands along their banks. By midsummer, however, the streams lie low and shrunken, their current split by glistening white sandbars half overgrown with scrub willows.

The climate is capricious. There are sharp variations in temperature, typical of a large inland land mass that lacks the moderating influence of the sea, but there are compensations. Cather wrote in 1923: "We have short, bitter winters; windy, flower-laden springs; long, hot summers; triumphant autumns that last until Christmas—a season of perpetual sunlight, blazing blue skies, and frosty nights. In this newest part of the New World autumn is the season of beauty and sentiment, as spring is in the Old World."

The earliest settlements in Nebraska were along the Missouri River-Bellevue, Omaha, Brownville, Nebraska City—as the river was the natural pathway into the region. But before 1860 civilization did no more than nibble at the eastern edges of the state along the river bluffs. The whole of the great plain to the west was still a sunny wilderness where the tall red grass, the buffalo, and the Indians still possessed the land relatively undisturbed. Fremont, Kit Carson, and the Mormons crossed the state in the early days, and the fortune-seekers followed by the thousands in their Conestoga wagons after the gold rush began in California. It was at Brownville that the first telegraph line was brought across the river into Nebraska. Cather further remembered: "When I was a child I heard Ex-governor Furness relate how he stood with other pioneers in the log cabin where the Morse instrument had been installed, and how, when it began to click, the men took off their hats as if they were in church. The first message flashed across the river into Nebraska was not a market report, but a line of poetry: 'Westward the course of empire takes its way.'"

The Overland Stage, as Mark Twain describes it memorably in Roughing It, jolted regularly across the prairie in the sixties, following the meandering course of the Platte River and the Oregon Trail. When gold and silver were discovered in Colorado, large freight companies were organized to carry supplies across the plains to the mining camps. The wagons, pulled by teams of oxen, toiled over the long stretch of trackless grass from early spring until winter closed down the traffic. The oxen made from ten to twenty miles a day. "I have heard the old freighters say," continued Cather,"that after embarking on their six-hundred-mile trail, they lost count of the days of the week and the days of the month." The buffalo trails still ran north and south—deep, dusty paths the bison wore when, single file, they came north in the spring for summer grass and went south again in the fall. Along the trails were buffalo wallows, where rain collected, and the early settlers found water for their homesteads. The wagon drivers could recognize these water holes by their clouds of golden coreopsis growing out of the water. The grass was full of quail and prairie chickens in those days, and ducks swam on the lagoons.

In the same year that the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific met at Promontory, Utah, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by rail for the first time, promoters of the Burlington and Missouri Railroad began building another rail line to link the Midwest with Denver. By 1882 their trains were running between Chicago, Kansas City, and the Colorado capital and passing through the Republican River Valley just north of the Kansas line. The town of Red Cloud, about one hundred and fifty miles west of the Missouri River, became a division point for the new railroad. It was also the county seat of Webster County, which had been organized in 1871, the year the town was settled. By 1880 there were over seven thousand people in the county, but one-third lived in town and the rest were spread thin, about nine per square mile. The pioneering period was coming to an end, even though it had lasted scarcely a decade. Still, much of the land had not yet been broken by the plow, and there was an abundance left of the sea of grass that had covered the prairie states since time immemorial from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains.

When the Cather entourage descended from a Burlington coach in April 1883, they were met at the Red Cloud depot by farm wagons from Catherton. Their destination was Grandfather Cather's farm, some twelve miles northwest of the town. Charles Cather loaded his wife, children, mother-in-law, nephew, and niece, the two Andersons, and all their baggage into the wagons for the final leg of their journey. They drove off on a fine spring day, but the road they traveled was no more than wagon tracks over the still untamed land. The terrain they crossed lay between the Republican River and the Little Blue, an area known locally as "the Divide," which was to be the setting for some of Cather's most memorable fiction. The jolting ride across the open, treeless country made an indelible impression on young Willa. She had come to Nebraska, she wrote later, from "an old and conservative society; from the Valley of Virginia, where the original land grants made in the reigns of George II and George III had been going down from father to son ever since, where life was ordered and settled." Now she was in a brand-new country lost in a sea of grass devoid of human habitation. The familiar mountains that she had seen every day of her life back home had been obliterated. She told an interviewer in 1913:"We drove out from Red Cloud to my grandfather's homestead one day in April. I was sitting on the hay in the bottom of a Studebaker wagon, holding on to the side of the wagon box to steady myself—the roads were mostly faint trails over the bunch grass in those days. The land was open range and there was almost no fencing. As we drove further and further out into the country, I felt a good deal as if we had come to the end of everything—it was a kind of erasure of personality . . . . I had heard my father say you had to show grit in a new country, and I would have got on pretty well during that ride if it had not been for the larks. Every now and then one flew up and sang a few splendid notes and dropped down into the grass again. That reminded me of something—I don't know what, but my one purpose in life just then was not to cry, and every time they did it, I thought I would go under."

She did not go under, and in her adult years she wore her allegiance to Nebraska like a badge. For the first week, however, she "had that kind of contraction of the stomach which comes from homesickness." She did not like the canned food they had to eat and made a pact with herself that she would not eat much until she could get back to Virginia and get some fresh mutton. The land seemed to her "as bare as a piece of sheet iron" or, as she put it another time, as "naked as the back of your hand." She also told an interviewer in 1921: "I was little and homesick and lonely and my mother was homesick and nobody paid any attention to us. 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 the curse of my life."

In My Ántonia ten-year-old Jim Burden, Cather's narrator, reacts similarly to his abrupt translation from his native Virginia to Nebraska. Jim's parents have died, and he is being sent to live with his grandparents on the Divide. To heighten the dramatic effect, Cather places the action at night: "Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land . . . . I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it."

Though Cather traveled with her parents, brothers, and sister, she felt Jim's sense of loneliness and loss keenly and never really got over it. Among the several dichotomies in her life, this is one. Throughout her life she was drawn back to the hills and mountains despite her acquired affection for the prairie. When she discovered Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in 1916, she immediately fell in love with the area and returned year after year for a month or more; and when she died, she was not buried in the family plot at Red Cloud with her parents, but on a hillside at Jaffrey, where one could look up and see "a familiar mountain" (Monadnock) against the sky.

When the Cathers got off the Burlington at Red Cloud, they probably were not the only new settlers arriving that day. Nearly every train brought immigrants from Europe. There were Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Bohemians, Germans, and a few Russians mixed together in the polyglot population of Webster County, and there was a French Canadian settlement a little to the north. Jim Burden's train also brings immigrants, Ántonia's Bohemian family, to Nebraska. Before he is met by his grandfather's hired man, he sees these new arrivals "huddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes . . . . The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There was an old man, tall and stooped. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood holding oilcloth bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother's skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began to talk, shouting and exclaiming. I pricked up my ears, for it was positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue."

Coming from the long-settled Shenandoah Valley, Cather also at the age of nine probably never before had heard anything but English. In a biographical sketch she wrote for her publisher many years later to help promote her novels, writing in the third person, she recalls "getting acquainted with the neighbors, whose foreign speech and customs she found intensely interesting. Had she been born in that community, she doubtless would have taken these things for granted . . . . An imaginative child, taken out of the definitely arranged background, and dropped down among struggling immigrants from all over the world, naturally found something to think about." She goes on to say that no child with a spark of generosity could have kept from throwing herself heart and soul into the fight these people were making to master the language, to subdue the soil, to hold their land, and to get on in the world.

The foreign-born population of Nebraska greatly outnumbered the American-born settlers during Cather's childhood and adolescence. The 1910 census reported a foreign population of 900,000 to 300,000 of native stock. Cather remembered: "On Sunday we could drive to a Norwegian church and listen to a sermon in that language, or to a Danish or a Swedish church. We could go to the French Catholic settlement in the next county and hear a sermon in French, or into the Bohemian township and hear one in Czech, or we could go to church with the German Lutherans. There were, of course, American congregations also." She remembered, too, once walking about the streets of Wilbur, only about thirty miles from Lincoln, for a whole day without hearing a word of English spoken.

As an adult, Cather was very critical of the indifference of native-born Americans to the immigrants. This attitude was especially prevalent among Virginians, who back home looked down on foreigners unless they were English or had titles. On the prairie they were seldom open-minded enough to understand the Europeans or to profit by their older traditions. The New England settlers in Nebraska also kept themselves insulated as much as possible from foreign influence and with the Virginians and other southerners were provincial and utterly without curiosity. "If the daughter of a shiftless West Virginia mountaineer," she declared,"married the nephew of a professor at the University of Upsala, the native family felt disgraced by such an alliance."

Cather perhaps exaggerates these feelings, but there is no doubt her mind was being stretched during the months she lived on her grandfather's farm. Her interest in the foreign-born farm families lasted all her life, and when she returned as an adult to visit her parents in Red Cloud, she usually managed to get out into the country to see old friends. She corresponded with them, sent them Christmas boxes, and during the Great Depression and years of drought in the thirties she sent them money and clothes to keep them afloat. She elaborated on the subject of the farm women in her 1913 interview: "We had very few American neighbors. They were mostly Swedes and Danes, Norwegians and Bohemians. I liked them from the first and they made up for what I missed in the country. I particularly liked the old women; they understood my homesickness and were kind to me . . . . these old women on the farms were the first people who ever gave me the real feeling of an older world across the sea. Even when they spoke very little English, the old women somehow managed to tell me a great many stories about the old country. They talk more freely to a child than to grown people . . . . I have never found any intellectual excitement any more intense than I used to feel when I spent a morning with one of these old women at her baking or butter-making. I used to ride home in the most unreasonable state of excitement; I always felt . . . as if I had actually got inside another person's skin."

When the old farm women began dying off, she wrote an old friend that there formerly had been fourteen of them on her Christmas list. Even when she was working in Pittsburgh and not making much money, she was never too poor to send these old friends some little gift. They loved her, she added, but she had loved them first. Cather romanticizes the old farm women in "The Bohemian Girl," her first important story to use Nebraska memories. In that story Nils Ericson, who has returned to his boyhood farm home after twelve years' absence, attends a barn-raising. All the neighbors for miles around come, especially the old women, who bring their pies, cakes, hams, and fried chicken. Nils's views are Cather's: "They were a fine company of old women, and a Dutch painter would have loved to find them there together, where the sun made bright patches on the floor and sent long, quivering shafts of gold through the dusky shade up among the rafters. There were fat, rosy old women who looked hot in their best black dresses; spare, alert old women with brown, dark-veined hands; and several of almost heroic frame, not less massive than old Mrs. Ericson herself." Then he reflects on the Herculean labors those fifteen pairs of hands had performed: "of the cows they had milked, the butter they had made, the gardens they had planted, the children and grandchildren they had tended, the brooms they had worn out, the mountains of food they had cooked. It made him dizzy."

When Cather told her interviewer that she felt as if she had gotten into another person's skin, she was using a simile that describes accurately her creative process. Her creative imagination required total absorption in her fictional world. She used this figure more than once in letters and interviews, and when she had finished writing novels that created strong central characters like Ántonia Shimerda, Thea Kronborg, and her archbishop, Father Latour, she always felt a sense of loss in parting with her protagonists. The images she was photographing on the brain during her months on the farm provided her first important literary material. A friend once had told her that great writers like Shakespeare or Balzac got thousands and thousands more distinct mental impressions every day of their lives than most men in a lifetime. Her mind worked the same way. Once the image was recorded on her brain, it never left her. But it was not available for immediate use. Her ability to remember mannerisms, turns of phrase, idioms, and all sorts of verbal nuances was like her ability to record visual images. Taking notes for her fiction, she told an interviewer, would kill the material. It was the memory that was important for her, and that went with the vocation. "When I sit down to write, turns of phrase I've forgotten for years come back like white ink before fire." As she told Sergeant, "Life began for me when I ceased to admire and began to remember." She also believed that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen. That's the important period, she said. Those years determine whether one's work will be poor and thin or rich and fine. On another occasion she narrowed this time span to the period between the ages of eight and fifteen, thus excluding from her scheme the years she had lived in Virginia.

Although Cather was soaking up impressions that she would use later, there survives from contemporary records only one anecdote of her life on the Divide. This is the memory of friends who saw her one day in 1883 when she was brought into Red Cloud to get new shoes. She was dressed in a leopard-skin fabric coat and hat, which made a lasting visual impression, but what they remembered most vividly was her precocity. As her father encouraged her to show off; she sat in the Miner Brothers' general store and discoursed on Shakespeare, English history, and life in Virginia. This episode in Cather's childhood may have informed the opening scene of O Pioneers! in which little Marie Tovesky, wearing an exotic outfit, is the center of attention in the Hanover (Red Cloud) general store.

The lack of contemporary detail from Cather's months on the farm is compensated for by Jim Burden's memories in My Ántonia. His description of his grandfather's house is very probably based on the home William Cather had built. In real life William returned to Virginia for a visit, leaving the house and farm to Charles, while Caroline, Willa's grandmother, went to live with her other son, George. In the novel the boy Jim wakes up the first morning on the farm and finds himself in a small bedroom on the first floor of the story-and-a-half house built on two levels. His grandmother takes him downstairs to the basement, which opens out onto a draw. In the basement, to the left of the stairs, is the kitchen. To the right is the dining room. Both rooms are plastered and whitewashed—the plaster laid directly upon the earth, as it was in sod-roofed dugouts. The floor is hard cement, and up under the ceiling are little half-windows with white curtains and pots of geraniums. Out behind the house is the farmyard, with a windmill close by the kitchen door. Beyond that are the corncribs, and at the bottom of a shallow draw is a muddy little pond. Farther off, behind the barn, one can see a large cornfield, a sorghum patch, and then nothing but rough, shaggy red grass, most of it as tall as Jim.

A grimmer picture of the view from the farmhouse appears in Cather's early story "A Wagner Matinee." Her memory in 1904 was that outside that door "lay the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs . . . the crook-backed ash seedlings where the dish-cloths hung to dry; the gaunt, moulting turkeys picking up refuse about the kitchen door." And the house itself was "tall, unpainted . . . with weather-curled boards; naked as a tower." Cather is indulging in artistic license when she writes that Jim learned that his grandfather's house was the only wooden building west of Black Hawk, a detail which serves to place the story back in the pioneering era. The pioneers were still there, of course, but most of them long since had built frame houses and abandoned the dugouts that first had served them. Those dugouts still in use when Cather reached Nebraska most likely sheltered animals or were used for storage.

One of the first stories that Cather heard after going to live at Catherton was the account of the suicide of Francis Sadilek, a Bohemian farmer. Readers of My Ántonia will recognize this event as the germ of an early episode in which Mr. Shimerda smashes his fiddle and then shoots himself. The story made a strong impression and furnished the plot for Cather's first published tale, "Peter," written during her freshman year in college. She rewrote it once and republished it twice before using it a fourth time in her novel. Some of the other material in My Ántonia, as well as material in O Pioneers!,"The Bohemian Girl," and early stories that take place on the Divide certainly derive from this time in Cather's life.

Jim Burden's memories of his first months on the Divide are Cather's memories: "All the years that have passed have not dimmed my memory of that first glorious autumn. The new country lay open before me: there were no fences in those days, and I could choose my own way over the grass uplands, trusting the pony to get me home again." As Jim did, she rode along the sunflower-bordered wagon tracks to get the mail at the Catherton post office, which was located in the Cowley farmhouse two or three miles away. She also went on errands and visited the neighbors, the nearest of whom were the German Lambrechts, whose children became her first Nebraska playmates. German settlers are next-farm neighbors both in My Ántonia and in O Pioneers! Lydia Lambrecht and her mother became lifelong friends, as did Annie Sadilek, the prototype of Ántonia. There is no evidence, however, that Cather met Annie until after she moved into town. Jim Burden remembers: "Sometimes I went south to visit our German neighbors and to admire their catalpa grove, or to see the big elm tree that grew up out of a deep crack in the earth and had a hawk's nest in the branches. Trees were so rare in that country . . . that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons." There were other times that he rode to visit a huge prairie-dog town, but he had to be on guard against the rattlesnakes that preyed on the prairie dogs. Rattlesnakes were always a menace, and one of the first things Cather noticed after arriving at Catherton was the steel-tipped cane her grandmother carried to kill snakes with when she worked in her garden. One of the memorable episodes of My Ántonia is the scene in which Jim kills a huge snake before the fascinated gaze of Ántonia.

The biographer of a writer like Cather, whose memories and experiences are woven into the fabric of her fiction, has to separate the reality from the invention. Cather presents a special problem because she often treats her own life as though it were fiction. In the biographical sketch she provided her publisher she writes: "Willa Cather did not go to school. She had a pony and spent her time riding about the country." This is part of the myth Cather created out of her past, the image of the young girl running wild across the prairie, but the reality is more prosaic. She certainly had a pony, as Jim Burden does, but she also went to school, as he does in the novel. The school district at Catherton had been organized as early as 1876, and by 1883 classes were being held in the township's one-room schoolhouse. Records show that she was enrolled during the winter of 1883-84. She is probably drawing on real experience when Jim Burden says: "After I began to go to the country school, I saw less of the Bohemians. We were sixteen pupils at the sod schoolhouse, and we all came on horseback and brought our dinner." The rural school at Catherton, however, was a frame building that doubled as a church, but it had only a three-month term, so that Cather is no doubt half accurate when she writes: "All the while that she was racing about over the country by day, Willa Cather was reading at night." She had begun her education at home with her grandmother Boak in Virginia, and she certainly continued this program in Nebraska. In addition, she also must have attended the Sunday school in which her Grandmother Cather taught the primary class every week nine months of the year.

Jim Burden's memories, like Cather's, are set down many years after the fact. By then the ugliness of the prairie had been filtered out, leaving only a retouched mythic landscape. When Cather suggests that she and the country had it out together by the end of the first autumn, she is foreshortening considerably. There is ample evidence, especially in her early stories, to show that the glow that lights the country in O Pioneers! and My Ántonia was a good while in coming. Soon after her first collection of stories, The Troll Garden, was published in 1905, she wrote Witter Bynner to explain the bleak tone of her western tales. She guessed then that her early experiences had clung to her, for she had been pretty much depressed as a child by all the ugliness around her. The contrast with Virginia had been stark. One simply could not imagine anything so bleak and desolate as a Nebraska farm in the 1880s, and she remembered coming as close to dying of homesickness as any healthy child could. About eighteen miles from their farm there was one miserable little sluggish stream, which in the spring was about ten feet wide and in the late summer no more than a series of black mudholes. Along its banks grew a few cottonwoods and dwarf elms. She and her little brothers would do almost anything to get to that creek. The country, moreover, was so treeless that when they went to town for supplies, they could hardly wait to reach a halfway point where a row of Lombardy poplars had been planted as a windbreak. And their first Christmas was never to be forgotten. She and her brothers were taken to a Christmas celebration at the Norwegian church. The Christmas tree was a naked little box elder wrapped in green tissue paper cut in fringes to simulate pine needles. In My Ántonia the Burdens's hired man, Jake, brings home a real Christmas tree, a five-foot cedar, on which they hang gingerbread animals, strings of popcorn, and brilliantly colored paper figures. Both this fictional Christmas described in 1918 and the letter written in 1905 are probably exaggerations. Certainly the Republican River that flows just south of Red Cloud is a good-sized river, and the Little Blue, which is only five miles away, is not "a miserable little sluggish stream."

Life on the farm came to an end in September 1884, less than eighteen months after it began. Charles Cather moved his family into Red Cloud and opened an office to sell real estate, insurance, and to make farm loans. Just why this move took place cannot be documented, but Jennie Cather, who always played the role of a Virginia lady, could hardly have been happy on an isolated Nebraska farm. During the first summer, when she was pregnant for the fifth time, she felt ill, took to her bed, and subsequently lost her baby. Also, on an occasion when she was lying ill in the kitchen, she looked up and saw smoke curling around the chimney. She screamed for help, and Margie Anderson, the hired girl from Virginia, rushed in and carried her out. The fire did not amount to much, but it scared her. It is also likely that Charles Cather did not find raising corn and hogs, fattening cattle, and breaking virgin prairie in Nebraska as congenial an occupation as raising sheep in Virginia. Furthermore, Willa was going on eleven, and she certainly needed better schooling than she could get in the farming community. Whatever the reasons, Charles Cather advertised a second public sale of his stock and farm equipment on September 11, 1884, and soon thereafter the family settled in Red Cloud, the county seat of Webster County.

CHAPTER 3

Red Cloud

There are three famous towns in America that belong both to fact and to fiction: William Faulkner's Oxford, Mississippi; Mark Twain's Hannibal, Missouri; and Willa Cather's Red Cloud, Nebraska. Time and change have altered the first two, but Willa Cather today could return to the town of her adolescence and feel at home. The house she grew up in is a National Landmark fully restored; the Miners's store on Third and Webster remains intact; the Burlington depot has been preserved; Silas Garber's bank building is the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Museum. Houses that once were owned by the prototypes of her fictional characters still shelter Red Cloud residents and attract the attention of a steady stream of year-round visitors. An annual spring conference draws scholars, teachers, business people, and professional men and women to Red Cloud for a day devoted to Cather's works. The town actually has shrunk from its maximum population of 1,839 in the 1890 census, when it was a division point on the Burlington Railroad, and now the road sign at the city limits reports 1,200 inhabitants.

Red Cloud (altitude 1,690 feet) was in 1884 about the size it is today, but it was growing vigorously. It had a roundhouse and railroad shops and was the center of a rapidly expanding farming community. Eight passenger trains a day passed through the town, going and coming between Kansas City, Chicago, and Denver. Because the dining car had not yet been introduced, the trains stopped in Red Cloud, and the passengers got off to eat. The Burlington tracks were laid along the Republican River a mile south of the business block, and the hotel and railroad installations were connected to the town by horsecar. The town, which had been founded before the railroad came, did not grow towards the depot but remained where it was. It consisted of one main business street running north and south with several blocks of stores and offices, and at its widest point from east to west there were perhaps a dozen streets. The State Bank Building, made of native brick, which had been built the year before the Cathers moved into town, dominated the business district. The opera house, which was to be one of the centers of Cather's interest, would be erected over a hardware store just to the north the following year.

Red Cloud was barely into its second decade when the Cathers arrived. The first homestead claims were filed in July 1870 by Silas Garber and others, who built a stockade as a protection from hostile Indians. But there was no need for a stockade, as the Indian wars already had moved farther west. The following year the first businesses were built on the town site—a store, a hotel, an eating house—and the stockade was turned into a school house. The next year, 1872, the town was surveyed and its streets laid out. They named it for Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala tribe, who had become a celebrity in 1870 when he made his first trip to Washington to negotiate with the government on behalf of the Sioux.

Although there were no Indian attacks, the town was beyond the line of established communities, and Indian hunting parties frequently passed through the region in search of buffalo, deer, and elk, then still plentiful. The Fourth of July celebration in 1872 was interrupted by a buffalo stampede, but the supply of game disappeared rapidly as the country filled up with farmers. The next year the first newspaper was started, the Red Cloud Chief, and the town prospered despite the early vicissitudes of an Easter blizzard, high winds, and a grasshopper plague that drove out some of the less intrepid pioneers.

Silas Garber, the founder of Red Cloud and a former Union Army officer, went on to greater things—from a sod dugout to the governor's mansion in four years. He became governor in 1874 but returned after serving two terms and built a spacious house on the outskirts of town, where he lived with his young wife until his death. He is an important character in the dramatis personae of Willa Cather's life, for he is the real-life model for Captain Forrester in A Lost Lady; and picnics in Garber's Grove, such as the one that opens the novel, were indelible memories. Cather once said that to work well she had to be carefree as if she were thirteen and going for a picnic in Garber's Grove. The Garber house, which burned down in the twenties,"stood on a low hill, nearly a mile east of town; a white house with a wing, and sharp-sloping roofs to shed the snow. It was encircled by porches, too narrow for modern notions of comfort, supported by the fussy, fragile pillars of that time, when every honest stick of timber was tortured by the turning-lathe into something hideous. Stripped of its vines and denuded of its shrubbery, the house would probably have been ugly enough. It stood close into a fine cottonwood grove that threw sheltering arms to left and right and grew all down the hillside behind it. Thus placed on the hill, against its bristling grove, it was the first thing one saw on coming into Sweet Water by rail, and the last thing one saw on departing."

This is the description of the house written by Cather at the age of forty-nine, but to the thirteen-year-old girl in 1886 it was a place of infinite charm and elegance. It was the center of a more expansive life-style than anything else she knew in Red Cloud. When Burlington executives traveled back and forth along their railroad, they often stopped off to visit the Garbers. The Garbers entertained graciously, and the captain became in Cather's mind the archetypal pioneer.

Once Cather began her literary career, Red Cloud entered the fictional landscape of America. Again and again the setting of her novels and stories is Red Cloud. It is the Sweet Water of A Lost Lady, the Frankfort of One of Ours, the Haverford of Lucy Gayheart, the Black Hawk of My Ántonia, and the Hanover of O Pioneers! In The Song of the Lark she places Moonstone in Colorado, but the topography of the town is still that of Red Cloud. It is also the locale of two of the stories in Obscure Destinies and of a good many of her early tales written during her apprentice period. Local residents will show you where Doctor Archie lived, where Wick Cutter planned to rape Ántonia, where the Harling family once resided and a descendant still lives.

As Cather describes Moonstone in The Song of the Lark : "The main business street ran, of course, through the center of the town. To the west of this street lived all the people who were, as Tillie Kronborg said, 'in society.' Sylvester Street, the third parallel with Main Street on the west, was the longest in town, and the best dwellings were built along it. Far out at the north end, nearly a mile from the court-house and its cottonwood grove, was Dr. Archie's house . . . . The Methodist Church was in the centre of town, facing the courthouse square. The Kronborgs lived half a mile south of the church, on the long street that stretched out like an arm to the depot settlement. This was the first street west of Main, and was built up only on one side . . . . The sidewalk which ran in front of the Kronborgs' house was the one continuous sidewalk to the depot, and all the train men and roundhouse employees passed the front gate every time they came uptown . . . . In the part of Moonstone that lay east of Main Street, toward the deep ravine which, farther south, wound by Mexican town, lived all the humbler citizens, the people who voted but did not run for office. The houses . . . nestled modestly behind their cottonwoods and Virginia creeper; their occupants had no social pretensions to keep up."

Housing was scarce when the Cathers moved into Red Cloud, and they had to make do with a house that was too cramped for four children, parents, grandmother, servant girl, and a cousin. It was a great contrast to the spacious Willow Shade in Virginia. But the house, as it stands on the southwest corner of Third and Cedar, just a block away from the business section, is an attractive frame building surrounded by an ample, well-shaded corner lot. In The Song of the Lark, as Dr. Archie and the Rev. Mr. Kronborg approached the house, "they turned into another street and saw before them lighted windows; a low story-and-a-half house, with a wing built on at the right and a kitchen addition at the back, everything a little on the slant—roofs, windows, and doors."

Downstairs, besides a sitting room, dining room, and kitchen, there are bedrooms that served the parents and small children. Grandma Boak's room, described in "Old Mrs. Harris," had to serve as a passageway between dining room and kitchen. Up a narrow stairway from the kitchen one climbs to the large unfinished attic, where all the older children lived in a kind of dormitory. In "The Best Years" this attic is the private world of the children "where there were no older people poking about to spoil things." It runs the whole length of the house, and its charm for the children was that it was unlined. "No plaster, no beaver-board lining; just the roof shingles, supported by long, unplaned, splintery rafters that sloped from the sharp roofpeak down to the floor of the attic. Bracing these long roof rafters were cross rafters on which one could hang things." Up the center of this attic passed two brick chimneys "going up in neat little stairsteps from the plank floor to the shingle roof—and out of it to the stars." The beds stood in a row as in a hospital ward, and sometimes during a driving winter snowstorm frozen flakes drifted in through the cracks and sprinkled the beds.

When Cather grew too old to share the dormitory with her brothers, an ell-shaped gable wing of the main attic was partitioned off to give her a private room. This is the room that Thea Kronborg occupies in The Song of the Lark when she begins to make her own money by giving piano lessons. This room, also unplastered, was "snugly lined with soft pine. The ceiling was so low that a grown person could reach it with the palm of the hand, and it sloped down on either side. There was only one window, but it was a double one and went to the floor." Cather worked in Cook's drugstore to earn the wallpaper, given to her in lieu of wages, that she put on the wall of this room. This paper, red and brown roses on a yellowish background, still lines the walls, though it is faded by time and weather. In this room she kept her books and could escape from the rest of the family.

It was probably about the time the family moved to town that Cather produced her first piece of writing that has survived. This is an essay praising dogs and denigrating cats and seems to have been part of a debate judged by her grandfather. The misspellings are Cather's: "The dog is a very intelligent animal . . . . The nature of most dogs is kind, noble and generous. O! how different from the snarling, spitting crul cat . . . . Newfoundland dogs are also famous for their way of saving the lives of people when drowning. And the St. Brenards are often trained in Switzerland to find travelers in the snow and carry them to a place of safety . . . . Lord Byron, one of our greatest poets wrote a beautiful elegy on a dog, who ever wrote anything on a Cat ? Did you ever see a tall massive dog with curly hair bright eyes and a knowing air? Did you ever see a poor thin scraggy cat, with dirty hair dull green eyes and a drooping tail. If so I leave it to your common sense to awnser for I know you will say the noble majestic dog." At the bottom of the page of this essay, in Grandfather Cather's hand and above his signature, is the word "defeated." Although Mozart was composing symphonies at the same age, Cather was still years away from discovering her vocation, and even then her development was very slow. But she was an omnivorous reader from the beginning, and hundreds of books of all kinds stoked the fires of her young mind. The Cathers had brought their books from Virginia, the nearby Wieners had a big collection, and Willa soon began to put together her own library.

Cather's serious schooling also began when the family moved into town. During her first year in Red Cloud she was put into Gertrude Scherer's class, a year that left little impression; but the next year she drew Miss King (later Mrs. Eva J. Case), the principal of the school,"a stalwart young woman with a great deal of mirth in her eyes and a very sympathetic, kind voice," Cather remembered in 1909. "I was a pupil in her A. grade. I am very sure that Miss King was the first person whom I ever cared a great deal for outside of my own family. I had been in her class only a few weeks when I wanted more than anything else in the world to please her. During the rest of that year, when I succeeded in pleasing her I was quite happy; when I failed to please her there was only one thing I cared about and that was to try again and make her forget my mistakes. I have always looked back on that year as one of the happiest I have ever spent . . . . As I went through the high school she always helped and advised me; she even tried very hard to teach me Algebra at night, but not even Miss King—who could do almost anything—could do that." At the end of her life, when Cather wrote "The Best Years," she drew an affectionate portrait of Miss King as Evangeline Knightly. "Miss Knightly was a charming person to meet—and an unusual type in a new country: oval face, small head delicately set (the oval chin tilting inward instead of the square chin thrust out), hazel eyes, a little blue, a little green, tiny dots of brown . . . . Somehow these splashes of colour made light—and warmth. When she laughed her eyes positively glowed with humour, and in each oval cheek a roguish dimple came magically to the surface."

Two other teachers who left their mark on Cather were the A. K. Goudys. Mrs. Goudy was the principal of the high school and became a particular friend and correspondent for forty years. Mr. Goudy was county superintendent of schools and taught Latin. Later when he became state superintendent of schools, the Goudys moved to Lincoln while Cather was a student at the University of Nebraska. When Cather visited Italy for the first time in 1908, she wrote Mrs. Goudy that she had seen in the Naples museum the wonderful head of Caesar that had illustrated the high school text of Caesar's commentaries she had studied under Mr. Goudy. Edith Lewis writes in her memoir: "Both the Goudys became deeply attached to this new pupil, so unlike the run of Red Cloud boys and girls; with her astonishing familiarity with classical English literature, and her inability to spell correctly; her actual love of Latin, and the great gaps in her knowledge of ordinary things every grade school child knew; above all, with a personality so striking in its originality, daring, vital force, that no one could possibly ignore her; she awakened either strong liking or hostility and disapproval."

Cather's extracurricular reading during her adolescent years was more important than her formal education. Red Cloud may have been an instant prairie town, but it contained a fair share of cultivated people. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wiener, educated European Jews who had immigrated to the United States and settled in Nebraska. The Wieners, who owned a store in Red Cloud, lived around the corner from the Cathers on Seward Street. They both spoke French and German, and when they discovered their neighbors' daughter had insatiable appetite for books, they introduced her to French and German literature in translation and gave her the run of their large library. The relationship between the Wieners and Cather appears rather accurately drawn in "Old Mrs. Harris." Although the title character is Grandma Boak, the story contains an engaging portrait of the Wieners and the artist as adolescent. As Vickie Templeton sits in the Rosens' library one hot summer afternoon, Mrs. Rosen observes her: "She wasn't pretty, yet Mrs. Rosen found her attractive. She liked her sturdy build, and the steady vitality that glowed in her rosy skin and dark blue eyes,—even gave a springy quality to her curly reddish-brown hair, which she still wore in a single braid down her back. Mrs. Rosen liked to have Vickie about because she was never listless or dreamy or apathetic. A half-smile nearly always played about her lips and eyes, and it was there because she was pleased with something, not because she wanted to be agreeable. Even a half-smile made her cheeks dimple. She had what her mother called 'a happy disposition.'"

Vickie, for her part, loved the Rosens' cool, darkened library, where she could slip in and read or take a sofa pillow and lie on the floor looking up at the pictures and feeling a happy, pleasant excitement from the heat and glare outside and the deep shadow and quiet within. There was no other house the least like the Rosens': "It was the nearest thing to an art gallery and a museum that the Templetons had ever seen. All the rooms were carpeted alike. . . . The deep chairs were upholstered in dark blue velvet. The walls were hung with engravings . . . . There were a number of water-colour sketches, made in Italy by Mr. Rosen himself when he was a boy." And there was the library: it had a complete set of Waverly novels in German,"thick, dumpy little volumes bound in tooled leather[,] . . . many French books, and some of the German classics done in English such as Coleridge's translation of Schiller's Wallenstein." Cather was lucky in having the Wieners next door, and apparently they realized her extraordinary talent and encouraged her to go to college, as the Rosens do Vickie Templeton.

The Wiener library was one resource; the family bookcase was another. If the constant commotion in the little Cather house was not conducive to reading, Cather had her own room in the attic to withdraw to. There she read constantly and indiscriminately, good books, trashy books, whatever came her way. "Ray Kennedy [Thea Kronborg's brakeman friend] on his way from the depot to his boarding house, often looked up and saw Thea's light burning when the rest of the house was dark." The evidence in Cather's early writing during her years of journalism is that she had ranged widely in her reading—so widely that no brief summary can do justice to her huge, eclectic consumption of books. Like Vickie Templeton, she had not been taught to respect what the world called masterpieces; she cared about a book only if it took hold of her.

Many of the Cather family books have survived, and one can assume that she read everything in the collection. Among these books are complete editions of the standard nineteenth-century classics: Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, Poe, Hawthorne, Ruskin, Emerson, and Carlyle. There also are volumes of Shakespeare and Bunyan, anthologies of poetry, the works of Thomas Campbell and Thomas Moore, some translations of Latin and Greek classics, religious books, books on the Civil War, bound volumes of the Century and ladies' magazines; and although now lost, there once were copies of Ben Jonson's plays and Byron's poems. Finally, there were popular romances, such as the novels of Ouida, which Mrs. Cather liked.

Fairly recent novels such as Anna Karenina, one of Cather's favorites, probably came from the drugstore where she worked and took her pay in merchandise. She was fourteen, she remembered, when paperbound copies of Tolstoy, rendered into indifferent English, fell into her hands: Anna Karenina, The Cossacks,"The Death of Ivan Ilych," and "The Kreutzer Sonata." For three years, she said later with characteristic exaggeration, she read Tolstoy all the time, backward and forward. What she wanted at that age was vitality. She wanted to read about life, about characters who were in the midst of struggle. She did not pay any attention to style or form. She wanted color; she wanted to be thrilled; she wanted excitement.

Some of the books that she collected into her own library also have survived. They are all carefully labeled "Private Library" and numbered. The earliest dated volume in the group is a battered copy of the Iliad in Pope's translation with the year 1888 inside the cover and the number 70. Other titles of the same period are Jacob Abbot's Histories of Cyrus the Great and Alexander the Great, George Eliot's The Spanish Gypsy, Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, Alexander Winchell's Sketches of Creation, a paperback edition of Antony and Cleopatra, and Pilgrim's Progress, the book she first encountered when Grandma Boak had read it to her in Virginia. She later told Edith Lewis that she had read it eight times during one of her first winters in Nebraska. She also must have had a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which came out the year the Cathers moved to Red Cloud. In the thirties she reported rereading that novel for what she thought was the twentieth time.

She certainly was drawing on her own memories of childhood reading when she wrote a book column in Pittsburgh in 1897. Then she recommended "that dear old book" The Count of Monte Cristo and another favorite, Dinah Mulock's John Halifax, Gentleman. She also included, with Pilgrim's Progress, a second book "essential to a child's library," The Swiss Family Robinson. "Any child who has not read these has missed a part of his or her childhood." And she added to the list the works of Howard Pyle, especially Otto of the Silver Hand, from which a child could get a "very fair idea [of] what that phrase 'the Middle Ages' meant." Pyle remained one of her heroes, and even before she met him later as a co-worker on McClure's Magazine, she sent him a copy of The Troll Garden, inscribed as follows: "Will Mr. Howard Pyle accept through me the love of seven big and little children to whom he taught the beauty of language and of line, and to whom, in a desert place, he sent the precious message of Romance."

Outside of her formal education and her leisure reading a number of Red Cloud people contributed to the growth of her mind. Her fondness for visiting the immigrant farm women on the Divide already has been noted, and she sought out interesting adults wherever she could find them. Like Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark, she had many adult friends. Dr. McKeeby, the family physician, was a particular one. He pulled her through a childhood illness that may have been polio (though if it was, she was left with no paralysis), much as Dr. Archie ministers to young Thea in the novel. Dr. McKeeby looked after the entire family for many years and was no doubt partly responsible for Cather's early ambition to study medicine. In pursuit of this interest she often went on calls with Dr. McKeeby and later put him into The Song of the Lark as the childhood friend and subsequent sponsor of the heroine's artistic career. Cather also made calls with another Red Cloud physician, Dr. Robert Damerell, and on one occasion she administered choloroform while the doctor amputated a boy's leg. Cather told an interviewer years later: "How I loved the long rambling buggy rides we used to take . . . . We went over the same roads this summer [1921]. I could tell who lived at every place and all about the ailments of his family. The old country doctor and I used to talk over his cases. I was determined then to be a surgeon."

Her interest in adults is well illustrated in "Two Friends," one of the stories in Obscure Destinies. Based on a childhood memory, the tale is narrated by a young girl who hangs about the general store to hear Mr. Dillon and Mr. Trueman talk. She liked to listen to those two because their talk was the only interesting conversation in the town. The older men always talked about politics and business—nothing else—and the young men's talk was empty-headed and supposed to be funny, but she found it utterly boring and banal. It was scarcely speech, she remembered, but noises, snorts, giggles, yawns, and sneezes, with a few abbreviated words and slang expressions. Mr. Dillon, the banker and proprietor of the general store, and Mr. Trueman, a cattleman, sat out each night in spring and summer on the boardwalk that ran along the long brick wall of Dillon's store and carried on their conversations.

She also liked the store and the brick wall and the sidewalk because they were solid and well built, and admired Dillon and Trueman for the same reason. They were secure and established, and they talked about everything—crops and the farmers they dealt with, trips they had taken, plays they had seen. Their talk was a window on a larger world. She found many pretexts for lingering near them, and they never seemed to mind her hanging about. She would sit on the edge of the sidewalk with her feet hanging down playing jacks. In the story the two friends finally split over the issue of William Jennings Bryan and free silver, something that could not have happened until after Cather had left Nebraska, but in real-life they were Mr. Richardson and Mr. Miner, the latter a neighbor of the Cathers and owner of the general store where young Willa did indeed hang about a great deal. Whether there is any basis in fact for the story, other than the conversations and the friendship, the record does not say.

Another of the girl's adult friends was William Ducker, an educated Englishman who was perhaps the most important influence of all her "friends of childhood." Ducker came to Red Cloud the year after the Cathers and clerked in his brother's store. He was generally regarded by his family as a failure, but that did not seem to bother him. He had a passionate interest in Latin, Greek, and science, and soon after he arrived Cather sought him out and began reading the classics with him. She was already studying Latin and probably began the study of Greek at this time. Under his guidance she read Virgil, Ovid, the Iliad, and the Odes of Anacreon; and after she went to the university, where she continued her Latin and Greek, she read with him during the summers. They also had long talks together about good and evil, life and death, and all the big questions. Ducker understood and valued his pupil and left an indelible memory. He also fueled her interest in science by inviting her to help him conduct experiments in a laboratory he built in his house. But the relationship ended abruptly during her second summer home from the university. One afternoon she was walking home with him from his brother's store when he said,"It is just as though the light were going out, Willie." A few minutes after she had left him, one of his children came running after her to call her back. She returned to find him dead on the couch of his living room with a copy of the Iliad open on the floor beside him. This death was the first great loss of her life.

Her lifelong devotion to the classics, which began during her Red Cloud adolescence, was paralleled by an absorbing interest in music. The person most responsible for this interest was Mrs. Julia Miner, whose husband was the Mr. Dillon of "Two Friends." Mrs. Miner had been born in Christiana (now Oslo), the daughter of the oboe soloist in Ole Bull's Royal Norwegian Orchestra. As a child she had gone to rehearsals and concerts and studied music, and when the vicissitudes of life made her the wife of a Nebraska merchant, she installed a new Chickering piano in her Red Cloud parlor and continued her music. When Mrs. Miner played for her own children, she gave Willa her first experience of serious music. Young Cather loved to listen to her play and to hear about her musical childhood in Norway.

The importance of Mrs. Miner in Cather's life is clearly discernible in My Ántonia, where she appears as Jim Burden's neighbor Mrs. Harling: "Mrs. Harling was short and square and sturdy-looking, like her house . . . . Her face was rosy and solid, with bright, twinkling eyes and a stubborn little chin. She was quick to anger, quick to laughter, and jolly from the depths of her soul." Jim liked to cross the street to the Harlings' house because it always was a gay, noisy place except when Mr. Harling was home. Someone was always at the piano. Julia practiced regularly every day. Frances played when she came home from her job in her father's store. Sally played after she got home from school, and even Nina, the youngest, played. Jim recalls:"Mrs. Harling had studied the piano under a good teacher, and somehow she managed to practise every day. I soon learned that if I were sent over on an errand and found Mrs. Harling at the piano, I must sit down and wait quietly until she turned to me." He remembered her vividly as she played—a short, square person planted firmly on the stool, her little fat hands moving quickly and neatly over the keys while her eyes were fixed on the music with intelligent concentration. Mrs. Miner died while My Ántonia was being written, and when Cather wrote Carrie Miner Sherwood a letter of condolence, she said she had tried hard to recall certain tricks of voice and gesture in creating Mrs. Harling. Her character, she said, was a clear little snapshot of Mrs. Miner as she first remembered her, and she added that there had been a little of Mrs. Miner in almost every mother she ever had done.

The Miner daughters, who were Cather's childhood companions, became lifelong friends. Mary, who appears in My Ántonia as Julia,"the musical one," and Carrie, the older one who worked in the store, remained in Red Cloud, and Cather visited them during her many trips back to Nebraska in later years. Irene, little Nina in the book, married and moved to Chicago. Her home became a stopping point for Cather between New York and Red Cloud. She corresponded regularly with both Carrie and Irene, and the dedication of My Ántonia is to "Carrie and Irene Miner / In memory of affections old and true." The Miner household was also of singular importance in another respect, for there Cather met Annie Sadilek, who came in from the farm to work as a hired girl for the Miners and remained her friend for life. Thirty years later she sat for the portrait of Ántonia Shimerda in what many think is Cather's best novel.

Despite the fact that Cather developed a passion for music, she had no formal music education and did not even try to learn to play the piano. Jennie Cather hired an itinerant German music teacher named Schindelmeisser to give her daughter lessons, but the effort was a failure. Harmony, counterpoint, the technical mastery of an instrument, held no attraction for her. Music to her was an emotional release, not an intellectual exercise. She nearly drove her teacher mad when he tried to give her lessons, and when Schindelmeisser told Mrs. Cather that she was wasting her money, she told him to keep coming. Her daughter, she said, was getting a lot out of listening to him play and talking to him about his musical life in the old country.

This alcoholic, derelict musician made a lasting impression, for he became Professor Wunsch in The Song of the Lark, the teacher who gives Thea Kronborg her first music lessons and bequeaths to her his cherished score of Orfeo and the desire to become an artist. "Wunsch was short and stocky, with something rough and bearlike about his shoulders. His face was a dark, bricky red, deeply creased rather than wrinkled, and the skin was like loose leather over his neckband—he wore a brass collar button but no collar. His hair was cropped close; iron-gray bristled on a bullet-like head. His eyes were always suffused and bloodshot. He had a coarse, scornful mouth, and irregular, yellow teeth, much worn at the edges. His hands were square and red, seldom clean, but always alive, impatient, even sympathetic." The actual Schindelmeisser had wandered into Red Cloud "from God knew where," and Mrs. Miner, who recognized in him a first-rate musician, had engaged him to teach her daughters. If he could not get young Cather to practice her scales, he, like the fictional Wunsch, must nevertheless have left something important in his talks with his pupil. In her later career as music critic and creator of fictional musicians Cather relied on instinct, intuition, and feeling to get her through.

Cather's adult friends certainly knew that she was a remarkable girl, but the average Red Cloud resident probably thought of her as that "show-off" tomboy Cather youngster. She was not disposed to conceal her talents during her Red Cloud years, and she must have been rather conspicuous in that small community. Half a century later she would go to any length to avoid publicity, but as an adolescent she was gregarious and fond of people. She was conspicuous not only because of her natural gifts, but also because she developed a wide streak of nonconformity. The long hair that Vickie Templeton wears in "Old Mrs. Harris" was not Willa Cather's hairstyle. Before she was thirteen she had cut her hair shorter than most boys and was signing her name William Cather, Jr., or Wm. Cather, M.D. She expressed a vast contempt for skirts and dresses, wore boys' clothes, a derby, and carried a cane. She wrote in a friend's album that slicing toads was her hobby, doing fancy work a real misery, and amputating limbs perfect happiness. Such a child must have taken her knocks from the local busybodies.

For several years, until after Cather left Red Cloud to attend the University of Nebraska, she defied Victorian norms of behavior for adolescent girls. Her goal in life was to become a surgeon, but that option was not open to girls, or so she must have thought, living in a little prairie town. As a result, she refused to be a girl, adopted male values and attitudes, and continued the tomboy life she had led in her prepubescent years in Virginia and on the farm at Catherton. Her father was always indulgent, and her mother, who no doubt deplored the male masquerade, nevertheless let her develop in her own way. What effect this denial of her sex had on her psychological development, her sexual orientation, and her life as an artist is a matter of considerable interest. Contemporary readers, especially feminist critics, have speculated at length on these matters. Did this pattern of adolescent behavior foreshadow, as some critics think, a latent or covert lesbianism? Did it make inevitable her remaining single, her selection of women as her closest friends, her creation of strong, resourceful heroines? Did it produce the large number of unhappy marriages in her fiction? Did it engender a fear of sex? Available data give no objective answers.

Cather's contempt for the role an adolescent girl was expected to play—learning to cook and sew, keep house, and care for children—may be seen in the way she contrasts the immigrant farm girls with the town girls in My Ántonia. The farm girls, who worked in the fields like men, were strong, vigorous, alive; and when they came to town to live, they developed a "positive carriage and freedom of movement" that "made them conspicuous among Black Hawk women . . . . physical exercise was thought rather inelegant for the daughters of well-to-do families . . . . they stayed indoors in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of the heat. When one danced with them, their bodies never moved inside their clothes." Their muscles seemed to ask only not to be disturbed.

Cather's youthful identification with male norms is further illustrated in an autobiographical story published the year after she graduated from college. Here she creates a very masculine young woman as protagonist in "Tommy, the Unsentimental" and places her tale in a town like Red Cloud. Tommy, who has a head for business and saves a run on a bank with a twenty-five-mile whirlwind bike ride, is a crony of her father's business friends. "She was just one of them; she played whist and billiards with them, and made their cocktails for them, not scorning to take one herself occasionally." She also is described as having "a peculiarly unfeminine mind that could not escape meeting and acknowledging a logical conclusion." In contrast with the masculine Tommy is Jessica, Tommy's girlfriend and rival,"a dainty, white, languid bit of a thing, who used violet perfumes and carried a sunshade." In the story's denouement Tommy tells her effete, ineffectual boyfriend Jay to marry Jessica:"We have been playing a nice little game, and now it's time to quit . . . . She's your kind."

When Cather was thirteen, a political skirmish took place in Red Cloud involving her father and some of her adult friends. Dr. McKeeby had been elected mayor and Charles Cather alderman. When the county treasurer was accused of misappropriating public funds, Willa's father was put on a committee to investigate. Dr. McKeeby, Charles Wiener, James Miner, and Silas Garber, all backing Charles Cather, carried on a running battle in the local press with supporters of the treasurer. This spectacle of grass-roots politicking, which young Cather observed firsthand, may have inspired the children in the neighborhood to enact a juvenile version of local government.

The result was the construction of a play town called "Sandy Point," built of packing boxes from the Miners' store along the south fence of the Cather yard under cottonwood and wild plum trees. Charles Cather ordered several loads of sand, which Willa's brothers shoveled out to make a main street, and each child set up shop in one of the boxes. Willa was elected mayor. Margie Miner was an alderman; Jessica Cather was postmistress; Mary Miner kept a candy shop; another child ran a hotel in a piano box. They carried on transactions with Confederate money the Cathers had brought from Virginia. This childhood playtime is commemorated in one of Cather's early stories,"The Way of the World" (1896), in which an all-boys town of packing boxes is invaded by Mary Eliza Jenkins. Mary Eliza—who pesters the boys to be admitted to their community until they give in, against their better judgment—takes over the town, sows dissension in the ranks, and then decamps. The story no doubt owes something to Tom Sawyer, but it anticipates interestingly the child's world of Crane's Whilomville Stories and Tarkington's Penrod. The ironic tone of the narrative never gets serious, but the comparison of Mary Eliza's machinations to Eve's role in man's fall suggests Cather's continuing distrust of her sex.

For any child of energy, imagination, and intelligence, drama offers a natural outlet. As soon as the family moved into town, young Cather began to take part in amateur theatricals. The Red Cloud Argus reported on May 14, 1885, that the Sunday school concert at the Baptist church had featured Miss Willie Cather, who "electrified the audience with elocutionary powers." And the following month there was a similar item. The performance perhaps was her rendition of Hiawatha, which she was in the habit of giving in a costume complete with bow and arrow. By the time she was thirteen, she was making up and staging her own plays in the upstairs attic and in the Miners' parlor. When she was fourteen, she and the Miner girls put on a play in the new opera house for the benefit of the victims of the blizzard of '88. They presented Beauty and the Beast, with Margie Miner as the beauty, Mary Miner as the beast, and Willie Cather, dressed in suit, hat, and waxed mustache, as the merchant-father. The Red Cloud Chief was much impressed with her performance. It was characteristic that she should have played a male role, which she did again when she dressed in black velvet knee pants and appeared as the old alchemist in the Merchants' Carnival. She represented Cook's drugstore, where she sometimes worked.

The opera house was perhaps the one place in town that held the most attraction for Cather. There she was introduced to the world of the theater, and though the quality of the road shows that visited Red Cloud must have been mediocre, the memory of plays and light operas there was golden. She wrote in 1929 that "half a dozen times during each winter . . . a traveling stock company settled down at the local hotel and thrilled and entertained us for a week." It was a wonderful week for the children. The excitement began when the advance man posted the bills on the lumberyard fence and the windows of the drug and grocery stores. Cather and her friends used to stand for hours studying every word on the posters and trying to decide whether they could get their parents to let them go every other night or just on opening and closing nights. No child ever got to go every night unless his father owned stock in the opera house. If the company arrived at night, she continued,"My chums and I always walked a good half mile to the depot . . . to see that train come in . . . . We found it delightful to watch a theatrical company alight, pace the platform while their baggage was being sorted, and then drive off—the men in the hotel bus, the women in the 'hack.' If by any chance one of the show ladies carried a little dog with a blanket on, that simply doubled our pleasure." Then the children invented pretexts to visit the hotel to see the actors lounging about.

One particular production that she recalled was Frank Lindon's performance in The Count of Monte Cristo: "When old Frank Lindon in a frilled shirt and a velvet coat blazing with diamonds, stood in the drawing room of Mme. Danglars' and revealed his identity to Mme. de Morcery, his faithless Mercedes, when she cowered and made excuses, and he took out a jeweled snuff box with a much powdered hand, raised his eyebrows, permitted his lip to curl, and said softly and bitterly, 'a fidelity of six months!' then we children were not in the opera house in Red Cloud; we were in Mme. Danglars' salon in Paris in the middle of lives so very different from our own. Living people were making us feel things, and it is through the feelings, not at all through the eyes, that one's imagination is fired . . . . It did us good to weep at 'East Lynne,' even if the actress was fairly bad and the play absurd. Children have about a hundred years of unlived life wound up in them, and they want to be living some of it."

Cather lived intensively during her high school years. When she wasn't doing her homework, reading the classics with Will Ducker, staging plays in the attic, or making calls with Drs. McKeeby and Damerell, she was writing up high school news for the Argus. She used her father's office while he was at the courthouse making title abstracts or out of town on business. She had her own desk where she wrote and studied. People of the community who came in to do business with her father often stayed to talk to her. They would tell her of "personal affairs in the way that grown-ups will disclose to a child matters which they would not discuss with a mature person." All these experiences, plus her incessant reading, prepared her mind for her future vocation.

She also was accumulating memories and experiences in the countryside surrounding Red Cloud. There were picnics in the fine cottonwood grove adjacent to Governor Garber's house; there were visits to Uncle George's farm at Catherton; there were outings at the Miners' ranch southwest of town, which still had a well-preserved sod house on the property. The most exciting place of all was the Republican River, just outside of town, and in particular one spot in the river known as Far Island. "Far Island is an oval sand bar, half a mile in length and perhaps a hundred yards wide, which lies about two miles up from Empire City in a turbid little Nebraska river." Such is the opening sentence of a story,"The Treasure of Far Island," published in 1902. The children, especially Willa and her brothers Roscoe and Douglass, loved that island, and there they played Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins, for Treasure Island, one of their favorite books, had appeared in 1883. They camped on the island and built their fires on the dazzling, white, ripplemarked sandy beach. The center of the island was thick with thousands of yellow-green willows and cottonwood seedlings, brilliantly green even in the hottest summer weather. The island was no-man's-land, but every summer a new chief claimed it, and Cather's memory also kept a tight hold on it. The island appears not only in "The Treasure of Far Island," but also in one of her most successful early stories,"The Enchanted Bluff" (1909). In the latter the boys of the town camp on the island during the last night of summer vacation. They are about to scatter for good, and the male narrator soon will leave to begin teaching school. As they lie on the sand looking up at the stars, they plan someday to climb the Enchanted Bluff somewhere down in New Mexico. The narrator of the tale wakes early the next morning, and as he looks at the other sleeping boys, he thinks of their aspirations. "It was still dark, but the sky was blue with the last wonderful azure of night. The stars glistened like crystal globes and trembled as if they shone through a depth of clear water. Even as I watched, they began to pale and the sky brightened. Day came suddenly, almost instantaneously. I turned for another look at the blue night, and it was gone." So were youth and the young days on Far Island. In her first book, April Twilights (1903), the dedicatory poem, addressed to her brothers Roscoe and Douglass, recalls
the three who lay and planned at moonrise,
On an island in a western river,
Of the conquest of the world together.

Those golden days ended for Cather in June 1890, when she graduated from high school and prepared to enter the university at Lincoln. Her childhood was over, though she was only sixteen and a half. The bright Medusa was drawing her from the anonymity of the prairie town to a larger world of striving and achievement. Her parting message to Red Cloud, which both attracted and repelled her, was her graduation speech,"Superstition versus Investigation." She was one of three graduates that year, the second class to finish Red Cloud High School. Her remarks followed those of John Tulleys, who discoursed on "Self-Advertising," and Alex Bently, who asserted that "New Times Demand New Measures and New Men." Young Tulleys believed "a man should blow his own trumpet and the louder and longer he can blow the deeper impression he will make . . . . Taking by any means as a motto, a shrewd man will succeed in any business"—and on and on he went, sounding like a preview of Cather's money-grubbing Bayless Wheeler in One of Ours or the opportunistic Ivy Peters in A Lost Lady. The reporter for the Red Cloud Chief thought that John would "make his way to fame" and that Alex also would go far; but he was silent about the prospects of Willa Cather.

Her oration, however, is a remarkable performance for a youngster of her time and place. Although the Chief did not predict a bright future, it did publish her speech, which was obviously an answer to the small-town critics who had criticized her interests in biology, medicine, and vivisection. It is a ringing defense of scientific inquiry and ranges from the dawn of history to the present moment. As Jim Burden says of his high school graduation oration in My Ántonia, "It stated with fervor a great many things I had lately discovered." This essay, which never before has been reprinted in full, is her first extant piece of serious writing. It antedates by nearly a year the well-known Carlyle essay that bowled over her English teacher in Lincoln:

All human history is a record of an emigration, an exodus from barbarism to civilization. From the very outset of this pilgrimage of humanity, superstition and investigation have been contending for the mastery. Since investigation first led man forth on that great search for truth which has prompted all his progress, superstition, the stern Pharoah of his former bondage, has followed him retarding every step of advancement.

Then began a contest which will end only with time, for it is the warfare between radicalism and conservatism, truth and error, which underlies every man's life and happiness. The ancient Orientals were highly civilized people but were dreamers and theorists who delved into the mystical and metaphysical, leaving the more practical questions unanswered, and were subject to the evils of tyranny and priestcraft. Those sacred books of the east we today regard as half-divine. We are not apt to think as we read those magnificent flights of metaphor that the masses of the people who read and believed them knew nothing of figures. It is the confounding of the literal and the figurative that has made atheists and fanatics throughout the ages.

All races have worshipped nature, the ruder as the cause, the more enlightened as the effect of one grand cause. Worship as defined by Carlyle is unmeasured wonder, but there are two kinds of wonder, that born of fear and that of admiration, slavish fear is never reverence.

The Greeks, lacking the intense religious fervor of the Orient, entertained broader views. Their standard of manhood was one of practical worth. They allowed no superstition, religious, political or social, to stand between them and the truth and suffered exile, imprisonment and death for the right of opinion and investigation.

Perhaps the strongest conflict ever known between the superstitious and investigative forces of the world raged in the dark ages. Earth seemed to return to its original chaotic state and there was no one to cry "fiat lux." The old classic creeds fell crashing into the boundless past and the new church was a scene of discord. All the great minds were crushed, for men were still ruled by the iron scepter of fear and it was essential that they should remain ignorant. Superstition has ever been the curse of the church, and until she can acknowledge that since her principles are true, no scientific truth can contradict them, she will never realize her full strength. There is another book of God than that of scriptural revelation, a book written in chapters of creation upon the pages of the universe bound by mystery. When we are mortal [morbid?] enough to say that the world degenerates with the age, we forget that the heroes and sages of history were the exceptions and not the rule. What age since the world's foundation can leave such a record across the paper [pages?] of time as the 19th century? What is it that characterizes our age and gives the present the superiority; not skill in handicraft, for the great masters of art lie sleeping among the founders of Attica and Italy; not in clearness of depth of thought, for our literary or philosophical lights are gleams from the fires of the past. In the Elizabethan age, a book was written asserting that nature is the only teacher, that no man's mind is broad enough to invent a theory to hold nature, for she is the universe. With the publication of the Novum Organum came a revolution in thought; scientists ceased theorizing and began experimenting. Thus we went painfully back to nature, weary and disgusted with our artificial knowledge, hungering for that which is meat, thirsting for that which is drink, longing for the things that are. She has given us the universe in answer.

It is the most sacred right of man to investigate; we paid dearly for it in Eden; we have been shedding our heart's blood for it ever since. It is ours; we have bought it with a price.

Scientific investigation is the hope of our age, as it must precede all progress; and yet upon every hand we hear the objections to its pursuit. The boy who spends his time among the stones and flowers is a trifler, and if he tries with bungling attempt to pierce the mystery of animal life, he is cruel. Of course if he becomes a great anatomist or a brilliant naturalist, his cruelties are forgotten or forgiven him; the world is very cautious, but it is generally safe to admire a man who has succeeded. We do not withhold from a few great scientists the right of the hospital, the post mortem or experimenting with animal life, but we are prone to think the right of experimenting with life too sacred a thing to be placed in hands of inexperienced persons. Nevertheless, if we bar our novices from advancement, whence shall come our experts?

But to test the question by comparison, would all the life destroyed in experimenting from the beginning of the world until today be as an atom to the life saved by that one grand discovery for which Harvey sacrificed his practice and his reputation, the circulation of the blood? There is no selfishness in this. It came from a higher motive than the desire for personal gain, for it too often brings destitution instead. Of this we have a grand example in the broken-down care-worn old man who has just returned from the heart of the Dark Continent. But perhaps you still say that I evade the question; has anyone a right to destroy life for scientific purposes? Ah, why does life live upon death throughout the universe?

Investigators have styled fanatics those who seek to probe into the mysteries of the unknowable. This is unreasonable. The most aspiring philosopher never hoped to do more than state the problem; he never dreamed of solving it. Newton did not say how or why every particle of matter in the universe attracted every other particle of matter in the universe. He simply said it was so. We can only judge these abstract forces by their effect. Our intellectual swords may cut away a thousand petty spiderwebs woven by superstition across the mind of man, but before the veil of the "Sanctum Sanctorum" we stand confounded; our blades glance and turn and shatter upon the eternal adamant. Microscopic eyes have followed matter to the molecule and fallen blinded. Imagination has gone a step farther and grasped the atom. There, with a towering height above and yawning death below even this grows sick at soul. For over six thousand years we have shaken fact and fancy in the dice box together and breathlessly awaited the result. But the dice of God are always loaded, and there are two sides which never fall upward, the alpha and omega. Perhaps when we make our final cast with dark old death, we may shape them better.

From June to September Cather was getting ready to go to college. Finding money to finance her education was difficult, as it is for Vickie Templeton in "Old Mrs. Harris." Charles Cather, who was land poor and now had six children to support, had to borrow money from a business associate, but both parents knew that their daughter wanted above all else to get an education. In the story the money is loaned by Mr. Rosen, the neighbor/merchant, who sends Vickie off to college with a quotation from the French historian Michelet written "on a sheet of purple paper, in his delicately shaded foreign script: 'Le but n'est rien; le chemin, c'est tout.'" That means, he tells her, "The end is nothing; the road is all. Let me write it down for you and give you your first French lesson." This observation became a precept that she carried through life. She often quoted it, and when she reached the striving novelist's goal of fame and affluence, Michelet's truth haunted her.

CHAPTER 4

University Days

Lincoln, the state capital, was not a large city by any absolute standard when Cather got off the train at the Burlington depot in September 1890. But it was eighteen times the size of Red Cloud and by comparison a metropolis. She never had lived in a city, and the prospect was exciting. Although she was later to evoke the soil of Webster County in unforgettable prose, she took to the city life avidly, and later when the chance came to move on to Pittsburgh, she did not hesitate. Still later she moved on to New York with the same alacrity and made her home there for the rest of her life. Lincoln, however, was her first encounter with urban life.

The Nebraska capital then had a population of thirty-five thousand sprawled over several square miles of flat, open prairie in the typical mid-western pattern of city planning: perfectly rectangular blocks laid out by theodolite and surveyors' chains in a north-south, east-west grid. Lettered streets ran east and west, numbered streets north and south. The capitol building stood at the center, and a mile north, at the top of Eleventh Street were the buildings of the university. By the time Cather arrived, eight miles of streets had been paved with red cedar blocks and brick; the inhabitants had ridden in horse cars for seven years, had possessed a waterworks for five, gas streetlights for four; and the telephone company had 615 subscribers. The first skyscraper, the six-story Burr Block, was finished the year before Cather came; there were five major hotels, about as many saloons as churches, five private schools, a public library, and an electric-light plant. Shade trees had had a quarter of a century to establish themselves, but the city still had a raw look about it. Outside of town there were people still lining in dugouts, and some years when the grasshopper plague hit the neighboring farms, the insects stripped the young trees of the city. The smell of burning prairie grass often drifted over the city before it was replaced by progress and industrial fumes as the city grew.

The founders of the city "were the pioneers not of land but of commerce and the professions: judges, lawyers, merchants, publishers, railroad builders, professors. There were also the exploiters, the boomers of paper towns and promoters of wildcat banks. But good or bad, they did not come to Nebraska to build a different world; they wanted the kind of society they had always considered desirable—but they wanted it here, where success (so they thought) was quick as a grasshopper and sure as the wind." Many were disappointed, however, and when depression hit the state in the mid-nineties, they wished they were back where they came from.

Life in Lincoln was not primitive. The settlers from the East had not been in contact with the frontier long enough to be influenced by the wild land. They built the same square brick piles they had formerly lived in or constructed the frame houses ornamented with turrets, bulbous pillars, and other Victorian gimcracks. They brought their eastern culture and artifacts with them, and while they were digging up the buffalo grass to plant their lawns and flowerbeds, they were unpacking their Limoges china, Landseer lithographs, and Ticknor and Fields books. Lincoln was an instant city built like a movie set. It had been empty prairie in 1867 when Nebraska became a state, and it was a thriving city twenty-three years later, nearly tripling in size between 1880 and 1890. It quickly became a railroad center, as it was on the direct route between Chicago and Denver, and by the end of the century nineteen different rail lines led into it. This fact is important for Cather's career, because it made Lincoln a convenient stop for first-rate theatrical and musical companies on their way to Denver and San Francisco. When Cather became drama critic for the Nebraska State Journal, she was able to review plays and musical events of major importance.

Lincoln at this time had two thriving theaters, the Lansing and the Funke, both large and well appointed. Together they could accommodate three thousand spectators, and when both were open sometimes one hundred traveling companies passed through Lincoln in one year. Often there were five or six plays a week, and one could see Julia Marlowe, Helena Modjeska, Margaret Mather, Richard Mansfield, the Drews, Otis Skinner, and many others. Symphony orchestras and opera companies with internationally acclaimed singers also passed through the city. Discouraged Bohemian farmers like Mr. Shimerda may have been blowing their brains out on the bleak, lonely prairie of Webster County, but in Lancaster County there were people in top hats and tails eating oysters shipped in from the East in blocks of ice and sipping French champagne at their after-theater parties.

The University of Nebraska was about the same age as Lincoln. Its buildings were laid out on four city blocks, neatly planted in grass and new trees and surrounded by a high iron fence. The largest building was University Hall, an ornate red-brick structure dominating the campus. "There before me," wrote Alvin Johnson, one of Cather's contemporaries,"was University Hall, as it was pictured in the university catalogue. I walked up to the gate, where I was almost trodden down by students scurrying from the classrooms. The building before me seemed huge and majestic. It had four strata of windows, some of them lighted, under a mansard roof. The building was topped with a square tower. To the right were three other buildings of varying architecture, all handsome to my country eyes." The library was housed in two crowded rooms, and although a separate library building was begun in 1893, it remained an empty, unfinished shell until the legislature appropriated money to complete it after Cather graduated.

The student population then was three or four hundred (with another one hundred in the prep school), but by the time Cather left, three times that many were straining the capacity of the physical plant. Jim Burden remembered the student body: "In those days there were many serious young men among the students who had come up to the university from the farms and the little towns scattered over the thinly settled state. Some of those boys came straight from the cornfields with only a summer's wages in their pockets, hung on through the four years, shabby and underfed, and completed the course by really heroic self-sacrifice."

The university already had attracted some prominent scholars and had begun giving graduate work in some disciplines. Cather is not very accurate when she has Jim Burden recall: "Our instructors were oddly assorted; wandering pioneer school-teachers, stranded ministers of the Gospel, a few enthusiastic young men just out of graduate schools." But Jim's following statement is correct enough: "There was an atmosphere of endeavor, of expectancy and bright hopefulness about the young college that had lifted its head from the prairie only a few years before."

Johnson remembers that it was the "chief mission of the university, as we saw it, to train young men and women and send them out to man the grade schools and eventually the high schools . . . . The older members of the faculty conceived of teaching Nebraskans as their essential function in life. Many of them had been students at the university in its early years and had risen through instructorships to the professorial ranks. Others had been drawn from neighboring institutions of the prairie states."

In addition to the homegrown talent, however, was imported scholarship and learning, like the city's imported oysters and champagne from the East and Europe. Bernice Slote says: "The University of Nebraska in the early 1890's was itself a little Renaissance world." There was A. H. Edgren from Sweden, translator of Sanskrit, former rector of the University of Gothenberg; James T. Lees, who taught Greek, a great scholar, British-born but educated at Johns Hopkins under the famous classicist Basil Gildersleeve; Herbert Bates, young poet and fiction writer who had studied under Barrett Wendell at Harvard. Roscoe Pound, who later became dean of the Harvard Law School, was both lawyer and a graduate teaching assistant in botany; John J. Pershing, later commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, was a teacher of math and military science. The chancellor was James Canfield, later president of Ohio State University and librarian of Columbia University.

This community of scholars produced some distinguished graduates, besides Willa Cather, during the nineties. Louise Pound, the sister of Roscoe, became a famous scholar and folklorist and the first woman president of the Modern Language Association. Alvin Johnson went on to found the New School for Social Research in New York. D. N. Lehmer became a well-known composer and mathematician; Hartley Burr Alexander became an important philosopher, educator, and writer, and an associate editor of Webster's New International Dictionary. William Linn Westermann had a distinguished career as an ancient historian. There also was Dorothy Canfield, daughter of the chancellor, who, though still in high school in Cather's day, was destined to be a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist.

The girl who left Red Cloud to begin the next great adventure must have been much like Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark. As Thea sat in her Pullman car watching the cornfields flash by en route to Chicago to study music, it was herself and her own adventure that mattered. "If youth did not matter so much to itself, it would never have the heart to go on. Thea was surprised that she did not feel a deeper sense of loss at leaving her old life behind her." It seemed, on the contrary, as she looked out the train window,"that she had left very little. Everything that was essential seemed to be right there in the car with her." Cather had the same self-sufficiency, the same resolute determination to confront her destiny. She did not yet know what her destiny was to be, but there was no hanging back. She had wanted to go to college, and getting there had not been easy. She was going to make the most of it.

Although her father was forced to borrow money to send her, the expenses actually were modest. The three hundred dollars that Mr. Rosen lends Vickie Templeton in "Old Mrs. Harris" probably was enough to see a frugal student through two years of college. One could get room and board for three dollars a week, and the university fees consisted of a ten-dollar registration fee and a ten-dollar (refundable) chemistry breakage fee. Books and incidentals also were proportionately cheap. Once she got to Lincoln, Cather did not have to skimp. She boarded at the best eating place in town and was able to go to Omaha to the theater on occasion. She did have to tend her own stove in the rooming house, something she never had done before, but her later memories of her poverty-stricken college days are a good bit exaggerated. In 1940 she believed that no student ever had gone through college on a smaller allowance than she had. She went without some things in order to have other things she wanted, and for some of the books in her library she felt a particular affection because they were bought at the cost of considerable sacrifice during her student days.

Her memory of being poor in college applies more to her last two years than to the first two. In 1893 the nation was hit by a severe depression, and times were particularly hard in Nebraska. For several summers there were successive crop failures, and in 1893 a hot wind burned up the entire corn crop in three days. Banks failed; eastern investors withdrew their money; farm mortgages were foreclosed. The Farmers' and Merchants' Bank of Red Cloud failed, and while Charles Cather lost no money, many men who owed him money did. He owned a large amount of farm land that was heavily mortgaged and for a time was hard put to support his family. Cather's brother Roscoe did not go to college but began teaching country school at the age of sixteen to help support the family. Willa at this time became a professional journalist and for the last two years of her university career was probably self-supporting. Whether she earned enough to contribute to the family income, the record does not say; but she recognized family obligations, and later, when she was working in Pittsburgh, she sent money home. She continued to do this in New York when she worked for McClure's Magazine, and after she became a free-lance novelist, she helped put her younger brother Jack and sister Elsie through college.

Living arrangements for students in the 1890s were unorganized. Jim Burden remembers: "There were no college dormitories; we lived where we could and as we could." Cather first rented a room at i1019 H Street in the home of "Aunt Kate" Hastings, a friend of the family on the edge of town near open country, and later she lived with D. Neil Johnson, a real estate broker, and his family at 1029 L Street. While she was looking for a place to live, she and her mother, who accompanied her to Lincoln, stayed with the family of R. E. Moore, head of the Security Investment Company that employed Charles Cather as its southeastern Nebraska representative. If Jim Burden's memory of his room is an accurate description of Cather's first living quarters, she got two rooms for the price of one because the house was inconveniently located for students. Her bedroom, originally a linen closet, was unheated and just big enough for a cot, and her other room she fixed up as her study."I worked at a commodious green-topped table placed directly in front of the west window which looked out over the prairie." In the corner at her right she put her books on shelves she made and painted herself, and on the blank wall to the left she tacked up a large, newly purchased map of ancient Rome. Rome was the one place in all the world, she had written in her friend's album two years before, that she most wanted to visit. Over the bookcase she hung a photograph of the Tragic Theater at Pompeii.

It is appropriate that Cather's alter ego narrator Jim in My Ántonia is male, for Cather was still refusing to act and dress like a girl. She continued to cut her hair short for at least her first year at the university and wore starched shirts like a man instead of feminine shirtwaists; she did put on skirts, though she wore them shorter than most women, daringly short, some of her classmates thought. She also continued taking male roles in dramatic productions and signing her name William Cather. This last went on, Louise Pound remembered, until her friends made her stop it. It was Mrs. Charles Gere, mother of one of her closest college friends and wife of the publisher of the Journal, who persuaded her to let her hair grow. Years later when Mrs. Gere died, Cather wrote Mariel Gere that her mother had done so much for a clumsy country girl. She had done it simply by being her lovely and gracious self; her charm and vivacity were something entirely new. No one but Mrs. Gere, she said, could have persuaded her to let her hair grow or to learn to spell. William Westermann recalled her first appearance in the elementary Greek class that he was enrolled in. While the students were awaiting the instructor, the door opened, and a head with short hair and a straw hat appeared. A masculine voice inquired if this were the beginning Greek class, and when someone said it was, the body attached to the head and hat opened the door wider and came in. The masculine head and voice were attached to a girl's body and skirts. The entire class laughed, but Cather, apparently unperturbed, took her seat and joined the waiting students.

Cather's fellow students remembered her well. When some of them were asked for their recollections soon after she died, they recalled her mannish attire, short hair, and independent manner. One remembered that she wore high, stiff collars, string or four-in-hand ties, and mannish white cuff's that stuck out of her jacket sleeves. "I never remember her wearing a dress at any time—always dark, man-tailored suits." But another recalled that she always dressed in middy blouses with full skirts that freed her from the restraints of clothes worn by most of the women of that day. This fashion, which she probably adopted in the latter part of her college years, was a style she liked throughout her later years. A third contemporary said Cather was the first woman she ever saw wearing suspenders, and a fourth remembered that the boys who dated her were scared off after one date. She modified her behavior during her college years, however, and by the time she was a junior she was doing her hair up, no doubt to the relief of her mother; her graduation picture shows her wearing a very feminine full-length dress with puff sleeves and long gloves.

Cather was a controversial figure in college, as she had been in high school, and her classmates either were fond of her or detested her. There seems to have been little middle ground. Her own memory of herself in college was not a pleasant one. Edith Lewis reports that in one of her letters to Mrs. Goudy there was a touching note of self-questioning, "touching because of its absolute candour; humble, and at the same time fearless. She believed in the power she felt in herself, but she had no soaring illusions about it." When one of her old schoolmates, Ned Abbott, proposed writing a biographical piece on her in 1921, she told him she hated biography because no biographical sketch is thought interesting unless the subject is presented as a freak. The external queerness of a person is seldom his or her reality, she wrote. But she told Abbott to go see Mrs. Goudy, who had known her intimately during her university days and who could tell him more about her than she could. Cather told Abbott she had assumed various poses in college. There are just a few rare, charming young people who are simple and natural in college, undistorted by any affectations, and she was not one of them. She often felt lonely and was very unhappy when people cut her. Underneath her sturdy independence and uncompromising nonconformity was a desire to be liked, a desire for society. When she later went to Pittsburgh to work, she went to parties, teas, and out-of-town excursions, dated, and loved the life."Gad! how we like to be liked," she wrote Mariel Gere, quoting Charles Lamb.

When Cather arrived in Lincoln, she did not become a member of the freshman class. Despite the fact that the university was small, new, and served a state full of unassimilated foreign-born, its standards were high; and rather than admit those not sufficiently prepared, the university ran a two-year preparatory Latin school in conjunction with its baccalaureate and graduate offerings. Red Cloud High School graduates did not meet all the entrance requirements, and Cather was put in the "second prep" class. This meant that she had to take an additional year of work before she could enroll as a freshman. Thus she had five years of education in Lincoln before she graduated in June 1895.

She threw herself into her schoolwork with characteristic energy and concentration. There was nothing in her personality of the easygoing ways of her southern family. While her parents liked to sit about in leisurely discussion, never in any rush to face the problems of the day, she attacked her assignments with vigor. Professor Wunsch's feelings about Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark apply equally to Cather: "It was his pupil's power of application, her rugged will, that interested him." Viola Roseboro', later her colleague on McClure's Magazine, told Edith Lewis:"If Willa Cather had been a scrub-woman, she would have scrubbed much harder than other scrub-women." No grades were kept among the registrar's records at the University of Nebraska, but Lewis reports that Cather once stood first in her Latin class of fifty-three and used to get up at five o'clock to study. Dorothy Canfield later remembered Cather as the most brilliant student the university had, while Alvin Johnson remembered Cather and Louise Pound as the two most original students during his years in Lincoln.

Cather went to the university intending to study medicine and become a doctor, but she soon switched to the humanities. There is no record of the courses she had to take during her preparatory year except that she was allowed to take freshman chemistry and received advance credit for the course. She also took an English course from Professor Ebenezer Hunt, for whom she wrote the Carlyle essay that she thought later had turned her into a writer. Hunt used to say to her, as she was fond of quoting,"Life is one damn grind, Cather." Her interest in science continued at least into the summer after her prep year, for she wrote Mrs. Goudy then that she was chiefly interested in astronomy, botany, and chemistry, and she wrote Mariel Gere one day in July that she had spent the morning dissecting frogs to study their circulatory system. But she also said that she had been studying French history and reading George Eliot.

When she did matriculate as a regular degree candidate in the fall of 1891, she took freshman math, Greek, Latin, rhetoric and was allowed to enroll in the junior-level Shakespeare course. All of these were full year courses. Math nearly proved her undoing. She could not pass the course in her freshman year, and it was not until the second semester of her senior year that she completed freshman math and was able to graduate. She continued Latin and Greek in her sophomore year, and in her junior year took three semesters of Greek, including a course in lyric poetry. In her other Greek courses she read Pindar, Herodotus, Homer, and the dramatists. She took a lot of English literature—fifteen semesters—during her entire undergraduate program: four semesters of Shakespeare, a semester of other Elizabethan dramatists, a year of Browning, a year of other writers (Tennyson, Emerson, Ruskin, Hawthorne), a course called dramatization, and Anglo-Saxon literature. In her last two years she studied French and German, carrying four semesters of the former, in which she read Daudet, Gautier, Balzac, Racine, Taine, and two semesters of the latter. In addition she took American and European history and philosophy. Her superior ability is shown on her transcript by the notation that she was allowed to substitute advanced classes in English literature for the introductory ones. For the first two years she studied hard, but by her third year she was working nearly full-time as a journalist and getting her education outside of the classroom. She remembered that she did very little work on her courses during her last two years and passed her examinations largely on inspiration.

The major event of her first year at Lincoln occurred in March 1891, when Professor Hunt assigned a theme topic: "The Personal Characteristics of Thomas Carlyle." He originally had called for themes on Thomas Paine, but was talked out of it by timid colleagues who thought Paine too dangerous a topic to give to impressionable "second prep" students. Cather already had a passionate interest in Carlyle, owned a copy of Sartor Resartus, and the assignment sent her up like a balloon. Professor Hunt must have been astounded when he read her essay. Any English teacher who has corrected the witless humor and semiliterate prose of countless college freshmen dreams of such a moment. When Hunt handed back the papers, he wrote on the board one of the final sentences of her essay: "Like the lone survivor of some extinct species, the last of the mammoths, tortured and harassed beyond all endurance by the smaller, though perhaps more perfectly organized offspring of the world's maturer years, this great Titan, son of her passionate youth, a youth of volcanoes, and earthquakes, and great, unsystematized forces, rushed off into the desert to suffer alone."

On a Sunday morning soon afterwards Cather opened the Journal and found her essay in print. Without her knowledge Professor Hunt had given the piece to the Journal, and somehow the undergraduate publication, the Hesperian, also got a copy. Both published it on the same day. A note on the editorial page of the Journal, no doubt written by Charles Gere, the editor, called attention to the essay, the work of "a young girl sixteen [actually seventeen] years of age who comes from Webster County." He went on to say that a careful reading would "convince any student of literature that it is a remarkable production, reflecting not a little credit on the author and the university."

Thirty-six years later Cather remembered: "Up to that time I had planned to specialize in science; I thought I would like to study medicine. But what youthful vanity can be unaffected by the sight of itself in print! It has a kind of hypnotic effect. I still remember that essay, and it was a splendid example of the kind of writing I most dislike; very florid and full of high-flown figures of speech." She further recalled that it did not deal at all with the personal characteristics of Carlyle but "poured out, as best I could, the feelings that a fervid reading of 'The French Revolution' and `Sartor Resartus' had stirred up in me." Yet she had to admit that the essay was honest: "Florid as it was, it didn't over color the pleasure and delightful bitterness that Carlyle can arouse in a very young person. It makes one feel so grown up to be bitter."

The mouth-filling period that Professor Hunt picked out to write on the board is perhaps the most baroque sentence in the entire essay. Although the whole composition is highly charged with the author's emotional response to Carlyle, there are many short, pithy sentences and plenty of vigorous declarative ones. What is most interesting about the piece, however, is not the rhetoric but the image of young Willa Cather projected against the figure of Thomas Carlyle. Shot through the essay are sentences more revealing of the author's dreams about herself than other subject. The personal characteristics of Carlyle are mostly those of Willa Cather, and they are characteristics that endured a lifetime.

Consider some of her observations: "He was a recluse, not that he had any aversion for men, but that he loved his books and loved Nature better." "His love and sympathy for humanity were boundless, and he understood great minds and earnest souls as no other man ever has. In this lay his power as a biographer and as a historian." "Carlyle posed but poorly as a political economist." "He went far out into one of the most desolate spots of Scotland, and made his home there. There among the wild heaths . . . he did his best work. He drew his strength from those wild landscapes." "Like Scott, he lived much in the open air." "The wife of an artist, if he continues to be an artist, must always be a secondary consideration with him." "He never strove to please a pampered public." "Nothing has so degraded modern literature as the desperate efforts of modern writers to captivate the public." "He was proud to the extreme, but his love was predominant even over his pride." "For his brother's sake he wrote for money. It seemed to him like selling his own soul. He wrote article after article for reviews, and cut up his great thoughts to fit the pages of a magazine. No wonder he hated it; it was like hacking his own flesh, bit by bit, to feed those he loved."

These quotations read like program notes for Cather's life: things she would be and do, things she was, things she would avoid. Written when she was seventeen, they show that her life patterns were drawn early. Finally, there is the most important statement of all, one that posits a lifelong conviction and a lifelong action. It comes immediately after her declaration that an artist's wife (and she meant husband too) must play a supporting role to his career. "Art of every kind is an exacting master, more so than even Jehovah. He says only, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' Art, science, and letters cry, 'Thou shalt have no other gods at all.' They accept only human sacrifices."

It is clear from a review of Cather's entire career that this creed, embraced fervently at the age of seventeen, guided her throughout her life. From the moment she decided to become a writer she devoted all her energy and intelligence to this end. Fanny Butcher, who was editor of the Chicago Tribune book section and knew Cather for thirty-five years, said she never had known anyone else who had so successfully managed to get exactly what she wanted out of life. It wasn't fame, fortune, adulation. Material possessions meant to her only what they could do to make her life unencumbered, free to write, the only thing she really wanted to do. Butcher wrote in her memoirs: "I never knew anyone who seemed to be more wrapped around by her work, to be almost encircled in it like Laocoön in the coils of the sea serpent. Once she said to me that nothing mattered to her but writing books, and living the kind of life that makes it possible to write them." Cather wrote Mariel Gere soon after beginning her new job in Pittsburgh in 1896 that there wasno god but one god and art is his revealer; that was her creed and she would follow it to the end, to a hotter place than Pittsburgh if need be.

The Carlyle essay was followed six months later by another remarkable performance, a long, two-part discussion entitled "Shakespeare and Hamlet ," which the Journal also published. By then Cather was regularly enrolled as a freshman and taking the junior-level Shakespeare course. She also had read and pondered Shakespeare in Red Cloud, and again the essay is as much about the author and her aspirations as it is about Shakespeare and the prince of Denmark. The essay includes an inquiry into the nature of art and an analysis of what it takes to be an artist. Shakespeare as the supreme practitioner provides the inspiration for this discussion. It is as though she had made him her model. The great secret of Shakespeare's power, she wrote, was the supreme love, rather than the supreme intellect. Some writers are mere men of letters, presidents of literary clubs, and editors of magazines, but the real writers are those who have suffered the agonies of creation,"the agony in which all the forces of body, brain and soul are drawn to one vital center in the effort of one life to give individuality to a greater life, the agony of the Doric women who bore the sons of the gods." And what must an artist do to be saved? The answer she cast in the form of Christ's answer to the rich man (Luke 18:22): "Sell all that thou hast . . . and come, follow me." The mere man of letters, she wrote, like the rich man, will turn sorrowfully away. He will not give up the world to follow art.

This equating of art and religion is very characteristic of Cather. Three years later when she reviewed a superb performance by Richard Mansfield on Shakespeare's birthday, she wrote: "One felt that he was worthy to act on that might, the immortal twenty-third of April, the night on which three hundred and thirty years ago . . . God a second time turned his face in love toward man." In The Professor's House (1925) Cather has Professor St. Peter say in a lecture to his students: ""Art and religion (they are the same thing in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had." It seems clear that from 1891 on, art was to be her religion, and this single-minded pursuit of art helps to explain her subsequent life as a single artist.

By the time the Shakespeare essay appeared in print, Cather was busily engaged in extracurricular activities. A new campus magazine, the Lasso, appeared anonymously in October and November, but in December it identified James McDonald as editor and proprietor, and Willa Cather and Louise Pound as associate editors. The magazine lasted only one year, but by the beginning of her sophomore year Cather was on the staff of the oldest campus literary publication, the Hesperian. This was a combination magazine-newspaper of sixteen pages that appeared semimonthly and was published by the literary societies. Cather, who belonged to the Union Literary Society, was elected an associate editor with responsibility for the literary contents. She threw herself into this venture with characteristic energy and published four of her own stories and a short play during the first semester. Another play appeared in the winter, another story in the spring, and a sixth story the following fall.

During her junior year she became managing editor, and while she only used one of her own stories that year, she devoted a great deal of time to the magazine. One of her colleagues remembered later that "the truth is the Hesperian was Willa practically . . . . the rest of us looked wise and did nothing." The magazine had a sprightliness that year unmatched by volumes of the publication in years before and after. The first issue with "W. Cather—Managing Editor" on the masthead stated the editor's aims for the year: the Hesperian would be written "in plain, unornamented language which anyone can interpret without the aid of a handbook of mythology or a dictionary of similes." And she continued: "If there is any fighting to be done, we will be down in the line fighting on one side or the other, striking out from the shoulder. If we err, we will err through bad judgment, not through lack of enthusiasm." She also claimed the right to "pummel . . . as much as we please" any man who "says that the earth is flat, . . . slanders a great book or writes an absurd one." Finally, she promised that the paper would be decently proofread. Her greatest accomplishment of the year was in putting out a special, thirty-two-page Charter Day issue, commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the university's founding.

The Hesperian was not her only extracurricular activity during her college years. She was literary editor of the 1894 Sombrero, the yearbook of her class of 1895, and apparently took part in campus debating clubs, but the record contains only secondhand references to this activity. She continued her high school interest in drama and appeared in at least two undergraduate productions. In her sophomore year she finally played a female role, appearing as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare up to Date, a farce in which Shakespeare's characters accuse him of falsifying their true natures. During the same year she returned to her male roles as Diamond Witherspoon in a takeoff on university life thought to be written by Louise Pound. In this production Cather's recitation of "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight" brought down the house.

Cather's career as a creative writer began during her freshman year, when she wrote a story that greatly impressed her English instructor, Professor Bates. That she was seriously studying the writing process at this time is documented by Alvin Johnson's memory of her as a paper-grader when he was in the Latin school prepping for college: "I had to produce 'themes.' . . . My themes were passed on by a rather mannish young woman . . . Willa Cather. She did me the great honor of calling me to her office. 'You write not badly,' she said, 'but you don't see. Learn French, a little French and read Flaubert or even Maupassant. They see. Madame Bovary: the book is worth committing to memory."' From the beginning Flaubert was one of her masters and favorite authors. It was his painstaking attention to style and language, le mot juste, rather than his subject, that interested Cather. As her life turned out, she had a great deal in common with Flaubert: dedication to art, distrust of science, loyalty to friends, lack of interest in politics, and a desire for privacy. Neither writer ever married or thought the novel had any social purpose.

The story that delighted Herbert Bates, as the Carlyle essay had charmed Professor Hunt, was "Peter," the tale of the Bohemian immigrant who commits suicide on his Nebraska farm. Bates was so impressed that he sent story off to a Boston magazine, The Mahogany Tree, which published it in May 1892. Cather then reprinted it with revisions in the Hesperian in November. Readers will recognize the story as an early version of the episode of Mr. Shimerda's death in My Ántonia. The Bohemian musician, who has emigrated from the Old World with his wife and children, is old, feeble, dispirited, and hardly able to play his violin any longer. His practical son wants to sell the fiddle, but the old man, defeated by the hard life in the alien land and unable to part with his instrument, cannot bear to go on living: "He took Anton's shotgun down from its peg, and loaded it by the moonlight which streamed in through the door. He sat down on the dirt floor, and leaned back against the dirt wall. He heard the wolves howling in the distance, and the night wind screaming as it swept over the snow. Near him he heard the regular breathing of the horses in the dark. He put his crucifix above his heart, and folding his hands said brokenly all the Latin he had ever known,'Pater noster, qui in coelum est.' . . . He held his fiddle under his chin a moment, where it had lain so often, then put it across his knee and broke it through the middle. He pulled off his old boot, held the gun between his knees with the muzzle against his forehead, and pressed the trigger with his toe."

This is a piece of narrative that any college freshman could be proud of. Cather liked it well enough to rewrite it and republish it for a third time, in Pittsburgh eight years later. This time she dropped the thee 's and thou 's that she had used to suggest the familiar second-person singular of the Czech language, sharpened the conflict between father and son, and expanded the beginning. The bulk of the tale remained the same, however, until she reworked it into a far more intricate design in the evocative prose of My Ántonia. In this early story and the next one she wrote, she had not yet learned how to use the Nebraska setting for more than a backdrop for the action. Eventually she worked out the way to involve the land as antagonist in her prairie fiction, but here the conflict is merely between father and son.

This conflict, which is over values, is interesting, however, because it announces at the outset of her career a theme that runs significantly through her mature fiction. The tale ends with this paragraph: "In the morning Antone found him stiff, frozen fast in a pool of blood. They could not straighten him out enough to fit a coffin, so they buried him in a pine box. Before the funeral Antone carried to town the fiddlebow which Peter had forgotten to break. Antone was very thrifty, and a better man than his father had been." Here already is the hard-headed, practical businessman farmer, a preview of Nat Wheeler in One of Ours (1922) or the shyster lawyer Ivy Peters in A Lost Lady (1923). The story also foreshadows the conflict between materialism and spirituality that looms large in The Professor's House (1925). The irony shown here seems remarkably sophisticated for a first story written at the age of eighteen.

Before Cather reprinted "Peter" in November, she already had used her second story,"Lou, the Prophet," in the Hesperian in October. This tale, which is just as precocious as the first one, also makes use of Nebraska material; and it too is a somber concoction of death and despair in the wild land of the Divide. Lou is a homesick Dane who has been trying to scratch a living from the recalcitrant prairie for seven years. He is rewarded for his herculean efforts by drought and crop failure, and becomes at the end a crazy religious fanatic who believes God is punishing the world for its sins. In setting this tale Cather writes: "His bill of fare never changed the year round; bread, coffee, beans and sorghum molasses, sometimes a little salt pork. After breakfast he worked until dinner time, ate, and then worked again. He always went to bed soon after the sunset, for he was always tired, and it saved oil. Sometimes, on Sundays, he would go over home after he had done his washing and house cleaning, and sometimes he hunted. His life was as sane and as uneventful as the life of his plow horses, and it was as hard and thankless." The opportunity is here to make the land the antagonist, but the story trails off into an account of Lou's religious visions and ends with his mysterious disappearance when the police come to lock him up as a dangerous lunatic.

The alchemy of time had not yet mellowed Cather's memory of the bleakness of Nebraska farm life. Her early stories of Nebraska farmers are all tales of hardship, failure, deprivation. But there is a paradox here, for her stories and her letters of this period are not of a piece. During her first summer back in Red Cloud from Lincoln she wrote of taking endless rides over the prairie, and the annual harvest was a spectacle she always loved. Another summer she wrote the Gere sisters that she wanted them to come down from Lincoln to see the country while it was looking like a garden—green and beautiful beyond words, with cornfields like forests everywhere. The tone and content of these grim early stories remind one of the tales that Hamlin Garland was writing about the same time. His bleak stories of Midwestern farm life, published as Main-Travelled Roads, had appeared in 1891. It is tempting to speculate that Cather as a college freshman thought the proper tone for a story of farmers on the prairie should be Garland's. She later repudiated these stories completely, regarded them as false pictures of the Nebraska reality, and wanted to forget them.

When Edward Wagenknecht wrote her in 1938 about her early stories, sending her a list of the ones he had uncovered, she assumed that he wanted to reprint them. She wrote him a testy letter telling him that under no circumstances could he do anything with these stories. She regarded them as quite worthless, unfit to be reprinted, and said that whenever possible she had renewed her copyrights to prevent anyone from resurrecting them. Suppose some apple grower were to pack only sound apples for market, she wrote, and suppose someone came along while he was asleep and put the bad ones left on the ground in the boxes; would that be a friendly act? Everyone has the right of supervision over their handiwork, she added. The carpenter, the dressmaker, the cabinet maker can put their flimsy work in the cellar and forget it. The copyright laws give the writer the same privilege. She was sorry her apprentice pieces still existed in the musty files of old periodicals and would have liked to destroy them all.

Four more early stories appeared in the Hesperian during 1892 and 1893. One was "The Elopement of Allen Poole," her Virginia story; two others were exercises in exoticism that led nowhere. "A Son of the Celestial" is a tale of a wise old Chinese scholar who dies in a San Francisco opium den. The anonymous narrator attacks the pretension and dusty scholarship of American professors, a covert attack on some of Cather's own teachers, no doubt, but the story is of no real importance. ""A Tale of the White Pyramid" is laid in ancient Egypt, concerns a marvelous feat of strength by an unknown youth who saves from disaster the burial ceremony of the dead Pharaoh, but the only thing of interest about this story is Cather's initial use of a first-person narrator.

The last of these stories, however, is another matter. It is even grimmer and more terrifying than "Peter" and "Lou, the Prophet." It is a grisly tale of man's inhumanity to man, in which a poor, simple-minded Russian farm worker is victimized by the society he has not asked to be part of. The character, Serge Povolitchky, is the bastard child of a Russian immigrant girl and a railroad contractor. As a farm worker on the ranch of a man with the good English name of David, Serge befriends a mongrel dog, the first thing in his life he ever has had a chance to love. The farmer in a fit of anger one day kills the dog, and Serge instantly reacts by splitting the farmer's head with an ax. In jail, Serge is too stupid to make barrel hoops and is punished by solitary confinement, tortured, and killed. "The Clemency of the Court" is the ironic title of this pathetic tale.

By the time Cather became a junior, she was no longer a docile student, and her impatience with the quality and nature of her instruction grew. Before she graduated, she quoted approvingly in her newspaper column a remark Beerbohm Tree had made in an address at Harvard. While he thought that a university education was of inestimable importance to chemists, engineers, tradesmen, and bookkeepers, Tree doubted its beneficial effect on artists. Cather was like Jim Burden, who says: "I knew that I should never be a scholar. I could never lose myself for long among impersonal things." She had no sympathy with precise scholarship and said as early as the Shakespeare essay that the emotional plane of life is "infinitely higher than the intellectual," that this level was not reached by "mastering the pages of a Latin grammar." Her own criticism, which is highly emotional and impressionistic, owes its quality to her passionate commitment to the text rather than to literary analysis.

This passionate commitment was a quality that Dorothy Canfield Fisher later remembered vividly: "She amazed and sometimes abashed some of her professors by caring much more fiercely about their subjects than they did. Especially French. There seemed to be a natural affinity between her mind and French forms of art. During her undergraduate years she made it a loving duty to read every French literary masterpiece she could lay her hands on." In her French classes, though she was no doubt better read than the instructor, she had to be threatened with failing before she could be made to learn the grammar.

This antipathy for precise scholarship collided with the literary methods of the chairman of the English Department, Lucius Sherman. Though she took a number of courses from him and no doubt learned a great deal, she hated the kind of detailed literary analysis that he specialized in. He made exhaustive studies of sounds as expressions of emotions, and devised elaborate diagrams for the analysis of words. His Elements of Literature and Composition was about the dullest book Cather ever had encountered, and his Analytics of Literature she regarded as arid pedantry. Often his supposed scientific method of examining literature "came down to mere word-counting; judging by published examples, he and his students had counted words of nearly a hundred thousand sentences in works of seventy authors from Spenser to Henry James." Half of his Analytics is devoted to analysis of sentence length, comparative predication, and ratios of force, with charts, diagrams, formulae, and equations.

Cather never lost a chance to attack Sherman's scholarship, opinions, pedagogy. She wrote a number of satires on his Analytics, especially the word-counting exercises. One unsigned verse of this sort appeared in the Hespertan in December 1893:
I am dying, Egypt, dying,
Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast;
And the dark Plutonian shadows
Gather on the evening blast;
Ah I counted, Queen, and counted,
And rows of figures massed
Till e'en my days are numbered,
And I'm counted out at last.

She also crossed swords with Sherman in her book column in the Journal. When he attacked Du Maurier's Trilby as immoral in his book column in the Lincoln Evening News, she wrote a spirited defense of the novel. Sherman's pedagogical method on exams, which involved asking multiple, minute, nit-picking questions, also irritated Cather. Olivia Pound remembered that one day after an interminable number of these queries, Sherman asked, apropos of the mother of Coriolanus, "What did the noble matron Volumnia say then?" Cather's answer: "The noble matron Volumnia then said 'Bow-wow. '" Sherman apparently settled scores with her later when she applied, unsuccessfully, to fill a vacancy that occurred in the English Department the year after she graduated.

Even before Sherman had become her bĉte noire, she was attacking pedantry. In the freshman Shakespeare essay she wrote that the literary analysts never find life in what they analyze: "They never feel the hot blood riot in the pulses, nor hear the great heartbeat. That is the one great job which belongs exclusively to those of us who are unlearned, unlettered." She was disappointed not to find in Lincoln speculative, wide-ranging teachers like Will Ducker, the passionate amateur with whom she had read the classics in Red Cloud. "In the classical courses at Nebraska, as at most universities, there was altogether too much gerund-grinding . . . . The great initiation promised for the truly elect was into the mysterious classification of Sanskrit verbs."

There was one professor, however, who was different: Herbert Bates, with whom she developed a close relationship. He gave her the kind of stimulation and encouragement she needed. As a writer himself, he understood and befriended her. He sits for the portrait of Jim Burden's admired Gaston Cleric in My Ántonia: "I have sometimes thought that his bursts of imaginative talk were fatal to his poetic gift. He squandered too much in the heat of personal communication. How often I have seen him draw his dark brows together, fix his eyes upon some object on the wall or a figure in the carpet, and then flash into the lamplight the very image that was in his brain. He could bring the drama of antique life before one out of the shadows—white figures against blue backgrounds." It was his talk that she valued, as well as his knowledge. In the novel Jim recalls vivid memories of the evenings he spent with Cleric, who could recite Dante, canto after canto; and sometimes he stayed far into the night talking about Latin and English poetry and Italy.

Cather was highly selective in the friends she made in college, choosing the people she wanted and ignoring the rest, and the friendships she made were lifetime relationships. Her friends recognized her qualities and were devoted to her. In retrospect it seems that the people she chose were among the most cultivated and interesting people in Lincoln. Among them were the Westermanns, a German family that owned the Evening News; the Canfield family—James the chancellor, his wife Flavia, a painter, and Dorothy, who was in the eighth grade when Cather went to Lincoln; the Gere family—father and mother, daughters Mariel, Frances, and Ellen, Cather's fellow students; Will Owen Jones, managing editor of Charles Gere's Journal; Dr. Julius Tyndale, brother of Mrs. Westermann and fellow drama critic; and Louise Pound, the brilliant daughter of a prominent judge. All of these people are important dramatis personae in Cather's life.

The Westermanns, some of whom later moved to New York, where Cather saw them, appear briefly in One of Ours (1922) as the Erlich family. The protagonist of that novel, Claude Wheeler, visits the Erlichs during his college years in Lincoln, as Cather did the Westermanns. Julius Erlich takes Claude home to meet his mother and brothers: "Julius turned in at a rambling wooden house with an unfenced, terraced lawn. He led Claude around to the wing, and through a glass door into a big room that was all windows on three sides, above the wainscoting. The room was full of boys and young men, seated on long divans or perched on the arms of easy chairs, and they were all talking at once." Five of the young men were Julius's brothers. "Claude never before had seen brothers who were so outspoken and frank with one another." When their mother came in, she "seemed to him very young to be the head of such a family. Her hair was still brown, and she wore it drawn over her ears and twisted in two little horns, like the ladies in old daguerreotypes." Mrs. Westermann, who in real life also had six boys, was a gracious hostess who charmed Cather, as Mrs. Erlich does Claude. The house, which formerly had been occupied by the chancellor, stood on S Street, adjacent to the campus. William Westermann remembered that Cather's "depiction of the dinners which 'Claude' attended at the Erlich house contains memories of the many meals, on Sunday particularly, which Miss Cather took at our house." The Westermann family gave her the contact with a cultivated German family that she had had in Red Cloud with the Wieners.

The Canfields, at the head of the university hierarchy, were important people in Lincoln. James, according to Alvin Johnson, was adored by the students, who "regarded him not only as a shining representative of the world of culture, but as a true democrat, who used all his influence to abate the snobbishness of the students from the families that composed the rising middle class. He was constantly urging the more prosperous fathers to hold allowances to their sons and daughters to a minimum." Mrs. Canfield was mad about art, chiefly painting, which she did herself, but also literature and music. She was an irresponsible and outspoken woman, energetically involved in women's activities, a club woman almost to the point of caricature. Cather took an ironic view of this side of her nature but was genuinely interested in her French experiences. She had taken Dorothy to France with her for a year while she studied painting. Dorothy, the member of the family that Cather was genuinely attracted to, played the violin, fenced with skill, spoke fluent French, and captivated everyone. Johnson said the students idolized Dorothy,"a little girl . . . with lustrous brown eyes and abundant brown curls and the winning ways of a little fairy out of the storybooks." She went to college at Ohio State University after her father became president there, then took a Ph.D. in French at Columbia; but she did not make a career as a teacher. She on her part idolized Cather as a sort of talented older sister, and in later years, when both became novelists, they maintained their friendship and carried on an extensive correspondence.

The earliest fruit of Cather's friendship with Dorothy Canfield was a short story, "'The Fear that Walks by Noonday,'" which Cather published in the Sombrero the year she was literary editor. Dorothy remembered: "At a football game where we happened to be on the same grandstand, I gave her the idea of a football story—of all things! A fancy that had just occurred to me. She wrote the story, and very generously, I thought, put my name with hers as if I had helped write her story although I would have been perfectly incapable of that at that age. The story got a prize, $10.00—all of that! She gave me half of it. I thought it was generosity itself and still do." The tale is noteworthy because it is the first example of the Gothicism that runs through Cather's work, becoming a major element in her final novels. The story is not very good: a very conventional ghost tale in which a football team is defeated by an invisible twelfth member of the opposing team, the ghostly extra player being the recently deceased star of the winning team. The story is full of terror and melodrama as eerie events take place on the field, but Cather had not yet learned how to introduce successfully supernatural events into the normal world. Susan Rosowski writes: "Yet because it is crude it is also clear and therefore useful in pointing to something important in Cather's writing: her acknowledgement that human experience contains dark mysteries, inexplicable by ordinary rules of logic but nonetheless there."

The Geres, Will Owen Jones, and Dr. Tyndale were friends of Cather's career in journalism. Charles Gere, editor and publisher of the Journal, was her employer during the last three years she lived in Lincoln. His daughters all were close friends, especially Mariel, with whom Cather corresponded long after she left Nebraska. On the Journal 's sixtieth anniversary Cather wrote a graceful tribute to Mr. Gere, whose patience with her early writing seemed to her monumental. "I was paid one dollar a column, which was certainly all my high-stepping rhetoric was worth. Those out-pourings were pretty dreadful, but . . . he let me step as high as I wished. It was rather hard on his readers, perhaps, but it was good for me, because it enabled me to riot in fine writing until I got to hate it, and began slowly to recover." She added that sometimes there would be a twinkle in his eye that made her distrustful of her rhetorical magnificence, but he never corrected her. Will Owen Jones, the young managing editor of the Journal, taught journalism part-time at the university. Her close relationship with him began during her junior year, when she took a course from him that led to her regular employment on the paper.

Dr. Tyndale, an uncle of the Westermann boys, had come to Lincoln in 1893 for his health and to practice medicine. He wrote drama criticism as a hobby. He had come from the East, knew a lot about the theater, and wrote cocky, humorous notices. He also was "a severe iconoclast, took especial interest in Willa Cather, and in revolutionizing some of her ideas." Before she began writing drama reviews, the Courier had complained that theater reviewing in Lincoln, except for the columns of Dr. Tyndale in the News, was "a dreary waste of undiluted mediocrity." Cather's friendship with this fifty year-old single doctor, a rather debonair character, caused a lot of talk among self-appointed guardians of the public morals. But Cather paid no attention and cultivated this important friendship. Dr. Tyndale, Lewis believes, is the one who arranged for her to spend a week in Chicago seeing opera during her senior year, and there is a bit of him in the character of Dr. Englehardt in a late story,"Double Birthday." He also had a hand in persuading Cather to dress like a young woman. On one occasion, when she went to a party in boys' clothes, he told her "that was the last straw . . . she would have to be less conspicuous." She also went to him for counsel when she felt downhearted and discouraged.

Her relationship with Louise Pound was unlike any other friendship she made in college. When Cather arrived in Lincoln as a second prep, Pound was already a junior, though only a year and a half older. As a member of one of the pioneer first families of the city, she had social standing as well as brains. Cather's masculine nonconformity contrasted sharply with Pound's demeanor. Louise was beautiful, dressed fashionably, let her hair grow, and promoted the cause of women by becoming an athlete, pianist, and campus leader. Though she played tennis, golf, won prizes as a cyclist, managed the women's basketball team, helped organize a women's military company that drilled with Springfield rifles, she was very feminine in appearance. She also was a scholar and after college took a Ph.D. at Heidelberg. The two women were thrown together in Cather's freshman year when they both were associate editors of the Lasso and later when they took part in dramatic productions.

Cather fell in love, apparently for the first time in her life. Whether this love should be considered a serious affair or a short-lived freshman's "crush" on a senior is arguable. To call this a lesbian relationship, as some critics have done, is to give it undue importance. Pound did not return the affection with anything like the fervor with which it was given. She had many admirers of both sexes, was not inclined to focus her attention on any one individual, and this relationship came to an abrupt end after about two and a half years.

There is no doubt, however, that Cather went through a tempestuous psychological experience during this period. She confessed to Dorothy Canfield Fisher years later that during her youth she was mixed up, tormented; those were years of frenzy, she said. The earliest documentation of this frenzied period comes from an indiscreet letter Cather wrote Louise from her rooming house a few blocks from the Pound home. It was mid June 1892 at the time of Louise's graduation. Willa was packing to go home to Red Cloud for the summer. She was very unhappy that she had been unable to bid Louise a proper good-bye the night before, that she had not told Louise how handsome she looked in her new Worth gown. The house had been full of people, all admirers of Louise. Cather was especially jealous of one young man in a dress coat who seemed to be enamoured of Louise. She was also unhappy that she would not see Pound for a long time, that her going away probably would not make much difference to Louise. The letter is highly charged with the emotions of unrequited love. It also states rather remorsefully Cather's view of close female relationships: it is manifestly unfair that feminine friendship should be regarded as unnatural, she told Pound. She felt much put upon by this social attitude and seemed willing to flout convention, as she had on other matters when she was in high school in Red Cloud. Pound apparently wanted only an ordinary friendship and continually held Cather at arm's length.

This infatuation continued during the following year, when Cather was a sophomore, and after she went home for the summer in 1893, she wrote Louise begging her to come to Red Cloud for a visit. She wrote that she was feeling blue and disconsolate. She was in a state of internal revolution. She implored her friend to come down and save her soul. But before she finished writing, she received a card from Pound announcing that she was not coming. Cather finished her letter reproachfully, saying that their friendship had been too one-sided, that she did not want to go on this way. Louise reconsidered and in July traveled down to Red Cloud.

Cather prepared for the visit like a general planning a campaign. Because Louise was not used to children, Willa bribed her seven-year-old brother James with two nickels and a bottle of pop to go out into the country to visit, but she forgot to tell him how long to stay away. The next day he hitchhiked home with a farmer driving into town and began lavishing his affections on the visitor. They got on much better than she expected, Cather wrote Mariel Gere, but it was a nuisance having the child underfoot all the time. For Cather the visit was all too short, just enough to make her feel the need for her friend. She drove Louise all over the country, driving with one hand, she said, and sometimes with no hands at all. She was eager to get back to Lincoln for school and to see Louise again. She was delighted to find out that one of her rivals for Pound's affections, a girl named DePue, was soon to be married. That meant victory for her. She would have won the ground from under her rival, and that marriage would be her coronation. She would be number one. Heaven help the Greek and Latin during the coming year, she wrote. She ended by urging Mariel not to let her younger sisters, Ellen and Frances, see the last page of her letter. She did not want to corrupt them with her "spooniness." Louise had broken her of writing letters like this, but every once in a while she could not help it, she added.

Eight months later Cather demolished her relationship with the entire Pound family. No one knew why she did it, and it is possible she did not even realize what she was doing. The cause of the rupture was a lampoon of Roscoe Pound that she published in the Hesperian in the form of a Theophrastean "character": the University Graduate. She had written other "characters" that were either innocuous or based on unidentifiable real people, but the piece on Louise Pound's brother was unmistakable and certainly unflattering. In it Roscoe Pound is pompous, stuffy, conceited, and impressed with his own importance. He stands "around the halls buttonholing old acquaintances and showing the University to them." He exhibits the buildings and faculty "with an air of proprietorship and pleased condescension." He belongs to the botany seminar and "calls everything by its longest and most Latin name." "In his earliest youth he was a notorious bully, and little boys of the neighborhood used to be afraid to go past his house." Now he bullies people verbally and loves to "browbeat them, argue them down, Latin them into a corner, and botany them into a shapeless mass." And he likes to hand around the university "in order that people may ask who he is and be told what fine marks he used to get in his classes."

There is no documentation other than this "character" to reconstruct the relationship between Cather and Louise's brother. There obviously was a sharp clash in personalities, and Willa and Roscoe no doubt often took adversarial positions. He was a lawyer-botanist whose scientific mind was occupied with the precise details of taxonomy. He also was the soul of propriety and convention, and Cather's aggressive nonconformity must have irritated him considerably. Her "crush" on his sister perhaps sharpened the antipathy, but it is pure speculation to suggest, as Phyllis Robinson does in her biography of Cather, that Roscoe had charged Willa with being a lesbian. There is a good bit of truth in the "character" she wrote, and she may not have given any thought to how easily identifiable her subject would be. The Pound family was furious and declared Cather persona non grata in their house, where she had been entertained many times. Louise Pound told an interviewer in 1937 that Cather had used material gained while a guest of the Pounds. "The breach of etiquette Mother Pound and Sister Oliva found unforgivable."

As the "character" of Roscoe Pound suggests, Cather was a long time learning tact and discretion. In her college years she expressed her distaste for Professor Sherman openly and made enemies among her classmates by her outspoken opinions. Just a decade later she raised a storm of protest from her family and Will Owen Jones when she put her beloved Aunt Franc into "A Wagner Matinee." She had no idea that the home folks would object to the story. About the time she published The Troll Garden she did something that greatly disturbed the Canfields. What it was can only be conjectured, but the ridiculous figure of Flavia Hamilton in the story "Flavia and Her Artists" is altogether too much like Flavia Canfield not to be noticed. In 1916 H. L. Mencken turned down her story "The Diamond Mine" for The Smart Set. He was afraid that the story, which is based on the career of Lillian Nordica, American soprano, would open him to a libel suit.

Throughout her life Cather put real people into her fiction, but in later years she was somewhat more circumspect. Though Thea Kronborg as an adult singer is based on the life of Olive Fremstad, the portrait is flattering, and Fremstad was pleased. So were Annie Pavelka and the Miner sisters when My Ántonia appeared. The character of Claude Wheeler, protagonist of One of Ours (1922), was drawn from her cousin who had been killed in World War I, but this too is a sympathetic portrayal. His widow, Enid in the novel, however, is drawn as a despicable character, and she must have been upset by the book; but there is no record of her reaction. There is a record, however, of an angry response from a minister in Lincoln who delivered a sermon defending a preacher friend named Welden against what he regarded as slander in Cather's creation of a bigoted, narrow-minded clergyman in the novel named Weldon. When Cather wrote A Lost Lady, both Garbers were dead and left no direct descendants who might object to the adultery in the plot. The unflattering portrait of Myra Henshawe in My Mortal Enemy is based on a real person who has not yet been positively identified. Cather was much upset by the anger she caused with her "character" of Roscoe Pound and still remembered it painfully two years later when she wrote Mariel Gere from Red Cloud. Mariel had been a bracer to her, she said, ever since she was a shaved-headed prep, and she never would have got through the Pound scrape without her. Her father, mother, other friends, and the Lord deserted her, but Mariel took her up. When would she ever be done making a fool of herself, she added. The break with Louise was not irrevocable, however, though they never were close again, and three years later Cather was writing her from Pittsburgh to describe in great detail her new job on the Pittsburgh Leader.

CHAPTER 5

Turning Professional

When readers of the Nebraska State Journal opened their Sunday papers on November 5, 1893, they found a new column, "One Way of Putting It," written, though unsigned, by Willa Cather. She was then in the first semester of her junior year and still a month short of being twenty. This was the debut of her professional career in journalism, which lasted until 1912 and took her from Lincoln to Pittsburgh and finally to New York. During this time she probably turned out more copy than appears in all of her collected works of the following thirty-five years. When she died in 1947 her public was virtually unaware of this long foreground as a newspaper and magazine writer. She did not talk about it and regarded it as a closed part of her life, but it is the long apprenticeship that leads to her mature artistry. The sheer bulk of her writing in her years as a journalist is astonishing, and even after a generation of scholarly digging into the archives, all of it has not yet been identified.

During the fall and early winter of 1893 she still was managing editor of the Hesperian, and until she got out the special Charter Day issue in mid-February, she had to divide her time. Even so, she appeared in the Journal more than once a week until February and for the rest of the year doubled her contributions. She stopped writing stories for the Hesperian and began turning out sketches and vignettes of real life written in a fictional form. None of these early columns is very remarkable, but her facility with words, her ability to turn a phrase, her eye for detail are already very competent. What she remembered as her "high-stepping rhetoric" more than thirty years later is actually a felicitous prose style. She had not yet learned to distinguish sentiment from sentimentality, and her striving for effect is unsubtle, but she already was the equal of the older professionals who wrote for the Lincoln papers.

Her beginning was modest enough. As her columns were unsigned, only her friends and the newspaper staff knew who had written "One Way of Putting It." At one dollar per column she had to work like the devil to earn enough to pay her board and room. It took about one thousand words to fill a column, so that she was being paid sweatshop wages of one-tenth of a cent per word. After a few weeks, however, the paper began giving her line drawings to illustrate her columns, and then they gave her a two-column box heading. But she did not get a real by-line until the twenty-seventh of May, when she wrote a feature story on the circus. She produced about sixty-five thousand words during her first year on the Journal and earned about sixty-five dollars, enough to pay her board and room for five months.

The opening column began with the description of a church service in a fashionable church: "The church was crowded; hundreds of men and women were sitting in front of the minister who stood under the twisted brass-chandeliers and spoke of the "brotherhood of man. He looked over the well-dressed, well-educated audience and his interest quickened under the pleasant knowledge that he was being appreciated. His white face flushed and his thin lips trembled with enthusiasm, enthusiasm over the beauty of the women in the audience, the grandeur of the voluntary by Haydn that died from the great moaning pipes of the organ, and over his own eloquence and conscious power." This vignette then is followed by an account of a prison chaplian preaching to three hundred convicts "in a bare, barn-like room with a low ceiling and grated windows. " He too speaks of the brotherhood of man. The third of these Sunday morning sketches takes place in a Salvation Army tent where a collection of human derelicts is singing "Washed in the Blood of the Lamb." Contrasts such as these supply the method in these early columns: a poor girl at Christmastime looking wistfully through a shop window at a beautiful doll; a drunken bum reciting Shelley and Browning; an unfeeling and bored son attending his mother's funeral; a whore in a theater balcony looking down on a happily married couple and their child in a box below. One little tale is like an O. Henry story with a surprise ending: an old, partly paralyzed man in the theater gallery turns out to be the former leading man of the actress performing on stage. Every once in a while something jumps off the page to arrest one's attention, a remark that is characteristic of Cather's whole attitude toward life and art or an idea that will inform her later work. After the Salvation Army scene, she writes: "By what is man ever saved other than by enthusiasm . . . . A genius is just another way of defining a great enthusiast." In another sketch she describes a businessman with a manuscript novel in his desk, the narrative device she later used in My Ántonia.

The theater setting of some of her columns is not surprising because she was also beginning to review plays. Her first play notice, unsigned in the "Amusements" column, was a review of Walker Whiteside's Richelieu on November 22, and four days later she reviewed Clara Morris's Camille, her first major piece of theater criticism. It was a memorable night at the theater, and she was thrilled by the performance of what she later called "the one great drama of the century." "To commend, even to speak of the great work done on the Lansing stage last night," she rhapsodized, "seems almost presumption. Better work has never been done by any actress in any country. Nothing can be more natural than nature, more lifelike than life. There are heights beyond which even art cannot rise. Comments upon the wonderful power of Clara Morris's voice, upon the technical perfection of her acting are utterly unnecessary." She continued: "Camille is an awful play. Clara Morris plays only awful plays. Her realism is terrible and relentless. It is her art and mission to see all that is terrible and painful and unexplained in life. It is a dark and gloomy work." Such a powerful impression did Dumas's play make on her that she recreated this performance twenty-five years later in My Ántonia when Jim Burden takes Lena Lingard to the theater during his student days in Lincoln.

Both of these early reviews were unsigned, but by the following month Cather was beginning to initial her theater notices. The extravagant praise she heaped on Camille was not typical of her drama criticism. The first signed notice, a review of Edwin Royle's Friends, praised the actors but panned the play, a "drama on one man's loving another better than himself. It is a beautiful idea, perhaps, but it does not exist outside of girls' boarding schools." Cather did not hesitate to call a play phony when she thought it was, even though the audience loved it. She was also blunt in her criticism of bad acting; and a few days later, after watching some particularly inept performances at the Funk Theater, she suggested, apropos of the large portrait of Shakespeare painted on the drop curtain, that "someone ought to have common decency enough to paint that great face out, and profane his name no more." When she had to review Robert Downing, she concluded that his forte was his neck. "Mr. Downing is a conscientious actor and he believes in giving the public their money's worth, and as he has very little else to give them, he gives with royal bounty the beauty of his physique. No actress, however aspiring, has ever dared to be quite so liberal with her neck as Mr. Downing. He makes it the chief attraction." And she went on to note that the reason he never played anything but classic roles was obvious: they allowed a man to wear "decolleté robes."

By the second semester of her junior year, Cather had become the regular drama critic for the Journal. She very soon acquired a reputation as the liveliest and least inhibited reviewer in the Midwest. The lack of tact that often caused her trouble in her personal relationships made her reviews lively reading for the paper's subscribers. She was the chief reason the Des Moines Record noted that "the best theatrical critics of the west are said to be connected with the Lincoln, Neb., press." Gustav Frohman, who was involved in sending out road companies to all parts of the country, visited Lincoln and declared: "Lincoln newspapers are noted for their honesty . . . in dramatic matters, and it is the best advertisement of intelligence and refinement that a town can have. I have heard of it from professionals and non-professionals all along the road, and poor companies begin to tremble long before they get here. That kind of respect is worth something." He too was generalizing on the basis of Cather's reviewing. Will Owen Jones remembered: "Many an actor of national reputation wondered on coming to Lincoln what would appear next morning from the pen of that meatax young girl of whom all of them had heard. Miss Cather did not stand in awe of the greatest actors, but set each one in his place with all the authority of a veteran metropolitan critic."

Cather also was willing to take on other drama critics. When an article by a pseudonymous "Jane Archer" appeared in the Journal attacking Cather's exuberant review of Clara Morris, she defended her views with spirit: "It is a score of years too late to say that Clara Morris is not a great actress. Time and the world have decided otherwise. That she is past her prime no one denies, but she has done her work and she will go down in stage traditions as one of the greatest actors of all time . . . . Clara Morris is undoubtedly a loud actress; she uses freely both noise and intensity; but she plays only loud and stormy roles. She never has offended public taste by shouting the lines of Juliet." Then she went on to say that "the curse of every school and phase of modern art is the guild of drawing-room critics; critics who sneer at the great and powerful, and adore the clever and the dainty. They refuse to read anything more stimulating than Howells' parlor farces, and to hear any play more moving than The Rivals. This race of critics has declared Ruskin and Wagner and Turner and Modjeska blasé . . . . They take books that look well on their tables; the music that is not too loud for their parlors; the pictures that hang well on their walls."

Cather expected writers, singers, actors, to give all to their art, and she had meant it when she wrote that the god of art accepts only human sacrifices. Artists also were a law unto themselves, she believed. When "Jane Archer" extolled Julia Marlowe over Clara Morris as someone she would be delighted and honored to know, Cather replied with disgust: "This is a final test of womanhood, perhaps, but not of art. Very few of the world's great artists have been desirable acquaintances. I would ask no greater boon of heaven than to sit and watch Sarah Bernhardt night after night, but heaven preserve me from any very intimate relations with her." Cather was herself a difficult person and became increasingly prickly as she grew older, a person of strong loves and equally strong hates.

On another occasion she scoffed at the efforts of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to stop thirteen-year-old Elsie Graham from acting. "The Society claim that it is cruel for a child to be put to the strain of acting every night when she ought to be home in bed. Of course it is cruel, most art is cruel, and very few artists have time to sleep much in this world . . . . It is very kind of society to try to lighten the burden of genius, but it can't be done. Genius means relentless labor and passionate excitement from the hour one is born until the hour one dies." Later she observed that "the artist, poor fellow, has but one care, one purpose, one hope—his work. That is all God gave him; in place of love, of happiness, of popularity, only that. He is not made to live like other men; his soul is strung differently . . . . The fewer friends he has the better; every friend means one more manager." Cather too lived for her work, and the older she grew, the smaller her circle became. She clung to old friends and was reluctant to make new ones.

Cather praised and damned with great abandon during her first season as a drama critic. Julia Marlowe also was one of her favorites, and when she came to town in March, playing in Sheridan Knowles's The Love Chase, Cather wrote that "Julia Marlowe has come and gone again, leaving with us a sort of warm, rich delight that will hover about us for days." She was the "embodiment of beauty and good taste and good spirits." However, on stage she "lives too beautifully to live very hard, dies too gracefully to die very effectively. This is all very winning and beautiful, but it is not the highest kind of art." Marlowe, nevertheless, made a deep impression, and in one of Cather's last stories, "The Best Years," her character Miss Knightly is caught by a snowstorm in Lincoln because she stayed over to see Julia Marlowe in The Love Chase. When Richard Mansfield, another favorite, came to the Lansing Theater the next month, she thought his performance in Clyde Fitch's Beau Brummell "the most finished performance that Lincoln has seen for a long time . . . . Mr. Mansfield is perfectly self-contained and self-sufficient. He depends very little upon the applause or appreciation of his audience . . . . More than any other actor he acts for the play and for himself." His intelligence, his subtlety, his finesse, she found totally satisfying. When James O'Neill came to Lincoln in his famous role as the Count of Monte Cristo, however, his leading lady drew Cather's scorn. "Mademoiselle Celeste is a dream of beauty. There are few handsomer women to be found in either the higher or lower walks of the profession, but her acting is weak, insipid and pointless. She is innocent of all art or even of a clever imitation of it, and her voice was a continual and painful surprise. It rather startles one to hear the tones of a cavalry officer issue from such very bewitching lips." Lillian Lewis also was impaled on Cather's pen, and when it was announced that she was going to play Cymbeline the following season, 1894-95, Cather hoped that "they dug Shakespeare's grave very deep." The possibility that Maggie Mitchell might return to Nebraska that year brought the comment: "It has been a hard year, theatrically and otherwise, and we have had most of the seven plagues of Egypt poured on us, but we have hoped the Lord would spare us Maggie Mitchell." When Louis James and Frederick Warde, who played together, were announced, she observed that "Mr. Warde has no talent at all; Mr. James has very little" and "would that we could forget" the Othello they put on last year. Lily Langtry particularly drew her ire as an actress who could neither act nor even read her lines properly.

Cather was sensitive to the charge that she used a meat-ax in her criticism, and after she had been reviewing plays for a year began to keep a box score. In November of her senior year she reported that so far that season she had praised fourteen companies and damned fifteen. "No critic," she wrote, "enjoys perpetually 'roasting' performances. It grows desperately monotonous after a time. There is a limit to the harsh adjectives in the English language . . . . But any newspaper that bestows the same exorbitant praise upon a No. 13 Jane [a popular play] company that it humbly tenders Richard Mansfield puts itself in a very ridiculous position." The Beatrice (Nebr.) Express commented that Cather "is rather given to indiscriminate roasting, but she does it so well that everything is forgiven," and the Hesperian's rival, the Nebraskan, saluted her with:
This is for "Billy" of journalist fame,
Who writes her roasts in words of flame
And gives it to everyone just the same.
The lines were accompanied by a sketch of a smoking pen. Cather's successor on the Journal, Keene Abbott, tried to write the same kind of scathing reviews but was called into the managing editor's office and told to desist. He said his reviews were "no worse than those Willa Cather did." "Well," Will Owen Jones replied, "but that was Miss Cather!" And it was. She was sui generis.

Her reviews were not only concerned with value judgments. She was interested in the whole world of art and ranged widely in her notices. Her work showed a maturity and poise not to be expected in so young a critic, and her knowledge of drama and literature, Continental and classic as well as English, was extensive. Thus her reviews were informed and informative and demonstrated a competence that lent authority to the value judgments. She was inclined to be impressionistic and to make frequent use of biographical anecdotes; she was interested in her own responses and very confident of her ability to evaluate. Some of her notions of the reviewer's task she summarized a year after she had begun her drama criticism: "A critic's first instincts are the best because they are the truest . . . . He must take his impression as he gets it and rush it upon paper . . . . That is the great object; to have a notice alive, to have the glare of the footlights and the echo of the orchestra in it . . . . to reproduce to some extent the atmosphere of the play, to laugh if it was funny, to weep a little if it was sad, to say plainly and frankly if it was bad." The journalistic principle involved here is the exact opposite of her mature literary method, which, in brief, is emotion recollected in tranquility. She never confused her journalism with her art and always made a clear distinction between what she did to make a living and what she did for literature.

As long as she stuck to play-reviewing, she was convincing and knowledgeable, but on occasion when she strayed to other sorts of reviews, her brashness got her into trouble. During her senior year she reviewed a concert devoted to the music of Mendelssohn in which she attacked the composer: "One never realizes how tiresome Mendelssohn is until he hears him for an hour and a half together. A Mendelssohn program is always a little monotonous and disappointing, just as a Mendelssohn composition is. There is always the exaggerated elaboration of an insufficient theme, always the same promise of something really great and the same recoil from the doing of it. Either a forced excitement which results in a series of technical tricks, or a simplicity which betrays a poverty of imagination. He always substitutes excitement for fervor and nervous agitation for passion." This wrong-headed review brought a sharp response from Professor August Hagenow of the university's School of Music, who had put on the concert. He wrote the editor of the Journal to voice "the general sentiment of all intelligent musicians in denouncing the article . . . as false and misleading." Mendelssohn's reputation had been secure for half a century, he pointed out, but along comes this "upstart critic who now at this late date adventures openly to confront the whole musical world . . . armed with the asserted criterion of his own personal 'feeling' and with opposed depreciations and detractions!" Cather—who also had asserted in the same review that "perhaps there were only two masters of music who were really great, " Beethoven and Chopin—had the good sense not to attempt a rebuttal of Hagenow's letter. It did not stop her from writing music criticism, however, but as time went on, her knowledge, taste, and ability to discriminate improved measureably.

Her skill as a newspaper writer matured so rapidly that she was invited to help teach a course in journalism during the summer of 1894. For the annual Nebraska Chautauqua Assembly in July, Will Owen Jones organized a class in practical journalism with Cather as one of his two assistants. The assembly took place just west of Crete in southeastern Nebraska, where the Chautauqua grounds occupied 109 acres along the Big Blue River in a blue-green setting of woods and water. People by the thousands came by train from everywhere in the state to live for ten days in tents or cabins and attend classes, go to lectures, listen to concerts. Summer Chautauqua programs, which had begun in New York State, had spread through the country and reached Nebraska in 1882. They were an important movement in popular culture and education, and at Crete uneducated farmers from the plains mingled with people of some sophistication from Lincoln and Omaha. Cather not only taught in the journalism course, but she also was hired by Louis Westermann's paper, the Evening News, to cover the assembly.

Cather sent back to Lincoln nine well-written, informative, light-hearted reports of the annual Chautauqua. On opening day, July 3, when it rained, she described the activity of tent dwellers stretching damp canvas and cottage dwellers settling in. The next day was fair, and hammocks appeared everywhere, tennis players came out, and "sylvan wanderings" took place. Then she reported the serious business of the assembly, the lectures and concerts given by imported scholars and musicians. She was particularly impressed by the sculptor Lorado Taft, of the Chicago Art Institute, who lectured on French, Dutch, and German painting with stereopticon slides to illustrate his talks. Thirty-six years after covering his lectures she wrote him a fan letter to thank him for his fountain, which she enjoyed every time she passed through Chicago.

She also reported a lecture by Dr. Bayard Holmes, one of the promoters of Hull House and a social reformer; another by Charles Kent, professor of biblical literature from the University of Chicago. She was especially interested in Rev. Joseph Duryea, who gave a lecture course on Roman history, a subject that long had occupied her attention. Song recitals by two Chicago singers, Electa Gifford, soprano, and Katherine Fisk, contralto, drew enthusiastic comments, but she reserved her highest praise for Mrs. Will Owen Jones, whose playing of Chopin stirred the soul of an unshaven farmer sitting next to her. At the end of the Chautauqua season Cather's final report described the grounds "literally strewn with cots and camp chairs," everything "desolate and lonely," and a few lone souls wandering "about the graveyard reading epitaphs."

Another significant event that summer occurred later in July when Cather, her brother Roscoe, Mariel Gere, and another friend visited the decaying river community of Brownville on the fortieth anniversary of its founding. This visit resulted in her first long feature story, more than three thousand words, which the Journal published the next month. "It is almost unheard of to find a town in Nebraska that has a past," she began, " . . . though all of them have, or think they have, a future." The town, which had been the first settlement in the Nebraska Territory, had lost its future when the Missouri River silted up, the Union Pacific was routed through Omaha, and the founding fathers built a brand-new city at Lincoln for the state capital.

As the visitors walked through the town, they saw "handsome residences gone to [w]rack and ruin, terraces plowed up in cornfields and sloping lawns grown up in wheat and sunflowers." The main street was "lined with empty brick buildings and gaping cellar holes where the buildings have fallen down or been torn away." The white stone pavements and gutters were growing with pale, lifeless-looking grass. The rotting board sidewalks which ran over the hills clattered and creaked when one stepped on them, like rickety ladders. "Even the Lone Tree saloon [was] falling to pieces, and that, in a western town, is the sure sign that everything is gone." The article went on to recreate Brownville during its zenith before the crash, after which all the bigwigs left for Omaha. Here and there between the tumbled-down buildings were vacant lots "that fifteen or twenty years ago sold for six thousand dollars [but] would not bring six today. Lots are never sold in Brownville nowadays except cemetery lots."

The trip to Brownville made a lasting impression, and twice more she returned to the subject during her literary apprenticeship. Three years later in Pittsburgh she wrote a story, "A Resurrection," laid in Brownville and using some of the same descriptive detail. It is a sentimental tale of a widower who marries his former sweetheart years after he has been enticed into marriage by another woman. The tale is not memorable and probably was written to fill up the Home Monthly, the family magazine Cather edited after she left Lincoln; but the Brownville setting is memorable. What else was unforgettable about the town besides its decay and dilapidation was its heat. "The Hottest Day I Ever Spent" is the title of the second version of the visit, which she wrote and published in 1900. While the first account emphasized the town's fall from grandeur, the second featured the blazing inferno"when the government thermometer registered 115 degrees in the shade and 135 degrees in the sun . . . . That one day ruined the wheat and corn crops of two of the greatest agricultural states in the Union, Kansas and Nebraska." This rewriting used much of the original detail, but it added fiction to the account in the creation of Japanese and Swedish newspapermen who accompany the narrator. The Japanese, who has been to Arizona, never has seen such heat; the Swede lies "on the edge of his bed, panting like a dog," and the entire party gets sick.

Cather's last year at the university was a steady grind of newspaper work and little extracurricular activity. Carrying a full course load and reviewing theatrical events for the Journal really were two jobs. Between September and the time she graduated in June, she contributed ninety-five pieces to the paper, an average of four-plus per week. She also gave her column a new title, "As You Like It," and turned it out every week for the Sunday edition. While she spent her days going to classes, she spent her evenings at the theater. After the final curtain she had to go to the Journal office to write her review and frequently did not get home until two in the morning. When she went back to Red Cloud after graduation, she wrote Mrs. Goudy that she was dead tired, body and brain. It was one of these late nights after the theater that Stephen Crane, who was on assignment from the Bachellor Syndicate to report drought conditions in Nebraska, "was fascinated by the sight of a young girl . . . standing fast asleep. He said it was the only time he had ever seen anyone asleep on their feet like that."

This was early February 1895. The searing wind that Cather remembered in "The Hottest Day I Ever Spent" had turned Nebraska into a disaster area, and after two years of drought and crop failure, the plight of the plains states had aroused considerable interest and sympathy in the East. Crane visited Lincoln both at the beginning and the end of his two week stay in Nebraska, and Cather must have talked to him on both occasions. Cather, already interested in Crane, who was only two years older, had read The Red Badge of Courage when it was serialized in the Journal just two months earlier.

She did not write anything about this meeting at the time it took place, but she followed Crane's career, reviewed his books, and when he died wrote a piece entitled "When I Knew Stephen Crane." Writing in Pittsburgh under one of her several pseudonyms, Henry Nickelman, she created a semifictional account of this visit to Nebraska. Her male narrator is a naive college student writing for the Journal in his spare time and fresh off the range. The time is spring; the night is "oppressively warm; one of those dry winds that are the curse of the country was blowing up from Kansas." She describes Crane as thin to the point of emaciation, unshaven, slovenly dressed, and having a dark mustache and black hair. He carried with him a volume of Poe, which he was continually reading. "Crane was moody most of the time, his health was bad and he seemed profoundly discouraged." There was a "profound melancholy always lurking deep" in his eyes, that "seemed to be burning themselves out." He curses his trade and tells his male interviewer that he will be fortunate if he does not become a writer.

What is interesting about this account is the image it creates of Willa Cather in her senior year of college. It was Cather who was reading Poe about this time and finding him the archetypal unappreciated genius. The dark, brooding figure she draws of Crane more nearly fits the author of "The Fall of the House of Usher" than it does Stephen Crane. John Berryman says that "Crane's western journey in the first half of 1895 was the happiest time perhaps he was to know—an idyl . . . [and] his health would never be so good again." He loved the West and realized one of his desires—to be in a blizzard on the plains—an experience that resulted in one of his great stories, "The Blue Hotel." And what is more, Crane had fair hair and a light complexion. In her conclusion Cather remarks that Crane "had the precocity of those doomed to die in youth . . . . He drank life to the lees, but at the banquet table where other men took their ease and jested over their wine, he stood a dark and silent figure, somber as Poe himself."

Perhaps the most interesting detail in this sketch of Crane is even more pure Cather. She quotes him as saying that "after he got a notion for a story, months passed before he could get any sort of personal contact with it, or feel any potency to handle it. 'The detail of a thing has to filter through my blood, and then it comes out like a native product, but it takes forever."' This remark, she adds, "rather took a hold of me," and well it might, for it is precisely the creative process that she employed in her mature fiction. But it hardly describes the method of Crane, whose collected works fill twelve volumes and were produced between Maggie (1892) and his death at the age of twenty-nine in 1900. The interview sounds authentic, however, when Cather quotes Crane as saying that "he led a double literary life; writing in the first place, the matter that pleased himself, and doing it very slowly; in the second place, any sort of stuff that would sell." She also was grinding out newspaper copy to keep the pot boiling, but her art, unlike Crane's, was painfully slow in coming to fruition.

This problem of the double life occupied her a good deal as she approached graduation. She wanted a literary career but had to make a living. Her reading of Poe focused her attention on the dilemma, and she put her thoughts into words in an essay on Poe she wrote that spring. After summarizing Poe's great accomplishment ("Poe found short story writing a bungling makeshift. He left it a perfect art"), and flinging barbs at Longfellow's popularity and the littleness of Poe's New York associates like Rufus Griswold and N. P. Willis, she addressed the central issue: "I have wondered so often how he did it. How he kept his purpose always clean and his taste always perfect. How it was that hard labor never wearied nor jaded him, never limited his imagination, that the jarring clamor about him never drowned the fine harmonies of his fancy. His discrimination remained always delicate, and from the constant strain of toil his fancy always rose strong and unfettered." This was a real question for an aspiring writer who had to hack out a living in journalism. Could one serve the gods of art and the marketplace without being corrupted? She intended to try, but she knew it would not be easy.

As she watched Crane through his brief career, she sometimes thought he had sold out. Her review of one of his poorest books, Active Service (1899), attacked the novel sharply as a work not concerned "with large, universal interests or principles, but with a yellow journalist grinding yellow copy" in a wooden fashion. "In spite of the fact that Mr. Crane has written some of the most artistic short stories in the English language, I begin to wonder whether, blinded by his youth and audacity . . . we have not taken him too seriously." But years after he died she wrote a favorable estimate of his work when she introduced Wounds in the Rain, one of the volumes of his collected works that Alfred Knopf published in 1926: "When you examine the mere writing in this unorganized material, you see at once that Crane was one of the first post-impressionists; that he began it before the French painters began it, or at least as early as the first of them. He simply knew from the beginning how to handle detail. He estimated it at its true worth—made it serve his purpose and felt no further responsibility about it. I doubt whether he ever spent a laborious half-hour in doing his duty by detail—in enumerating, like an honest, grubby auctioneer. If he saw one thing in a landscape that thrilled him, he put it on paper, but he never tried to make a faithful report of everything else within his field of vision, as if he were a conscientious salesman making out his expense account." Cather too had learned to do this. Her final view of Crane a decade later was just this: "He died young, but he had done something real. One can read him today."

Cather's meeting with Crane was not her only encounter during her college years with a figure of national visibility. William Jennings Bryan was rising to national prominence as a champion of western democracy, and Cather watched his progress with interest. The political and economic issues that produced the Populist party in the nineties interested her very little, but the personality of Bryan was fascinating. She stored her memories, and at the same time she wrote of her meeting with Crane, she turned out an essay entitled "The Personal Side of William Jennings Bryan."The occasion was Bryan's second nomination for president by the Democratic National Convention in July 1900. This account of "the great commoner" sounds much more authentic than the memory of Crane, even though it too was written under the pseudonym of Henry Nickelman.

She met Bryan on a streetcar in Lincoln when she was a "second prep." He was stumping the first congressional district in his first campaign for public office, which he won by a resounding margin. He had just made a speech and was carrying an ugly floral tribute given him by his supporters. A talkative old lady sitting near him inquired sympathetically:

"Is it for a funeral?"

Mr. Bryan looked quizzically at the flowers and replied politely:

"Well, I hope not, madam."

After this encounter Cather saw him occasionally. He lived in Lincoln and was always at home to students in his library in the evenings, and he occasionally wrote for the Hesperian when she was editor. She must have visited his library a number of times, for she describes it in detail. It fascinated her because it was so different—except for the classics—from any library she would have collected: lives of American statesmen, marked and annotated schoolboy-fashion; works on political economy, mostly by quacks; much poetry of a didactic or declamatory nature; little fiction more recent than Thackeray. "Mr. Bryan used always to be urging us to read Les Misérables if we hadn't, and to re-read it if we had. He declared that it was the greatest novel written, yet I think he had never considered its merits or demerits as a novel at all. It was Hugo's vague hyperbolic generalizations on sociological questions that he marked and quoted." That was one of Cather's favorite novels too, but for entirely different reasons.

When Bryan was in good form, Cather remembered, his conversation was "absolutely overwhelming in its richness and novelty and power, in the force and aptness of his illustrations. Yet one always felt that it was meant for the many, not the few, that it was addressed to humanity, and that there should be a stenographer present to take it down." Sometimes what he said was strikingly original; sometimes it was trite. "He chipped his eggs to the accompaniment of maxims . . . . He buttered his toast with an epigram." She also heard him speak publicly in Red Cloud at the funeral of a friend who had been a member of Congress, but she could not have heard the famous "Cross of Gold" speech that stampeded the Democratic Convention in Chicago in July 1896 and brought him his first nomination for president. Henry Nickelman says he heard it, but Willa Cather was already in Pittsburgh.

For Cather, Bryan symbolized "the entire Middle West; all its newness and vigor, its magnitude and monotony, its richness and lack of variety, its inflammability and volubility, its strength and its crudeness, its high seriousness and self-confidence, its egotism and its nobility." He never made a Democrat out of her or aroused any interest in politics, but the campaign of 1896 did give her the denouement for "Two Friends." Bryan is the only political figure she ever profiled. Like Carlyle, whom she characterized as a bad political economist, she was also inept and indifferent in the political realm. It was only the kingdom of art that she cared about.

Meeting Crane may have been stimulating, but the high spot of Cather's last semester in college was a trip to Chicago to hear grand opera. Less than a month after Crane left Lincoln, Cather and her friend Mary Jones, acting librarian of the university, boarded an eastbound Burlington train. She had not been out of Nebraska since her family migrated from Virginia. The New York Metropolitan Opera was bringing five operas to Chicago for a three-weeks' engagement. The only grand opera Cather ever had heard had been an indifferent performance of Il Trovatore by a traveling company that visited Lincoln the previous December and a concert version of Cavalleria Rusticana the year before. She had heard light opera, which she liked very much, since she was a child growing up in Red Cloud, and she had reviewed light opera for the Journal, but the real thing was still to be experienced. Her passion for opera dates from this week that she spent in Chicago hearing three Verdi operas (Falstaff, Otello, and Aida ), Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, and Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.

She was carried away by Falstaff , Verdi's final masterpiece, and felt privileged to have heard only the fourth American performance of that new work. She wrote about it glowingly in the Journal after her return. The French baritone Victor Maurel, who had created the role in the French, British, and American premières, could both sing and act. His performance was not only a great operatic triumph but was also a faithful tribute to Shakespeare. In addition, she had an instinctive appreciation of the uniqueness of Verdi's final work and knew that she was hearing "an absolutely new creation." Except for one paragraph about Otello and the "fiery passion" of Francesco Tomagno in the title role, she wrote nothing more about this wonderful week, even though she also had heard Nellie Melba, Lillian Nordica, and Jean de Reszke; but she never forgot it. It turns up forty years later in her penultimate novel, Lucy Gayheart.

She had to pay for the trip, however, with a serious illness, the only recorded illness of her college years. Charles Cather, who was then working in Lincoln for the Security Investment Company, wrote his aunt Sidney Gore at the end of April that Willa was better but had not yet regained her strength. She had come back from Chicago sick and was in bed for a couple of weeks with what was then called typhoid-pneumonia. Her mother had come up from Red Cloud for a visit and stayed on to nurse her. She had been so exhausted from overwork that the week in Chicago was too much. She fell asleep during the final performance, Les Huguenots, but fortunately it was Meyerbeer, not Verdi, who concluded her week. She left for Chicago after writing her column for March 10 and was unable to write for the paper again until the thirty-first. But she appeared in the Journal nineteen more times before her graduation day, June 12.

The week before commencement she took part in a program held in the chapel by the three undergraduate literary societies. Cather, representing Union, read her Poe essay, while Hugh Walker, who was a Palladian, delivered an oration called "The Fate of the Greeks." The latter performance turned out to be a savage attack on the Greek-letter fraternities, rivals of the literary clubs, all of whose members were considered "barbarians" by the Greeks. Cather held no brief for the fraternities, or sororities, and never had been tempted to join one, but Walker's diatribe made her mad. She got up and tore into Walker in an extemporaneous denunciation of his immaturity and lack of humanity before turning to her own manuscript. The Journal reported laconically that she "pretty vigorously contested some of Mr. Walker's statements"; her friend Ned Abbott, who had arranged the program, reported that she "waded into Walker with an improvised roast." However, he thought the evening a glorious success, though he said the "partisans of both [Walker and Cather] lammed me for letting them be on the program."

Willa Cather, bachelor of arts, class of 1895, had her diploma but no regular job. The Journal was willing to continue paying her space-rates for her reviews and columns but did not have the wit to offer her a full-time, permanent position. She spent part of the summer in Red Cloud but continued to write regularly for the Journal. At the end of July she began a new column, "The Passing Show," which replaced "As You Like It." Then at the beginning of August the Courier, a weekly paper devoted to the arts and society and partly owned by her friend Sarah Harris, announced that "Miss Willa Cather [,] who for the past two years has been the dramatic critic and theatrical writer for the Journal, will become a member of the Courier staff. Miss Cather's reputation extends beyond Nebraska. She is thoroughly original and always entertaining." Subsequently her name began to appear on the masthead as associate editor, but it only remained there until the end of November. For two months "The Passing Show" appeared in the Courier, but she continued to review plays for the Journal. In December the Journal announced that beginning on the fifteenth, her column would again appear regularly in its Sunday issue. What was going on backstage during this period is unknown, but the Journal had her exclusive services for the balance of the year. She wrote very few pieces other than her weekly column, however.

She lived in Lincoln during the fall while she was on the Courier 's staff and at home in Red Cloud after Christmas, probably to save on board and room. She made frequent trips back to Lincoln and when she was there reviewed plays for her column. Red Cloud was less than 150 miles away, and the newspaper could get her passes on the Burlington whenever she wanted them. Her reputation continued to grow, and the Nebraska Editor described her as "a young woman with a genius for literary expression." The article went on to say that her work had made the Courier the brightest paper in Nebraska. "Her criticisms, both literary and dramatic, are clever and full of 'ginger.' . . . She keeps in touch with whatever is newest in literary work the world over, and writes her opinions freely. . . If there is a woman in Nebraska newspaper work who is destined to win a reputation for herself, that woman is Willa Cather." When the Nebraska State Press Association met in Lincoln in January, Cather was invited to speak on "how to make a newspaper interesting." She argued for personal journalism, papers that took stands on issues, papers that allowed their writers to ride their hobbies. After the meeting the Beatrice Weekly Express called her "a young woman who is rapidly achieving a western reputation, and who will soon have a national reputation." Her column seems to have been regarded as a valuable asset; her colleague on the Journal, Walt Mason, said flatly that she is "unquestionably destined to be among the foremost of American literary women." Male chauvinism in that statement: she already was better than all of the male journalists in Nebraska.

Her growing reputation, her competence, and the lack of a real job depressed her during the winter and spring in Red Cloud. When she wrote Mariel Gere on January 2, she headed her letter "Siberia." Not only was it cold, but she felt she had been banished from Lincoln. She made the best of it by taking part in local social activities and reported that she had accompanied Douglass, then sixteen, to a New Year's dance. All the elite and bon ton of Red Cloud were there, she said, but the boys were rowdy, the seats were planks laid on chairs, and the refreshments were sandwiches served from bushel baskets. Douglass was the most civilized boy in the crowd. One of the charms of the provinces, she wrote, was that one gets indifferent to everything; but she was eager to know all the news from Lincoln. On March 12 she wrote again to complain of her bitter exile and her friend's silence. She had nothing to write about, as it was then Lent, and the mad festivities of the province had ceased. She was picking up the mail, reading the papers, eating, and sleeping. Occasionally to vary the monotony she tried cooking, and when the weather permitted she rode her bicycle. The high point of February was the marriage of her cousin Retta Ayres to her neighbor Hugh Miner. She took charge of the wedding breakfast, stayed up all night arranging it, and went to the extravagance of ordering strawberries, fresh tomatoes, and watercress from Chicago. Later her parents went to Hastings, leaving her in charge of the younger children: Jim, ten; Elsie, six; and Jack, four. Jack swallowed two pennies, Jim cut his lip, and she was acting as hospital matron as well as entertainer. She was sick of Alice in Wonderland after reading it to Jim sixteen times and had switched to The Arabian Nights.

Two days after writing Mariel Gere, she wrote Mariel's father imploring his aid in helping her get a teaching position. Her friend and former teacher Herbert Bates was resigning to return east, and she desperately wanted to be his replacement. She realized her age and sex were against her, but she knew she could do it, and she was willing to work for five hundred dollars a year, which would be less than they would have to pay the man they were planning to get. Bates, she said, would recommend her to any extent. She was naive in the ways of academic appointments and politics, however, and apparently never considered the fact that she had made an enemy out of Lucius Sherman, the head of the English Department. She did not get the job and continued to languish in Red Cloud.

When she wrote Mariel again on May 2, she was both depressed and broke. She felt she could not borrow any more money from her family, and the actresses she had loaned money to in Lincoln still owed her. They can't do without their paste diamonds and champagne, she remarked ruefully. To make matters worse, she felt she was growing away from her family, their way of looking at things, and they were no longer much comfort. They expected unusual things from her, she added, and she was getting nowhere. However, she was still going to dances with Douglass, and in Blue Hill the day before she had met Fred Sund, formerly one of her editors on the Hesperian, who was now a banker. He devoted the entire evening to her, and she had danced all thirty-five dances. She also had met a Miss Gayhardt, a teacher, who spoke French and German and could talk about books and theater. She was so glad to meet someone from civilization that she stayed up most of the night talking. She remembered and used Miss Gayhardt's name in 1935 when she created the heroine of her next-to-last novel.

During this period of exile in Red Cloud she turned again to writing fiction. She told Mariel Gere that she was working on various manuscripts, but she gave no details. One manuscript probably was "A Night at Greenway Court," her tale laid in eighteenth-century Virginia, which she placed in the Nebraska Literary Magazine in June. In none of her letters of the winter or spring of 1896, however, does she mention an event that should have given her satisfaction. The January issue of the Overland Monthly had carried one of her stories, "On the Divide," and for the first time she had appeared in a magazine of national prominence. This was the magazine Bret Harte originally had edited and written for, and though it had died and been reborn to lesser glory, publication there still was an advancement for her.

"On the Divide" was her best story to date, even though she later disowned it and thought it one of the bad apples best left on the ground. It is a grim story reminiscent of those she already had published in the Hesperian. It opens: "Near Rattlesnake Creek, on the side of a little draw, stood Canute's shanty. North, east, south stretched the level Nebraska plain of long rust-red grass that undulated constantly in the wind." To the west the ground was broken and rough, and there was a turbid little stream "that had scarcely ambition enough to crawl over its black bottom." The land is inhospitable: deceitfully lovely in the early summer, bitterly barren in autumn. Canute "had seen it smitten by all the plagues of Egypt . . . . parched by drought, and sogged by rain, beaten by hail, and swept by fire, and in the grasshopper years he had seen it eaten as bare and clean as bones that the vultures have left." For ten years Canute has lived alone fighting for possession of this intractable land and often contemplating suicide, but instead of killing himself, he has taken to drink to dull his senses and make life tolerable. Cather was still writing in her Hamlin Garland manner, and it would be many years before the "rust-red grass" became the "colour of wine-stains" in My Ántonia. She had not yet learned how to infuse the prairie with myth and symbol suggestive of Homer and the "wine-dark sea."

Yet there is something more in this story than the immigrant's defeat in the effort to tame the wild land. Canute, the blond Norwegian giant, has a soul, and he is not destroyed by the struggle. As the story develops, he falls in love with Lena Yensen and in the denouement carries her off bodily to his cabin, forces the preacher to marry them. Lena in the final paragraph succumbs to Canute's caveman tactics and submits happily, an ending that Jack London might well have written. This story not only reveals Cather's identification with male values, but it also shows a movement, however crude, toward the use of myth and symbol. As Canute carries off Lena, Cather writes: "So it was that Canute took her to his home, even as his bearded barbarian ancestors took the fair frivolous women of the South in their hairy arms and bore them down to their war ships."

This story would be even more interesting as an example of Cather's effort to move towards "the immigrant's spiritual confrontation with the plains" if one could be sure that all of the ideas in it were hers. Late in her life she said she had written the story in an English course and that her professor had touched it up and sent it off to the Overland Monthly. What he added, she said, was Canute's fantastic carvings that adorned his windowsills. Crudely done, the carvings showed men plowing with little horned imps on their shoulders, men praying with a skull hanging over their heads, men fighting with serpents, and skeletons dancing together. "It was a veritable Dance of Death by one who had felt its sting." This detail, whether or not it was Cather's invention, moves the fiction in the direction she was going: the creation of characters who have the power to make a world of their imagination.

During the year following her graduation Cather wrote a good deal about books and literature. Earlier, when she was busy reviewing plays, her columns were mostly filled with drama criticism and theatrical news. She continued to read omnivorously, and her observations in this period codify her principles and chart her future literary practice. Her love of romance; her distaste for realism; her search for artistic integrity; her devotion to style; her nostalgia, for a grander past—even at twenty-two—her passion for French literature; her distrust of women writers—all these subjects are documented in the columns she contributed to the Courier and the Journal.

When a play was made out of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, one of her favorite novels, she took the occasion to praise romance, Hope, Kipling, and above all her master Stevenson. "We are growing too analytical ourselves, and we need young men like Rudyard Kipling and Anthony Hope." They were carrying on in a small way the work of Stevenson, who had just died the previous winter. "We owe him much, that great master of pure romance . . . . Romance is the highest form of fiction, and it will never desert us." She added: "lbsens and Zolas are great, but they are temporary. Children, the sea, the sun, God himself are all romanticists. Clouds cover the sun sometimes, and there is darkness upon the face of the deep, and God hides his face from us. But they come again, and with them Romance, as fair and beautiful and still as young as when it came with the troubadours to the springlit fields outside Verona where the Dukes held their Court of Love."

She seldom had anything good to say about the work of William Dean Howells, who led the battle for realism against the romancers of the 1890s. When he published My Literary Passions in 1895, Cather thought him something of a pompous ass: "Doesn't Mr. Howells know that at one time or another everyone raves over Don Quixote, imitates Heine, worships Turgenev and calls Tolstoy a prophet? Does Mr. Howells think that no one but he ever had youth and enthusiasm and aspirations? . . . He might as well write a detailed account of how he had the measles and the whooping cough." Her disparagement of Howells was partly due to her distaste for the new Ladies' Home Journal in which his literary reminiscences appeared. He had been sandwiched between "those thrilling articles about how Henry Ward Beecher tied his necktie and what kind of coffee Mrs. Hall Caine likes."

She was quick to denounce the meretricious in art, and the appearance of a new novel by the romancer F. Marion Crawford gave her such an opportunity. She had hoped that his latest, Casa Braccio, would be one story written for his own personal pleasure, that he was rich and famous enough to do this, but it was not such a book. "I suppose the curse of having sold one's self is that one . . . can never escape from the habits of vice." What she could not forgive Crawford for was his view of the novel as a marketable commodity, his desire to please his readers at the expense of his artistic integrity. When Oscar Wilde was sent to prison for sodomy, she wrote a column attacking not his sins of the body (though she agreed that he deserved to be in prison) but his sins against literature. "To every man who has really great talent there are two ways open, the narrow one and the wide, to be great and suffer, or to be clever and comfortable." Wilde took the easy way. He lacked sincerity, reverence for his own gift, and now all one could see was "the chaos and confusion of wasted life."

The elegiac tone that permeates some of Cather's best novels is already detectable in these columns written at twenty-two. Current writers simply did not have the stature of the masters of the past. "I picked up an old American periodical last week. Among the contributors were Dickens, Thackeray, Emerson, Lowell, Longfellow, and Hawthorne. Heavens, what names to stir the hearts of men!" Nowadays essays are nothing but "pleasant little chats," and there has not been a "volume of verse worth reading twice put out by a native of these states for ten years or more." "In all the literatureof the last ten years I have not found one burning conviction, one new and really confident truth wrested from the concealing elements." In one sweeping paragraph she disposed of some very good Howells, Twain, and Dickinson, not to mention the work of lesser folk like Garland, Bellamy, Bierce, Chopin, and her acquaintance Crane. She concluded these magnificent generalizations by observing: "Now that Stevenson is dead I can think of but one English-speaking author who is really keeping his self-respect and sticking for perfection. Of course I refer to that mighty master of language and keen student of human actions and motives, Henry James."

James always was one of her masters, but she never seems to have thought of him as a realist. Perhaps at the highest levels of art realism and romance begin to merge. Cather agreed perfectly with Hawthorne's view that a romance "sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart." James never did, whether his works were called realism or romance. She added that anyone who reads his most recent collections of stories, The Lesson of the Master and Terminations, "may find out something of what it means to be really an artist. The framework is perfect and the polish is absolutely without flaw." She was fond of quoting from James's story "The Middle Years": "We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." She owed a great deal to James in some of her apprentice stories and in her first novel, and so strong was his influence that it took her a while to slip out from under his shadow.

From the time she was carrying Flaubert with her as a freshman she was a student of style. James as stylist interested her as much as James the consummate creator of character. In the same essay she declared: "One could read him forever for the beauty of his sentences. He never lets his phrases run away with him. They are never dull and never too brilliant. He subjects them to the general tone of his sentence and has his whole paragraph partake of the same predominating color. You are never startled, never surprised, never thrilled or never enraptured; always delighted by that masterly prose that is as correct, as classical, as calm and as subtle as the music of Mozart."

She also admired the style of Ruskin, "the greatest living master of pure English prose" and the author of "some twelve or fifteen volumes of the most perfect prose of our generation." She devoted an entire column to Ruskin, one of the last she wrote before leaving Lincoln, on hearing news (premature, as it turned out) that he was dying. Outstripping his master Carlyle, he had taken "the wild and stirring strains of the peasant philosopher and set them to delicious harmony, " and over the "rugged wisdom of the sage he has diffused the effulgent glory of a poet." She thought that his death would send people back to "the enchanted pages of The Stones of Venice " to "wonder at their melody." Ruskin had more than style for Cather; he was perhaps "the last of the great worshippers of beauty, perhaps the last man for many years to come who will ever kneel at the altar of Artemis, who will ever hear the oracle of Apollo." And, finally, he was "the last head on which the failing light of the Renaissance has lingered." His creed was, to express it roughly, that "beauty alone is truth and truth is only beauty; that art is supreme; that it is the highest, the only expression of whatever divinity there may be in man." Ruskin and Carlyle, whom she called her little tin gods, brought out her "high-stepping rhetoric."

The death of Verlaine in 1896 gave her a chance to demonstrate her devotion to French literature and defend the reputation of a favorite poet. She admitted that he was a "dirty old man," also "a profligate, a vagabond, a criminal." But he was a great poet, and that was all that mattered. She never gave a thought to a writer's morals if his work could stir her emotions. "Compared to the greatness of his work the weakness of his life is of small moment. Until we can write his verses and be respectable citizens at the same time we have small right to enter protests." These were bold words to write for the Nebraska State Journal in 1896, but she always said what she thought. "He was a practicer of every excess known to man, yet if ever inspiration and spiritual rapture came from a human pen it is in his verses on the Christ. This is all disease you say; certainly it is, but we all gather the pearls fast enough in this world and nobody troubles himself much about the disease of the oyster which produced it."

Readers of "The Passing Show" who did not know must at times have wondered if Willa Cather really were a woman. So completely had she embraced masculine values that when she wrote about women writers, she sounded like a patronizing man. One day when she saw an elevator boy reading Ouida's (Marie Louise de la Ramée's) Under Two Flags (1867), which she had read with enthusiasm as a child, she declared: "Sometimes I wonder why God ever trusted talent in the hands of women, they usually make such an infernal mess of it." Under Two Flags contained a good plot and the rudiments of a great style, but it also contained "some of the most drivelling nonsense and mawkish sentimentality and contemptible feminine weakness to be found anywhere." "Adjectives and sentimentality ran away with her, as they do with most women's pens . . . . And the worst of it is that the woman really had great talent." In all her books there "is not one sane, normal, possible man or woman. . . . They are one rank morass of misguided genius and wasted power."

Then Cather began to generalize: "I have not much faith in women in fiction. They have a sort of sex consciousness that is abominable. They are so limited to one string and they lie so about that. They are so few, the ones who really did anything worth while; there were the great Georges, George Eliot and George Sand, and they were anything but women, and there was Miss Brontë, who kept her sentimentality under control, and there was Jane Austen who certainly had more common sense than any of them and was in some respects the greatest of them all. Women are so horribly subjective and they have such scorn for the healthy commonplace." These were all the significant women fiction writers she could think of. She had not yet discovered Sarah Orne Jewett, who was to become her friend and mentor.

Cather also was not very charitable towards women poets. When Christina Rossetti died in 1894, she wrote an essay on three women poets: Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Sappho. Rossetti, she thought, had written one perfect poem in "The Goblin Market," but "it is a very grave question whether women have any place in poetry at all. Certainly they have only been successful in poetry of the most highly subjective nature. If a woman writes any poetry at all worth reading it must be emotional in the extreme, self-centered, self-absorbed, centrifugal." Rossetti possessed a consciousness of her limits and confined herself to the simplist lyrics. Barrett Browning before her "tried to be versatile and to go beyond the artistic limitations of her sex" but achieved merit without greatness. She wrote but one great poem, "her little volume of Sonnets from the Portuguese." Cather concluded this essay: "There is one woman poet whom all the world calls great"—Sappho. "All great poets have wondered at her verses; all inferior poets have imitated them. Twenty centuries have not cooled the passion in them." But even Sappho wrote of only one subject—love. "Save for her knowledge of human love she was unlearned, save for her perception of beauty she was blind, save for the fullness of her passions she was empty-handed."

Cather's great break came sometime late in the spring when she was offered a job on a new magazine in Pittsburgh. Axtell, Orr, and Company, publishers of the Home Monthly, needed an editor, and Cather jumped at the chance. Just how a Pittsburgh publisher happened to hire a twenty-two-year-old woman from Nebraska to edit his magazine is not known. There are a few clues, but no facts. George Gerwig, a Lincoln insurance man with an M.A. in English, had moved to Allegheny, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh), in 1892. He had written drama criticism for the Journal before Cather took over and was one of her early friends in Lincoln. He returned to Nebraska for a visit in March when Cather was trying unsuccessfully to get a teaching job. It is a reasonable guess to suppose that he knew of the opening and suggested her. Cather already had a reputation that extended beyond Nebraska, though perhaps not so far as Pennsylvania, and she certainly was well qualified. Further, James Axtell, one of the publishers, was a friend of Charles Gere, who certainly would have recommended his star columnist. Regardless of how she got the job, she was more than ready to leave Lincoln for a larger theater of operations. She lost no time in packing and departed for Pittsburgh in late June to begin the next phase of her career.

CHAPTER 6

Early Days in Pittsburgh

Still only twenty-two in June 1896, Cather travelled east towards Pennsylvania in a state of increasing excitement. She paused briefly in Chicago, where she took in a special exhibit of Paul Gustave Doré's paintings. There were great splurges of color, theatrical effects, enormous canvasses, but the whole show was a good bit like the billboards advertising The Last Days of Pompeii. Only one painting, The Neophyte, seemed to her real honest work; the rest either had a flat chromo look or were done by a trick. She continued on to Pittsburgh on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and as the train rolled across Ohio, her spirits soared. When she saw hills, clear streams, and trees the Lord had planted, her delight was so transparent that the conductor asked if she were getting back home. In a sense she was, for Pittsburgh was only about one hundred miles from her birthplace in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, and her great-great-grandfather, Jasper Cather, had begun his life in America in western Pennsylvania. Three months after reaching Pittsburgh she was able to take time off from her job to make a bicycle trip through the Shenandoah Valley. Among the several polarities that pulled at Cather all her life was the attraction of the eastern mountains against the tug of the prairie of her adopted state.

When the train reached Pittsburgh, Cather's new boss, James Axtell, was at the station to meet her. She first gave him a withering look when he approached her, as he didn't look like a publisher, but he was very cordial and took her home with him to East Liberty to stay until she could find a boarding house. In the Axtell establishment she found herself in the midst of rock-ribbed, conservative Presbyterian Pittsburgh. Though the house was delightful, set in a beautiful hilly residential area and surrounded by large ivy-covered homes—a sharp contrast to the flatness and newness of Nebraska—her heart sank when she entered the parlor. It was furnished with pieces covered grimly with hair cloth, over which presided one forbidding picture—a crayon portrait of grandpa, a preacher, the sternest Presbyterian of them all. She was glad he was off visiting somewhere, as she feared the arguseyed old patriarch, so accustomed to detecting the follies and foibles of this world, would penetrate her thin disguise and denounce her as the devotee of French fiction and the consort of musicians and strolling players. Further, she was put in the room of the Axtells' daughter, also off visiting, whose library consisted of six Bibles and many well-worn volumes of the trashy religious novels of E. P. Roe. She could stand the Bibles, she wrote Mariel Gere, but not E. P. Roe.

The conservative, Calvinist tone of the Pittsburghers, half of whom were Presbyterians, bothered her considerably at first. Her early letters from Pittsburgh and columns sent back to the Journal are full of impatient astonishment and irony. The Axtells were very nice to her, but their personalities were as chilly as a wine cellar, the result, she guessed, of believing in infant damnation. She wrote Ellen Gere, Mariel's younger sister, that Mr. Axtell meant to be a jolly man and really was awfully nice, but fun did not come naturally to him. The entire social life of the family centered on their church, and when they had parties, they invited their Sunday school class. To avoid getting entangled in Presbyterianism, Cather told the Axtells that her folks were Baptists. Alas, she added, the Baptist minister lived next door, and in ten minutes they had him over and upon her.

Before Cather moved into her own quarters, one of the Axtells' five thousand and seven hundred cousins, a young woman preparing to enter Vassar, came to dinner. When she talked about the courses she was going to take in the fall, Cather explained how many hours of coursework she had carried at the University of Nebraska. The girl looked up in sweet surprise and asked innocently how in the world Cather had managed to attend classes, write for the newspaper, and keep up her church work. Every girl here Cather explained, has her church work, just as other girls have fans or powder boxes. Before she could get away from the Axtells, she had to go to church with them and listen to a sermon on the text "Whosoever will, let him drink of the water of life freely." Later, in her correspondence with the Journal she reported satirically on the rumpus raised in Pittsburgh when Anna Held sang "O Won't You Come and Play with Me" at a supper party given at the Duquesne Club by Henry Clay Frick, a prominent Presbyterian; and she made merry over the efforts of the Pittsburgh clergy to suppress Frederick Archer's free Sunday organ recitals at Carnegie Hall.

Cather herself lost no time in going to one of these concerts. She loved music and was much impressed by the grandeur of the auditorium. Carnegie Hall had just been completed the year before and was housed in a huge building containing also the Carnegie Library and Art Gallery. The library in particular impressed her—marble from end to end—and the colors and frescoes were just one artistic harmony. She had thought the new University of Nebraska Library was nice, but this greatly surpassed it. What was even better, the library was close to her office, and it had, she thought, all the books in the world. She planned to spend a lot of time there. She also had discovered right away that the Carnegie Theater was very close and that her old friend Patiline Hall would be playing there all the next week. While the Presbyterians were doing their church work, she was going to slip across to the theater to look on Pauline's glorious anatomy once again.

These satiric reports of her first impressions of Pittsburgh and her plans to haunt the library and theater make Cather sound like a bohemian intent on hedonism. When Mariel Gere accused her of this, she replied that she had taken the veil and retired to convent life. By this she meant that she was hard at work putting out the magazine. By the middle of July she was living in a boarding house in the east end of the city, six blocks from her office. The Axtells had gone west on a trip, leaving her in sole charge of the magazine, though she only had been hired to be assistant editor. She wrote Mrs. Gere that she saw no one except the old maid who ran her boarding house and her stenographer. She was proud of having her own stenographer—especially one who could spell—but she was so busy her only excitement was in racing the electric cars on her bicycle. She had had to write half of the first issue of the magazine herself. Because her printer was inexperienced in layout, she had been down in the composing room the night before until one o'clock sweating over the forms and making up the pages. She kept her irony and satire for her friends back home; and when three Misses Rush called on her—three tall, plain, stiff, prim Presbyterians—Cather was very demure, she told Mrs. Gere, and discussed flower gardening and church music.

The Home Monthly was not much of a magazine. It had been started two years before as the Ladies' Journal, an obvious effort to capitalize on the spectacular success of the Ladies' Home Journal. Cather was hired when Axtell, Orr, and Company bought the magazine and changed the name. It was aimed at half a million firesides within one hundred miles of Pittsburgh, and an editorial in the August issue, Cather's first, stated what she called its namby-pamby policies: "These pages will be kept clean and pure in tone, and . . . all plans for the Home Monthly center in the aim to entertain, to educate, to elevate." And the contents, she thought, were great rot—home and fireside stuff, all about babies and mince pies.

The opening editorial also declared that "every phase of home needs will receive attention" and that the best story writers of the country would "furnish entertainment for the idle hour." The former goal was easy enough to achieve, though Cather said she found it hard to turn out copy about raising children and keeping house; but the latter aim never was realized. She found that she had to write a good bit of the fiction herself, and though she sometimes solicited contributions from her friends, she had no budget to buy stories from writers of national visibility. After she had edited the magazine for nine months, she concluded that it was the worst trash in the world, but it was trash her employers wanted, trash they paid for, and trash they would get.

Even from the beginning she did not plan to stay with the enterprise very long. She wrote Mrs. Gere, however, that she was determined to show everyone that she could take up a thing and stick to it, even if it did not suit her. She was working very hard and liking the challenge of the job, grind though it was. Despite the depressing nature of the publication, the financial outlook was good. She was glad to have a steady income and a full-time job. Though her salary was perhaps only one hundred dollars a month, it seemed a princely figure to someone who previously had worked for a dollar a column on the Nebraska State Journal.

There were other compensations too. The city and the rivers, she said, would make up for almost anything, and she was meeting many different kinds of people. She had met a number of New York drama critics and recently had held a forty-six-minute talk with one of her favorites, Rudyard Kipling, when he passed through Pittsburgh. She also saw the city as a more promising place than Nebraska for the promotion of her own literary fortunes. She had met a travelling editor of Cosmopolitan, to whom she had shown her story "The Count of Crow's Nest," and he had offered her one hundred dollars for it. She turned down the proposal reluctantly because she needed the story to fill up the Home Monthly, but the fact that she could publish in an important national magazine excited her. She felt that her own work was improving, that she was not wasting her time. After a month on the job her employers were willing to give her a day off whenever she felt the urge to write.

From the start Cather loved Pittsburgh, though she did not hesitate to criticize it. She saved her strictures, however, for letters home and the columns she sent back to the Journal. She called Pittsburgh the "city of dreadful dirt" in her first letter and later referred to it as "dirty, prosaic Pittsburgh that doesn't care for anything but coal and iron mills and big houses on Fifth Avenue and Holy St. Andrew Carnegie." On the occasion of a trip to Homestead, where Carnegie's mills were located, she was appalled by the sight. It's like Hades when you get there, she said—all smoke and flames. She also commented on the dampness of the climate, which contrasted sharply with the bracing air of Nebraska.

The Pittsburgh that Cather saw in 1896 seemed a real metropolis, a city of over 400,000, including neighboring Allegheny, some twelve times the size of Lincoln. Built where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio, the city always had occupied a strategic position, from colonial times when the French built Fort Duquesne there to the era of rapid industrial growth after the Civil War. Scenically the heart of the city, the "Golden Triangle," where the two rivers came together, was a spectacular location, and the surrounding hills were green and wooded. Because it was close to sources of coal and possessed excellent water and rail communications, it became a major manufacturing city by the end of the century. When Cather arrived, it already was a great steel-producing center, and it was becoming a city of great wealth. The business of Pittsburgh was business, dominated by men like Frick, Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and George Westinghouse.

Representative of the Pittsburgh business community is Cather's character Marshall McKann in "A Gold Slipper." "He was born a Presbyterian, just as he was born a McKann. He sat in his pew in the First Church every Sunday, and he never missed a presbytery meeting when he was in town. His religion was not very spiritual, certainly, but it was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. It had something to do with citizenship, with whom one ought to marry, with the coal business (in which his own name was powerful), with the Republican party, and with all majorities and established precedents. He was hostile to fads, enthusiasms, to individualism, to all changes except in mining machinery and in methods of transportation." His wife drags him to a concert, but he has no interest in or knowledge of music and regards artists as "fluffy-ruffles people."

Yet the wealth amassed in Pittsburgh by the nineteenth-century robber barons was already being recycled to make the city a cultural center. Carnegie, after applying Darwin's views on natural selection and the survival of the fittest to the ruthless creation of an industrial empire and smashing the union in the bloody Homestead Steel Strike in 1892, had turned to good works in funding libraries and concert halls. Pittsburgh profited handsomely by his notion, expressed in his essay "The Gospel of Wealth," that it was a disgrace for a man to die rich. Besides the Carnegie Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh also had just acquired a symphony orchestra. All these cultural resources were much vaster than those of Lincoln, and Cather took advantage of them. She put a little of herself into the title character in "Paul's Case," whose spirits were released by the first strains of the symphony orchestra when he ushered at Carnegie Hall: "He felt a sudden zest of life; the lights danced before his eyes and the concert hall blazed into unimaginable splendour." Pittsburgh also had more theaters and plays than Lincoln; it was a first-run city, whereas Lincoln had been second-run. She did not wait long after beginning her job on the Home Monthly to get a part-time position as drama and music critic for the Pittsburgh Leader and to involve herself in the artistic life of the city.

Her involvement in the social life of Pittsburgh also began as soon as she finished putting out the August issue of the magazine. It was a remarkable change from her life the previous year, when she was moping in Red Cloud, like Hawthorne brooding in Salem or Leopardi pining away in Recanati. Five weeks after she got off the Baltimore and Ohio to begin her new life, she needed eight large sheets of paper to tell Mariel Gere what she had been doing. The week before she had gone on a picnic with the Press Club to Erie. The previous Sunday she went on an excursion to Rock Point, up in the mountains. The best outing of all had been a steam launch party of twenty that went thirty miles up the river. They had a catered dinner on board and two blacks who played the banjo and sang in the moonlight all the way back. The launch passed big green hills rising three hundred feet from the river and fleeced here and there with big patches of white river mist. All along the shore the iron furnaces glowed like calcium lights, and gas wells shot out long plumes of flame. Then the hills of the city loomed up with a thousand lights of a thousand colors. Her escort on this excursion was George Gerwig, her old friend from Lincoln, who was, she wrote Mariel Gere, her devoted slave. He and his wife both took the trouble to see that she got acquainted.

Her most astonishing experience occurred at a tea given for the federated women's clubs by the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Mrs. Gerwig took her to this function. The city was run by women's clubs, Cather explained, and all the women in the social register were club women. Their program that day was on Carlyle, and the chairwoman politely invited Cather to say something about Carlyle, if she wanted to. She told Mariel Gere that she had the nerve to get up and spiel off her old "second prep" essay that she had written for Professor Hunt. She delivered the piece, she said, with all the fire and fervor of the tragic muse. It all came back to her, and she just soared. The club women fell all over themselves to shake her hand afterwards. They thought it was impromptu. Cather did not think much of their brains, especially their liking that sophomoric performance.

The result of her oratorical flight was a procession of women calling on her until she was almost distracted. She had fifteen calls to return, she wrote, and did not know how she was going to get her work done. She guessed she would just have to shut it off, this social life, and apparently that is what she did. The Axtells were miffed by Cather's sudden popularity, as they were not in society at all, never saw anyone but relatives, and did not much like Cather's gadding about. The novelty of this social activity, however, which was totally uncharacteristic, soon wore off, but Cather made a good many friends in her first year in Pittsburgh, many of whom remained friends for life. She continued to write satirically of women's clubs and of the feminine pursuit of culture in weekly packaged doses. When Mrs. Canfield visited Pittsburgh later and asked to be introduced to some club women, Cather could hardly get over the reversal of roles that made her the club woman and Flavia Canfield the supplicant. She said it did her wicked, un-Christian heart good to get even, to pay off the old scores and make people take back the bitter things they once had said. She was remembering that Mrs. Canfield had disapproved of her life-style when she was an undergraduate in Lincoln and had written a sharp reply to an attack she had made on women's clubs in the Journal. She was now, she reported to Mariel Gere, a member of the "swell" woman's club of the town.

Except for George Gerwig, the only friend of her Pittsburgh years who carried over from Nebraska was Dorothy Canfield. Dorothy was a sophomore at Ohio State University, where her father was president. She visited Pittsburgh on occasion, and Cather sometimes went to Columbus. After Dorothy spent her spring vacation in Pittsburgh in 1897, Cather wrote Mariel Gere to tell her what a charming girl Dorothy was growing to be. Her visit had been a joy and comfort; Cather's friends had risen nobly to the occasion; they had had a downright jolly time. There were theater parties, excursions, drives in the park, until they were exhausted. Dorothy said it was the first time she had ever been treated like a young lady. It was lonesome for Cather to return from the office now and not find her cuddled up on the divan. In 1907 Dorothy married, settled in Vermont, and the two friends drifted apart, but after they resumed their friendship by correspondence in 1913, Cather wrote that there were long years when she loved her very, very dearly. Canfield wrote in 1947: "My occasional brief stopovers in Pittsburgh were golden days for me. When people talk about Pittsburgh as a dirty, dark, noisy, grimy city, I can't imagine what they are talking about. Over it hangs, for me, a shining cloud of young memories."

The Carnegie Library, which was a magnet from the first, also produced lasting friendships. The director, Edwin Anderson, and his wife, Frances, became friends and often invited Cather to dinner, and later when Anderson became head of the New York Public Library, she kept up the relationship. May Willard, who directed the reference department, became Cather's earliest Pittsburgh friend. She always saw May when she went back to the city in later years and in 1915, with May and others, joined a folk-dancing group taught by a visiting Englishman, Cecil Sharp. Another close friend was Ethel Litchfield, who was a fine pianist. She had studied in Vienna to become a concert artist but had given up her career to marry a Pittsburgh doctor. She kept up her music, often played in Pittsburgh concerts, and her home was a stopping place for visiting musicians. Cather used to pause by her house on her way home from work before they knew each other and "stand listening to the music that streamed from it at all hours of the day and night." After Dr. Litchfield's death Ethel moved to New York, where Cather saw her often.

Early in her editorial tenure at the Home Monthly a young journalist named George Seibel offered to write an article on Richard Wagner's wild pranks. She invited him to visit the office, accepted his proposal, and asked him for more contributions. This meeting led to a warm relationship between Cather and both George and Helen Seibel, who were recently married and only a little older. Cather visited their second-floor apartment on Seventeenth Street once or twice a week during her first years in Pittsburgh and usually stayed for supper. Although George was part of the German-American community, he and Cather shared a passion for French literature. She went there to read French with him, and during her visits she and Helen would follow a text while George translated. If either woman disagreed with his reading, they would stop and discuss the translation. In this manner they went through Daudet's Les Femmes d'artistes, de Musset's Poésies nouvelles, novels by Pierre Loti, Anatole France, Paul Bourget, and Georges Huysmans. They also read Victor Hugo's drama Hernani and poems by Théophile Gautier, Verlaine, and Baudelaire. Their taste was for the Romantics, and though they read the realistic Madame Bovary, which Cather had loved in college, her taste at this time was more for Flaubert's romantic Salammbô.

After the readings there would be a German supper: noodle soup, potato salad, cucumbers, and cookies. On Christmas Eves Cather usually helped trim the tree, and on one occasion she took Dorothy Canfield with her. Dorothy remembered clearly half a century later the cosmopolitan atmosphere, stimulating talk, and George standing against a background of Christmas greens reciting a Christmas poem by Heine:
Der Stern blieb stehn über Josephs Haus.
Da sind sie hineingegangen;
Das Oechslein brullte, das Kindlein schrie,
Die heil'gen drei Koenige sangen.
"It sounded wonderfully fine as he rolled it out in his rich German. Willa was enchanted by it, got the book out from the shelves back of us, copied off the poem, and before I had gone on from Pittsburgh to Vermont, had made an admirable rhymed translation."
The star now stops above Joseph's roof,
     And they enter the cottage lowly;
The oxen bellowed, the infant cried,
     While sang the three kings holy.
Many years later Canfield wrote Cather asking her if she remembered translating that poem. She replied that she did not, but it was just like her, she thought, to be translating from a language in which she could not have conjugated a single verb.

Seibel recalled Cather at this period as looking about eighteen: "She was plump and dimpled, with dreamy eyes and an eager mind." "More than books, Willa was interested in the study of human nature. She was avid of the world, always wondering, always questing, always digging." She and Seibel got on very well except when they disagreed over Henry James's novels, but they both admired his critical essays on French writers. It was also at this period that Cather discovered Sarah Orne Jewett and gave Seibel as a Christmas gift one year The Country of the Pointed Firs, then a new book. After Cather left Pittsburgh for New York, she corresponded with the Seibels and occasionally saw them on return visits to Pennsylvania or when they visited New York.

Subscribers to the Home Monthly were treated to a large dose of Cather's apprentice fiction during her editorship. In the thirteen months following her appointment she used eight of her own stories, one a two-part serial, two signed with pseudonyms. In addition, she let the magazine have another tale that appeared the year after she resigned her position. Most of these stories are unremarkable and would not detain anyone if they had not been written by young Willa Cather. The first to appear was "Tommy, the Unsentimental," her tomboy story, which is one of the more significant of her early fictions. It illustrates the ambivalence she always felt towards the East and the West, and curiously enough, this first published fiction in Pittsburgh contains praise for the flatlands of Nebraska. Tommy goes off to school in the East, but she can't wait to get back to her hometown on the prairie. When she returns she says: "It's all very fine down East there, and the hills are great, but one gets mighty homesick for this sky . . . . Down there the skies are all pale and smoky . . . . And this wind . . . I used to get hungry for this wind! I couldn't sleep in that lifeless stillness down there."

The two-part serial was "The Count of Crow's Nest, " the story she could have sold to Cosmopolitan. It was the longest piece of fiction she yet had written and shows developing skill in narrative technique. Her passion for Henry James perhaps is shown in a plot that makes one think of "The Aspern Papers." Her setting, however, is a boarding house in Chicago rather than the exotic canals and palazzi of Venice, but the effort to obtain a bundle of letters is common to both stories. Cather, however, departs from the Jamesian model by making the unscrupulous letter-seeker a woman. The tale makes rudimentary use of a minor-character consciousness as it recounts the experiences of a young male college graduate who lives temporarily in a boarding house of failed people while he tries to decide on a career. One of the inmates, the main character, is an elderly count, Paul de Koch, born in the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg but now impoverished, the last of his line, exiled to darkest Chicago.

Young Harold Buchanan and the count are drawn together through a mutual interest in French literature, and as the plot unfolds Harold meets the count's no-good daughter, a third-rate singer who is venal, grasping, and dishonorable. The count has in his possession letters which if published would blast the reputations of unspecified titled Europeans. The daughter thinks there would be a fortune in publishing them. The father stoutly refuses. The daughter steals the letters, and in the denouement Harold accompanies the old man to his daughter's lodging in the middle of the night, and they force the daughter to give up the papers. The story is entertaining, a good yarn, and doubtless as good as much of the fiction the Cosmopolitan was publishing.

Two of the nine stories Cather published in the Home Monthly are fairy tales for children, the sort of tale she used to make up in Red Cloud to tell her younger brothers and sister. "The Princess Baladina—Her Adventure" is not much of a yarn and Cather signed it "Charles Douglass." "The Strategy of the Were-Wolf Dog" is a Santa Claus Christmas story something on the order of "Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer." Appearing in the December 1896 issue of the magazine, it was well enough done that the author signed her own name. A third story of this period, "A Resurrection," is the Brownville tale; and the one that appeared after she left the magazine was "The Way of the World," the story of the play town "Sandy Point."

A second story that appeared in the Christmas issue of the Home Monthly, also published pseudonymously, is "The Burglar's Christmas," a very amateurish and sentimental reworking of the prodigal son theme. But this tale, in the view of Sharon O'Brien, "is a crucial story in the Cather canon because its psychological themes connect both to her life and to her later fiction." A destitute and derelict young man named William breaks into a Chicago mansion on Christmas Eve and while robbing the boudoir of the owner finds the silver drinking cup he used as a child. He is robbing the home of his own parents. At that moment his mother comes into the room, recognizes him, and cries out: "Willie, Willie! Is it you?" In the recognition scene that follows the mother forgives her contrite son, and the tale ends with the young man sitting passively by the fire happily stuffed with a good dinner. O'Brien says, "He has returned to the oral stage, the period in human development symbolized by the baby's silver drinking mug." This critic sees the story as reflecting Cather's sexual identity problem, her "unconscious desires and fears," William as a mask for Willa, and the "young author unaware of what she is concealing or revealing." This psychoanalysis of Cather on the basis of a very minor and amateurish story may seem reductive, but there is no doubt that Cather's relationship with her mother was unsatisfactory in some respects and caused tensions and anxieties. She comments on occasion that her younger sister Jessica, who dressed and acted like a lady, was more her mother's idea of a proper daughter than she was. Fortunately the psychic problem, such as it was, had no crippling effect on her adult artistic career.

Two other Home Monthly stories are only worth brief comment. "The Prodigies" is her first story laid presumably in Pittsburgh and the first making the performing arts her subject. The story, which concerns the exploitation of two gifted child musicians by their ambitious mother, foreshadows the intense interest Cather took many years later in the Menuhin children. The tale is viewed from the point of view of a pianist like Cather's friend Ethel Litchfield, who gave up a career to marry a physician. Also, in the relationship between the ambitious mother and her husband Cather depicts the first of many unhappy marriages in her fiction. "Nanette: An Aside," Cather's first fictional creation of an opera singer, is a slight tale, mostly a dialogue between the singer and her maid, who has fallen in love with a headwaiter. The singer is a battle-scarred veteran, unhappily married, and the maid Nanette is full of romantic yearnings.

During her first year in Pittsburgh Cather was a bundle of energy. Not only did she edit the magazine almost single-handedly, write stories and nonfiction articles for it, carry on an active social life, but she also wrote and edited a page called "Our Young Folks" in the National Stockman and Farmer, another publication owned by Axtell, Orr, and Company. As if this were not enough, she began writing music and drama criticism for the Pittsburgh Leader, and before she went home for the summer had published twenty-six reviews. She also resumed writing "The Passing Show" for the Nebraska State Journal, producing seventeen columns between December and May. There was, of course, some overlap in what she published in both Lincoln and Pittsburgh.

A glance at the contents of the Home Monthly reveals Cather's industry, versatility, ingenuity, and literary enthusiasms at that period. She barely had arrived in Pittsburgh before she was writing Mrs. Gere for information about Mrs. William Jennings Bryan. Her Pittsburgh landlady was going to supply her with information on Mrs. William McKinley, whom she had known in her youth, and she was going to write an article on the wives of the two presidential candidates. After she finished that one, she wrote others on the Burns centenary, singers' salaries, the death of George Du Maurier, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and nursing as a profession for women. She also turned out editorials and wrote a monthly book column that continued even after she resigned from the magazine.

Entitled "Old Books and New," the book column ranged widely over old favorites and new discoveries. She enthusiastically endorsed historical romance, recommending the novels of Stanley Weyman and Alexandre Dumas; The Prisoner of Zenda, which she never tired of; S. Weir Mitchell's Hugh Wynn ; and the "greatest of all English novels," Henry Esmond. She thought that Thackeray and Shakespeare were "the two imperial Williams, joint kings of English letters." She also praised David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities (of all of Dickens's great characters she liked Sidney Carton best); she predicted that Treasure Island "was one of the boys' books destined to immortality," and she raved about William Allen White's Boyville stories when they came out. They were worthy successors to Tom Sawyer, for "I know of no one who writes of a boy's heart as understandingly." He seemed "not to have forgotten how it feels to be a boy." She added: "I read the 'Martyrdom of "Mealy" Jones' aloud to a western boy and a boy from New Hampshire and the effect was the same."

Another new book that enchanted her was A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad, and her reprinting of one of the poems was Housman's first appearance in an American magazine. "Who Mr. Housman may be I know not," she wrote, "save that he is an Englishman and that he has written some of the most musical lyrics that have been done in England for many a long day." How she found out who Housman was is a story to be told in due course. Finally, no book column Cather was likely to write ever would be silent for long on French literature, and she needed no topical event to trigger a discussion of Hugo's Les Miserables. She opened one column simply by saying: "I never feel the spring come back . . . that I don't go back and read Les Misérables over again. It's a perennial passion with me, and comes every spring in violet time." On another occasion she urged her readers to try Daudet's Kings in Exile and Anatole France's The Crime of Sylvester Bonnard.

After ten months in Pittsburgh Cather's social life had become more pleasant than it ever had been or than she ever thought it could be. Her letter to Mariel Gere just after Dorothy Canfield's visit exudes euphoria. She was living a conventional life and enjoying it. No longer was she flouting social norms by wearing her hair short, going about with her middle-aged bachelor friend Dr. Tyndale, consorting with theater people, and getting criticized. Now there was nothing to "queer" her, she wrote. It was like the beginning of a new life in broad daylight away from the old mistakes. It was a rather novel experience for her, and it had quite gone to her head.

Her social life in Pittsburgh involved friends of both sexes. Since there were few women journalists, she worked mostly with men, and she inevitably saw a good bit of her co-workers after hours. Her editorship of the magazine and her reviewing for the Leader also brought her into contact with a large number of people, some of them eligible males her own age who found her both interesting and desirable. Similar friendships seem not to have developed in Lincoln in the two years after Cather's breakup with Louise Pound. There is scant evidence that she had any romantic male friendships before she went to Pittsburgh, though there was a relationship with one young man in Lincoln. He was Charles Moore, the nephew of the man who headed the company that employed Charles Cather. Young Moore gave Cather a gold snake ring that she wore all her life. They apparently carried on an extensive correspondence, but no letters have survived.

Some of the euphoria evident in Cather's letter to Mariel Gere resulted from a proposal of marriage she had just received from a young doctor. She had not yet decided if she would accept him. She thought it would be a very good match in every way, but she was not in love. She supposed, however, that one did not have to be in love to get married. She had introduced Dorothy Canfield to the young man, and Dorothy had approved of him. She was especially pleased with the way her suitor had treated the younger girl. But in the end Cather turned down the proposal and continued her unencumbered life.

Eight months later there was another applicant for matrimony: Preston Farrar, who taught English at Allegheny High School. She dated him in the fall, and by January the affair had gotten serious. She wrote Mariel Gere that she was seeing him only in plaster these days because he had broken his leg playing football several months before. It was rather fun visiting him in his cast now that he wasn't suffering any more. Unfortunately, she added, she did not seem able to feel very deeply about him. His friendship was so warm and comfortable that she did not want to change it for the other article in which the personal equation would be sure to make trouble. She avoided matrimony again but was able to remain friends with Farrar, and in 1903 after he resigned his teaching position, she succeeded him. He later married, and Cather visited him and his wife in New York.

Cather at this time apparently came to a clear decision to remain single. She explained to Mariel Gere that she had grown fond of liberty. To be wholly free, to really be of some use somewhere, to do with her money what she wanted, to help those who had helped her, to pay the debts of her loves and her hates—those were the things she wanted to do with her life. She was at that moment sending money home to her brother Roscoe, who had been seriously ill and whom she loved more than any other man except her father. She had no need to get married for companionship, for she already had a large circle of friends and was kept very busy with her work and her social life. In the same letter she described her activities of recent days: first she had heard Melba at the opera; the next night there was a supper party given by her actress friend Lizzie Collier; the following day she had attended a dinner for Ethelbert Nevin, the composer; and a few hours before beginning her letter she had been out to dinner with a crowd at the Bishops'. She recently had got to know Anthony Hope Hawkins, who had lectured and spent several days in Pittsburgh, and had met F. Marion Crawford, who was a detestable snob. Her days and nights were more than full, and she was suffering from a lack of sleep.

To state the matter simply, Cather was married to her art and sublimated her sexual impulses in her work. Throughout her life she gave art her highest priority, preferring her work to society, to family, to friends. Few people, of course, could follow such a program rigorously, and Cather recognized her obligations to others. Nevertheless, her statements on this subject are unequivocal. On many occasions, beginning with her "second prep" essay on Carlyle, she declared that art was a merciless taskmaster, that an artist could not be successful without pouring all his energy and emotion into his art. In her Hamlet essay she had said: "If an artist does any good work he must do it alone. No number of encouraging or admiring friends can assist him . . . . He must go off alone with his own soul and they too must labor and suffer together." Twenty-four years later she had her Wagnerian soprano Thea Kronborg explain her work was her personal life; there was no way to separate her private self from her public self. The two were fused into one seamless whole. The heroine of Lucy Gayheart (1935) comes to a tragic end because she does not have this "art necessity."

Cather was convinced that marriage and art did not mix. Although she loved children and lavished her affections on her younger brothers and sister and later on her nephews and nieces, she had no desire to have children of her own. When actress Mary Anderson retired from the stage to get married, Cather reflected on the demands of career and matrimony. Mary Anderson was not a great artist, and for her perhaps the happiness of married life was the better choice. On another occasion, when Helena von Doenhoff retired from the operatic state to get married, Cather wrote a sort of obituary. The artist, she declared, must love his art above all things and must say to it, as Ruth said amidst the alien corn: "Where thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge . . . thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God." To this she added, "Married nightingales seldom sing." When actress Marie Burroughs's divorce was announced in the papers, Cather wrote in her column that Marie wanted to be free for her work and free from the obligation of matrimony. The fact that her husband had been her teacher and coach made her ungrateful, but then all actresses are ungrateful. "If they are actresses worthy of the name, they always have a premier amour to whom they return, their work." Another sentence she was fond of quoting: "He travels the swiftest who rides alone."

Cather knew, of course, that some artists combined marriage and careers successfully, and occasionally she admitted it. When she wrote a profile of Louise Homer, the Pittsburgh-born contralto, she reported that Homer was a good mother who managed "her own house, her own nursery, and her five children." She certainly knew that two of the women writers she most honored, George Eliot and George Sand, combined careers with heterosexual relationships, but they, along with Sappho, were women who had the "art instinct, the art necessity." "They had it genuinely; they tried other things and none could satisfy them." Few women, she thought, were able to commit themselves wholly to art, especially women writers. For that reason she wrote: "I have not a great deal of faith in women in literature . . . . the great masters of letters are men, and I prefer to take no chances when I read."

Cather generalized her views on matrimony to embrace marital relations between people of all types, not just artists. Late in her life when the husband of her old Red Cloud friend Mary Miner Creighton died, she wrote a letter of condolence, saying that she had known very few marriages as happy as Mary's. Happy marriages in her fiction are rare. Her artist characters sometimes avoid marriage, as does the singer Kitty Ayrshire in "A Gold Slipper," or suffer from bad marriages like Cressida Garnet, the protagonist of "The Diamond Mine." Myra Henshawe in My Mortal Enemy marries for love and lives to regret it. Marian Forrester in A Lost Lady satisfies her passion in extramarital relations. Sometimes Cather's characters, like Thea Kronborg and Alexandra Bergson, are allowed to marry late in their lives after the passions of youth are spent. On one occasion, in the story "Uncle Valentine," she turns a happy artistic marriage in real life into a disastrous one. Her conviction that artists ran inordinate risks in getting married was reinforced for her by one of her favorite authors, Alphonse Daudet, who argues the point in Les Femmes d'artistes.

Cather's views on marriage had their source in her own physiological and psychological makeup. They were motivated by her strongest impulse—the desire to preserve the inviolability of the self. Throughout her work there is a fear of sex, as character after character is destroyed by it or survives by escaping it. All the evidence suggests that Cather too avoided sex in her private life. As an adult she clung to the image of childhood as the autonomous, sexless, happy period in life and tried to hang on to her own childhood through dress and memory. In all probability she lived the life of a celibate artist, for that life was the only one she could follow to achieve her artistic goals.

When Cather reported on her life in Pittsburgh, she said that the only activity she had in common with her years in Lincoln was theater-going. It was her passion for the stage no doubt that sent her to the Leader in search of a part-time job as music and drama critic. Pittsburgh had seven theaters and was often the first stop when New York companies took to the road. She began her reviewing in September 1896 with an unsigned notice of Roland Reed in The Wrong Mr. Wright, reviewed again in October, and covered Joseph Jefferson in Rip Van Winkle in November. By December she was writing for the Leader every week and signing her columns "Sibert," the middle name she was about to adopt permanently. During this first theatrical season in Pittsburgh she saw many of the great stars of the day: James Herne in his own play Shore Acres, Otis Skinner in A Soldier of Fortune, Fanny Davenport in Sardou's Gismonda, Olga Nethersole in Carmen, Julia Marlowe in Romeo and Juliet, Margaret Mather in Cymbeline, Nat Goodwin in An American Citizen, Maude Adams and John Drew in Rosemary, and Richard Mansfield in The Merchant of Venice.

Cather had matured as a reviewer by this time and no longer was she the "meat-ax girl" who had written for the Journal. This is not to say that she was no longer critical, but her judgments were more balanced and the tone pitched lower. "Rip Van Winkle," she wrote, "has beenbefore the public now for five-and-thirty years; yet it has lost none of its matchless charm." And about Joseph Jefferson, she added, "one of the wonderful things . . . is that he never loses his freshness of touch." Concerning Sardou, she said: "The matronly Fanny Davenport has been giving him to us all week and he is just as great as ever—in spite of Fanny." However, she gave Fanny credit for some memorable scenes, though "it takes a great deal of steam to work Miss Davenport up to any intensity at all." About the "beauteous Julia Marlow" she wrote: "Her Juliet is beautiful, graceful, winsome; it is so surprisingly good that you can not understand why it is not better . . . . She invests the part with rare poetic charm, but of that warmer, tenser element which is peculiar to Juliet and to Italy there is never a trace." Margaret Mather's $40,000 production of Cymbeline was a marvel as a production but a disappointment as art. The problem, she thought, was partly Shakespeare's for "such a rambling, stringing together of impossible incidents," but Mather had "simply no intellectual conception at all of her part." Cather noted, however, that Mather had the grippe that night and her voice, "once her chiefest charm" was gone. When John Drew and Maude Adams came to town in Rosemary, Cather said she knew that New York had been raving about the play, but she thought it "just as nearly no play at all as anything I ever saw." Mr. Drew, however, played a poor part very well, but Miss Adams was greatly overrated. "Oh, she is so abominably sweet; such a china kitten, you want to drop her to see if she will break." When The Merchant of Venice came to Pittsburgh, Mansfield's Shylock, she wrote, was not one of his greatest parts, but "as an actor he is just the same great Richard." Everything he did commanded respect and admiration.

Her review of James Herne's Shore Acres is particularly interesting in view of her general attitude towards realism. This play, generally regarded as the best realistic play written in America in the nineteenth century, pleased Cather. "It comes nearer than any other play to doing for New England life on the stage what Howells has done for it in fiction . . . . In this wicked and perverse generation that is so ridden by lbsenism and Zolaism on the stage and off, it is a good thing to see plays like Shore Acres and players like James A. Herne. They are like health to a sick man and remind one that realism is not absolutely a synonym for evil." This oblique compliment to Howells is one of the few bouquets she ever threw him. She thought his best-known novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham, was a very dull book, and while she admitted Howells could create character, his people were always "very common little men in sack coats." She probably was generalizing from Howells when she wrote that the fault of most American writers is one of magnitude: "They are not large enough; they travel in small orbits; they play on muted strings. They sing neither of the combats of Atridae nor the labors of Cadmus, but of the tea table and the Odyssey of the Rialto."

While Cather was writing drama reviews for the Leader, she was sending back columns of music criticism for the Journal. For the first time in her life she was able to hear a great deal of music. Pittsburgh had a rich musical life. There was plenty of opera, symphony concerts, and a great deal of chamber and choral music. Her first column, sent back to Nebraska in December, reviewed Eve, an oratorio by Massenet, which delighted her. As she had no technical vocabulary or expertise to write about music, she resorted to the kind of impressionism she had used before. The music "comes in long, clear waves of sound like the glittering waves that break shoreward." The music is as "light as the mists on the hilltops." When the creation of Eve takes place "she is the mother of all things-to-be opening her eyes upon her world; it is Aphrodite rising from the sea foam; it is faultless beauty made of the sunshine and foam and the scent of roses blown seaward." Nice similes and imagery, but they hardly tell one much about the music.

When she reviewed instrumentalists, Cather showed her great interest in the personalities of the artists as well as her feelings about the music. The piano virtuoso Teresa Carrefio from Venezuela made a strong impression. "She bursts upon you like a vision from the south. Dressed in flaming yellow, her magnificent head set like Athena's own upon her firm white shoulders, her blue-black hair touched slightly with gray about the temples, and her eyes—ah, they are Spanish nights!" Then the music leaped on one with a fiery passion. The massive chords and octaves pursued each other up and down the keyboard "as if the pianist were trying to compass all sound at once, to fathom and exhaust all the possibilities of sound." Carrefio was playing Anton Rubinstein's Concerto in D Minor, about which Cather with her usual self-assurance declared, "There is nothing in modern romantic music that can touch it for grandeur and color."

Cather had her first chance to hear a Wagner opera during the spring of 1897 when Walter Damrosch took his opera company to Pittsburgh. Her interest in Wagner, which subsequently became a passion, began with what must have been a dismal week that included badly cast and poorly sung performances of Lohengrin, Götterdämmerung, and Tannhäuser. Cather sent back breezy descriptions of these disasters for the home folks in Lincoln. All the singers had colds, "which beset every singer who ventures into this foggy river atmosphere." Herr Kraus, who sang Lohengrin, had to stop in the middle of an aria for a coughing seizure, and "poor Frau Venus on her couch coughed until Tannhäuser's head which rested on her knee shook as if he had the palsy." The Elsa in Lohengrin was so fat that it was a wonder that any Lohengrin would "descend from the gleaming heights of Mt. Monsalvat to get her out of her scrape." And Cather reported that in order for Damrosch to afford Lilli Lehmann, who got a thousand dollars a night, he had to hire cheap singers for the other parts, and the chorus was abominable. Despite all these shortcomings the music was wonderful, "so beautiful . . . that one wishes the singers would not come on and spoil it."

Late in June Cather finished her year on the Home Monthly and went back to Nebraska for the summer, stopping off in Columbus to visit the Canfields, and was in Lincoln by the twenty-ninth. She spent the summer in Red Cloud, except for a week in the "wild west" in August. Writing Helen Seibel in July that the Home Monthly had been sold, she reported severing her connection with it. She would return to Pittsburgh in September to look for a newspaper job. Even though she was temporarily without employment, she seems not to have considered staying in Nebraska. She told the secretary of her class of 1895 the next year: "After spending the summer months of 1897 at home in Nebraska, I returned to Pittsburgh, leaving the Home Monthly at the expiration of my contract, to accept the more remunerative position of telegraph editor of the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, the largest evening paper in Pennsylvania.

On September 7, 1897, the Pittsburgh Leader telegraphed offering her a job at seventy-five dollars a month. She wrote Will Owen Jones asking him to get her transportation from Red Cloud to Lincoln and then on to Chicago. She said she had been writing stories that summer and getting on with them better than ever before, but she did not want to let the chance slip by to work full-time for the Leader. She did think she could write better in Red Cloud than anywhere, because in Pittsburgh she did the society act too much. Because Pittsburghers did not often take in strangers and she was as vain as the rest of her sex, she could not be a hermit there. But there were many summers ahead for writing, and in Pittsburgh there would be Calvé and Bernhardt and all the rest of the great. She was at the age of twenty-three far from ready to retire to a quiet corner to write. Besides, she was flattered to be offered this job when Pittsburgh was full of unemployed reporters. As far as journalism was concerned, she definitely had arrived.

A month after returning to Pittsburgh she wrote Louise Pound that she had expected to be the Leader 's drama critic, but a few days after her arrival the day telegraph editor had left for New York. Cather was asked to help do this work until they could get a man to take his place. She liked the work and had the wild idea of asking for the job herself. The management objected to her gender and inexperience, but she hung on and they said she could try. The work, she said, wasn't as thrilling as writing drama criticism, but the job was more responsible and remunerative. Her task was to edit and expand foreign cables. Foreign correspondents in those days did not file complete stories. She explained that a brief cable would come announcing the birth of a prospective duke of Marlborough and she would then have to supply a short history of the house. She also had to winnow the wheat from the chaff out of the vast amount of news that crossed her desk. The chief requisites were discretion, some general knowledge of foreign affairs and history, and the trick of writing headlines. She had trouble with the last. Then there were a dozen telegraph boys under foot all the time, and her copy was absolutely irrevocable once it went up the pneumatic tube to the linotype operators. She admitted that she was by nature slouchy and uncertain, and she thought Louise would appreciate how she had been on the race track since taking over the telegraph desk. Her efforts paid off, however, for the directors of the paper had met four days before and voted to give her the job permanently. She was now just one of the fellows and related with obvious satisfaction that the boys had given her a dinner to celebrate and another paper had run a story on her.

Thus the second year in Pittsburgh started off with a great burst of activity. Her hours on the telegraph desk were from eight until two, and she had the afternoons and evenings to herself to go to the theater and concerts and to write. Her six-hour stint, however, was strenuous. At one moment she had to hold the forms from going to press because some big news involving the king of Belgium was expected momentarily. Then she would be driven almost wild when some actress shot herself in Paris, and it was too late to get the story on the drama page where it belonged. The news would have to go with general coverage right next to a W.C.T.U. convention in Ohio. Then she had to think up different headlines for twelve suicides all at once. People, she said, showed such poverty of imagination in the way they killed themselves. But the political news was the toughest to handle. What was a person to do when one cable from Berlin reported that the kaiser had said thus and so and another from Vienna said just the opposite? The following summer she was still editing news on the telegraph desk, and because the Spanish-American War was going on, she had to postpone going home until August. She wrote in June that she had to stay in Pittsburgh grilling in the heat and writing headlines all about Cervera's being bottled up in Santiago Harbor. She thought the horrors of war were a good bit worse in newspaper offices than in the field.

The main event of 1898, however, was meeting Ethelbert Nevin. She may have met him through Mrs. John Slack, who lived lavishly in suburban Sewickley and gave musical parties to which Cather was sometimes invited. Her house and music room, which appear as part of the setting in "Uncle Valentine" (1925), were next door to Vineacre, the Nevin family estate. Or she could have met him through his brothers, who owned the Leader. In any event, the meeting took place in the winter after Nevin had returned from living in Europe to settle down at his boyhood home. Cather was charmed by him. He was her first real artist friend and in every way fitted her image of the artist. He had begun composing songs as a child, before he ever had studied music. His practical father had given him a musical education but then forced him to go into business. Escaping from this bondage, Nevin had become a restless world traveller, but wherever he went—Venice, Algiers, Boston—he wrote incessantly, turning out hundreds of musical compositions, often working at night, suffering from poor health most of the time. In an article Cather wrote on him for the Ladies' Home journal, she said: "Temperamentally Mr. Nevin is much the same blending of the blithe and the triste that gives his music its peculiar quality, now exultantly gay, now sunk in melancholy, as whimsical and capricious as April weather."

Nevin found Cather attractive and turned on his charm. She wrote Mariel Gere twice about him, describing him in such glowing terms that she admitted she sounded like a girl infatuated with a matinee idol. She said she had been spending a good bit of her leisure time with him, and he was about the most lovable man she ever had met. She was prouder of this friendship than she ever was of anything. He had a nobleness of soul that helped every life he touched. In her next letter she listed Nevin as the prince and king of all her Pittsburgh friends. That afternoon he had gone shopping with her, carried her bundles, and then bought her (in January) a bunch of violets as big as a moon. Think of it, she wrote, the greatest of American composers and a fellow of thirty with the face of a boy and the laugh of a girl. He actually was thirty-five, but to her he represented youth, vivacity, golden talent. When she returned from Red Cloud in the fall of 1898, Nevin telephoned to welcome her back to Pittsburgh and sent her a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets.

The shopping scene appears in "Uncle Valentine," and when Nevin died three years later his death was a bitter blow. She also put him into an earlier story, "'A Death in the Desert,"' as the fabulous Adriance Hillgarde, who shapes the tale but never appears on stage. The rather nasty portrait of Janet Oglethorpe, Uncle Valentine's ex-wife, has suggested to some observers that there may have been a rivalry between Cather and Anne Nevin, the composer's wife. The character of Janet is rather too much like Anne to be accidental. It is reasonable to conclude that Anne Nevin, who supplied the practical business sense her composer husband lacked, and Cather were opposites in temperament, as Cather and Roscoe Pound had been. Anne Nevin—who had a solid social position in Pittsburgh, two children, and a strong command of the situation—could not have felt threatened, but she may have felt that Cather came around too often. Nevin was dependent on his wife for her business acumen and for inspiration. He wrote his wife: "I am dependent on you. Miss Cather was right. My melody is you: my harmony is you." Cather realized this and said as much in a feature article in the Courier. Nevin thought enough of Cather to dedicate a love song to her, "The Silver Moon," and Cather wrote three poems in his memory, one of them, "Sleep, Minstrel, Sleep," beginning:
Sleep, minstrel, sleep; the winter wind's awake,
And yellow April's buried deep and cold.
The wood is black, and songful things forsake
The haunted forest when the year is old.

Also after Nevin died in 1901, Cather wrote the editor of the Ladies' Home Journal asking him to return to her the photographs of Nevin she had supplied for her article.

Cather's second year in Pittsburgh was as busy as the first. She continued to review plays and concerts, for which the paper paid her extra, and she covered special events. She also kept sending back columns to Nebraska, but this year she switched "The Passing Show" from the Journal to the Courier. She also conserved her energies by using the same material for both her Leader reviews and her Courier column. In October she wrote enthusiastically of John Philip Sousa's week of concerts at the Exposition Hall. Every newsboy was whistling music from his operetta El Capitan, and Cather "was inclined to thinkthat [Sousa was] the only man who has written music that is characteristically American." She was equally delighted with the Pittsburgh Symphony's playing of DvorÁk's New World Symphony. Its use of folk music, she thought, was splendid. DvorÁk had composed it in Iowa in 1893, and Cather first had heard it in Lincoln the following year. It made a great impression on her then, and she recreated this response in Thea Kronborg, who hears it at her first symphony concert when she is studying music in Chicago. When Nellie Melba appeared in The Barber of Seville, Cather was on hand to report the event. She was in rapture after the famous aria "Una Voce Poco Fa," which she described as "flawless perfection." "And it was sung as just one voice in all this world can sing it. One upon another they came, each sweeter than the last, those round, full unclouded tones, those notes of silver, shaken from her throat as lightly as the water drops from a sea gull's wing when it flies sunward in the golden dawn."

Cather's interest in the stage remained undiminished. When Minnie Maddern Fiske appeared in the dramatization of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, she thought it one of the "few really great plays" of the last quarter century. She even put it in the same class with the younger Dumas's La Dame aux Camélias. Mrs. Fiske's performance was worthy of the play: "Her triumph is one of absolute intelligence—of art." Her power was in "the naked truth and passionate sincerity of her work . . . . She appeals only to those who love the drama seriously as an art, not as a diversion." When Richard Mansfield introduced Shaw to America, Cather reviewed The Devil's Disciple, but she did not know exactly how to take Shaw. She found it impossible to judge him by ordinary laws of dramatic art because he violated all the rules, but she had to admit that "by its biting satire, its brilliant, whimsical intellectuality, [the play] achieves a distinct and startling originality which many a law-abiding drama woefully lacks. One thing is certain; from the Shaw and Mansfield combination nothing commonplace can ever come.

Cather also did general reporting from time to time. When President McKinley visited Pittsburgh, there was a great parade which Cather watched from the balcony of the Leader office on Fifth Avenue. She covered the event with her usual exuberance and noted that the crowds that greeted the chief executive's carriage seemed to love their president. As he passed through the streets, a cry went up "that will always echo in one's ears. It was so gigantic, this elephantine glee of the multitude, this transcendent passion of patriotism before which everything else is dwarfed and pale. It was like a mighty Wagnerian chorus." This demonstration took place just before the war with Spain, which the public was demanding, the "splendid little war," as John Hay, secretary of state, called it; and the president's popularity was running high. On another occasion Cather reported a lecture given by the Norwegian Arctic explorer Nansen and followed with an account of a banquet given in his honor. Although he had failed in his effort to reach the North Pole, he had come closer than anyone yet, and Cather thought him an authentic hero: "He went [for the Pole] because he was possessed of an old unrest, the Odysseus fever; because there sang in his blood that siren voice that is forever wooing us away from the life of hotels and theatres and electric lights, whispering to us of a larger liberty, of meeting Nature once more breast to breast, coping with her hand to hand."

Even though Cather was very busy with her new job and her reviewing, she was not chained to the telegraph desk all the time. She spent Thanksgiving with Dorothy Canfield, her brother Jim, and his fiancée in Columbus. Mr. and Mrs. Canfield were away, and the young people had a very social time with dinners, teas, and theater parties. At Christmas Dorothy and her mother came to Pittsburgh to visit. In February Cather made her first trip to New York when Franklin Fyles, the drama critic for the New York Sun, was ill and the paper invited her to be guest reviewer. Although she was only there a week, she thought she must have met every thespian in New York, but she did not much care for them. The high spot of the trip was lunch with Helena Modjeska, a delightful person whom Cather thought both a gentlewoman and a scholar. She had been interested in Modjeska ever since she had seen her in As You Like It in Lincoln six years before. She went to see her in New York in Schiller's Mary Stuart, which she reviewed for the Sun. Despite age and illness the great Polish actress's carriage was "beautifully graceful and dignified . . . queenly." "Nobody who sees Mme. Modjeska today . . . can fail to be impressed by the naturalness and simplicity of her method and its freedom from exaggeration." Younger actresses could learn a great deal from her. Many years later Mme. Modjeska appears at a New Year's Eve party in My Mortal Enemy much as Cather remembered her in 1898. Cather was offered a job on the Sun, but she found out it would be all night work, and besides, she wrote, she could not bear to leave her friends in Pittsburgh. She did not go to New York to stay for another eight years.

During the first two weeks of May she visited Washington for the first time, staying with her cousin Howard Gore, who was professor of mathematics at Columbian College (now George Washington University). This visit was more dazzling than she could have expected, for her cousin was getting ready to join the Wellman Polar Expedition and was busy saying good-bye to all his friends, many of whom were members of the diplomatic corps. Cather was thus on hand for a round of dinners and parties and wrote Frances Gere afterwards that she had met no end of interesting people. One dinner was with the Norwegian ambassador and diplomats from the German embassy, and on another occasion Cather went out to dinner with the chargé d'affaires of the Turkish embassy. She also was enchanted by her cousin's wife, the daughter of a former ambassador from Norway and a cousin of the king of Sweden, who was full of stories of court life in Scandinavia, sang Grieg's songs beautifully, and read from Ibsen like the tragic muse. Cather even talked of plans to visit Norway with her sometime. The busy round of social activities did not keep Cather from making the most of her opportunities and writing up the forthcoming polar expedition for the Associated Press.

Cather returned to Nebraska for two months' vacation in August. When she wrote a family friend at her mother's request, because she was a pencil-pusher by profession, she described activities in the Cather menage in Red Cloud. Jessica was playing waltzes on the piano, while she and Douglass danced. She and Roscoe were planning to leave for the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming for ten days of shooting. Roscoe was going to be principal of South Ward School next winter, and Douglass had just gotten a job in the Cheyenne office of the Burlington Railroad. She told another friend that she had learned to mix cocktails. When she went back to Pittsburgh in September, she was about to meet the most important friend of her life. She was still not yet twenty-five.

CHAPTER 7

Isabelle McClung and a New Career

Although the year 1898-99 was momentous for Cather, it began dismally. She no sooner returned from her summer travels than she came down with the grippe and for six weeks fought the virus without much success. Finally her doctor ordered her to go south to recuperate, but instead she decided she wanted the loving companionship of an old friend and went to Columbus. Dorothy Canfield, then a senior at Ohio State, was delighted to have her, pampered her, and after six days Cather was feeling like herself again. "She is a very different looking person from the parchment colored invalid who stepped off the train with such a cough," Dorothy wrote Mariel Gere in a letter that contains alternate pages written by both women. Cather reported that she had gone to Columbus hating the world and everyone in it. The next day after writing this joint letter she returned to Pittsburgh, and her first contribution to the Leader appeared on October 25. But she did not resume her column for the Courier until Christmas.

From the end of October until the end of July, when she returned home again, she contributed much less than usual to her papers in Pittsburgh and Lincoln. Whether her vitality was low or she was being paid better and did not have to write so much, the record does not say. In any event she wrote a book column about twice a month for the Leader and only occasionally reviewed plays. When she resumed her columns for the Courier, they also appeared about every other week. Meanwhile, there were no new stories appearing anywhere, nor would she place any fiction at all for another year and a half. This is a surprisingly barren period for one who had been writing so easily and with such demonic energy.

She apparently had one literary project in the works, however, an idea for a book that had resulted from her experiences as a theater and music critic. She decided to write a series of open letters to various stage personalities, letters that were assessments of the subjects' strengths and weaknesses. She put together such a volume and sent it off to a publisher, but nothing happened. The manuscript was considered by several publishers, but no one wanted to bring it out. Her cousin Howard Gore had encouraged her to produce the manuscript, but he was a mathematician, not a drama critic. She then sent it to Arthur Stedman, one of the minor New York literati, hoping that he could find her a publisher, but, as she wrote a year later to another New York friend, Leonard Van Noppen, writer and translator: "Stedman did nothing with the manuscripts except get them dirty and cause me a considerable loss of time . . . . [They] are now with R. H. Russell & Co. of New York. Do you happen to know any of his people? If you do I'd be mightily obliged if you could speak a word for them and ask him what he thinks of them. Rupert Hughes, of the Criterion, says they will surely go somewhere."

They did not, and it was perhaps just as well. The letters were all addressed to very active personalities who would not have been flattered by some of her remarks. Some of the things she had to say have survived because she published three of the letters in her "Passing Show" column. In the one addressed to Nat Goodwin, for example, she told him that he was a charming fellow but with a limited range—in short, an intellectual lightweight. She hoped he never would be tempted by his admirers to do Shakespeare's comedies; he wasn't up to them. Then she concluded: "At any rate we like you for what you are, not for what you might be; something of a scapegrace, a good deal of a vagabond, and just enough of an artist to redeem your qualities. You are incorrigible, sir, and I for one like you the more for it." Cather gave a copy of her manuscript to Dorothy Canfield, who found it among her papers twenty-five years later and asked what she should do with the letters. Burn them, Cather wrote back. If anyone ever got hold of them, she thought, they would be a prime source for blackmail.

One stage personality for whom Cather had only praise was Lizzie Hudson Collier, an actress she had first seen perform in Lincoln. She was the leading lady of the New Grand Opera Stock Company when Cather arrived in Pittsburgh, and the two women became good friends. Collier was enormously popular and was universally admired as an exemplary human being as well as a first-rate actress. To illustrate Collier's generous nature, Cather told her readers of an episode that had occurred when Collier was playing a role requiring a live baby. The woman who produced the child was a slum dweller who took her infant home to her tenement each night after the performance. On one particular night when the temperature dropped below zero Collier refused to let the mother take the ill-clad child home in such weather. She bundled the baby up in her furs and took it to her own hotel suite for the night. "When she arrived at 11:30, all dressed in black and carrying this unaccustomed burden through the snowy winter night," Cather wrote, "she looked for all the world like the betrayed and deserted heroine of a Bijou melodrama who returns to receive the paternal curse."

On another occasion, when Cather dropped into Collier's dressing room feverish with a severe bronchial cold, the actress insisted on taking her back in a cab to the Schenley Hotel and putting her to bed in her own room. Then she nursed her for several days, even though she was playing every night. Cather wrote of Collier after her first year in Pittsburgh: "I never come out of the theatre with her after a matinee that there is not a string of carriages lined up in front of the stage entrance full of worshipful girls, who wave and smile at her and gaze at me with green-eyed jealousy and deep-seated loathing . . . for here I am walking coolly with this 'popular idol' with my sordid, mundane little spirit fixed on nothing loftier than where we will go for dinner."

One day backstage in Collier's dressing room Cather met one of those worshipful girls. It was a meeting that changed her life, for the other Collier fan was Isabelle McClung, the tall, handsome daughter of a socially prominent and affluent Pittsburgh family. The two women were immediately drawn to one another, and the friendship that began that day grew into a great love that lasted a lifetime. They were inseparable companions during Cather's remaining years in Pittsburgh and spent a great deal of time together during the decade after Cather moved to New York. Two years after meeting her, Cather moved into the McClungs' large new house at 1180 Murray Hill Avenue, in the fashionable Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. She lived there for the rest of the years she remained in Pennsylvania, and later often returned there for extended visits. She had a former sewing room on the third floor as her study and spent many profitable hours writing there. The relationship between the two women changed inevitably after McClung got married in 1916, but their mutual love never diminished. Though they saw each other rarely in later years, they corresponded frequently. When McClung died in 1938, Cather did not think she could go on living, but after she recovered from her grief and reflected on the long years of friendship, she believed that McClung had been the one person for whom all her books had been written.

McClung was not an artist herself, but she had a passionate interest in the arts, and promoting Cather's career became one of the major interests of her life. Her background was stern Pittsburgh Presbyterianism, such as Cather had satirized, but she was not at all like her dour, conservative father, a tough judge of Scottish descent. While the McClungs lived expansively and expected their children to conduct themselves as well-behaved young socialites, Isabelle cultivated actresses, musicians, and writers. Judge McClung ran his family with a heavy hand, but apparently he found Cather, despite her frivolous vocation, acceptable as his daughter's friend.

There has been considerable speculation over the circumstances surrounding Cather's moving into the McClung house as a permanent resident. Did the family oppose this move? Did Isabelle threaten to leave home if she could not have her friend live with them? Did Cather's presence create friction among members of the family? The answer to all these questions is probably no. Edith Lewis thought that Isabelle "apparently had no difficulty in persuading her father and mother to invite Willa Cather to become a member of the McClung household," and although Lewis was not an unbiased witness, she was in as good a position as anyone to know. It hardly seems likely that Cather would have thrust herself into a domestic imbroglio. It was an unusual arrangement, to be sure, but there is no reliable evidence that it did not work out reasonably well. As time went on, Cather became close to the entire family. She was present in Pittsburgh for the wedding of Edith McClung and later corresponded with her. She also let Isabelle's brother manage some of her investments. The McClungs visited her in New York, and she was on hand and deeply concerned when Mrs. McClung had a near-fatal stroke in 1912.

The McClung house was large, elegant, solid, comfortable. Operated by a staff of servants, it provided a sharp contrast to the boardinghouses Cather had lived in in Lincoln and Pittsburgh or the cramped little house in Red Cloud overflowing with siblings. She had her own room on the third floor, where there was a bathroom, and her study was nearby. From the study she could look down to the garden and trees. The house sat high on a hill overlooking the roofs of other elegant homes, the tops of trees, flowerbeds, and shrubbery. No longer did she have to stand in line to use the bathroom or live in a house where cooking odors permeated the bedrooms. This was luxury that Cather enjoyed. She never had extravagant tastes, but she liked comfort and above all privacy. Dorothy Canfield Fisher remembered: "There was a good deal of stately entertaining carried on in the McClung house too, the many-coursed dinners of the most formal kind, which seemed picturesque (and they really were) to Willa." Her friends in Nebraska who feared she was living a Bohemian life need not have worried. Her career as a novelist was actually delayed by her desire not to cut loose and live in a garret while she learned the craft of fiction. But she did write the first stories that she thought worth preserving in her study on Murray Hill Avenue.

Details of the Cather-McClung relationship come from secondhand sources or from occasional comments in letters Cather wrote other friends. All of the hundreds of letters that passed between the two women were destroyed, except for three letters written from Europe by Isabelle late in her life. These three letters are warm and affectionate, demonstrating that the love between the two remained constant; but the recent suggestion that Cather retrieved her letters after Isabelle's death and destroyed them to remove incriminating evidence of a sexual relationship is probably without merit. Cather as she grew older became increasingly obsessed with privacy and determined if possible to confront posterity with only the works that she had prepared for publication. She destroyed all the letters she could retrieve from any friend who predeceased her. She would have destroyed her early stories and her newspaper writing if she could have.

Cather's love for Isabelle McClung has created considerable speculation about her sexual orientation. Contemporary frankness in discussing sexual matters inevitably raises the question of lesbianism. Was this friendship a physical lesbian relationship? Some critics believe it was, but there is no external evidence to support it. Indeed, there is not one reference to sexual relations in all the hundreds of her letters that have survived. If one defines a lesbian as a woman who has sexual relations with another woman, Cather cannot be called a lesbian on the basis of available records. On the other hand, if a lesbian is a woman whose primary emotional attachments are to other women, regardless of sexual relations, the definition adopted by some feminists, then Cather was most certainly a lesbian. There is no disputing that her closest friends were women—Louise Pound first, then Isabelle McClung, later Edith Lewis, Zoë Akins, and Elizabeth Sergeant. After deciding not to marry Preston Farrar in 1898, Cather never had any close relationships with men whose friendships could or were likely to lead to matrimony. She was very close to her brothers and her father; to S. S. McClure, who was married and much older; and to Alfred Knopf, who also was married and young enough to be her nephew. It is impossible to say whether Cather's emotional ties to women resulted from inherent tendencies or from the fact that relations with women avoided involvement with male egos and the possibility of children. Critics are stating inference, not fact, when they say that "Cather was a lesbian who could not or did not, acknowledge her homosexuality and who, in her fiction, transformed her emotional life and experiences into acceptable forms and guises." Or who say she felt the need to be reticent about love between women in her fiction because "she bore a burden of guilt for what came to be labeled perversion." She knew, of course, that society regarded sexual relations between women as unnatural, as her early letter to Louise Pound implies, but this did not keep her from having close friendships with women or from living for nearly forty years with Edith Lewis. As Cather grew older, her high regard for traditional values, her strong sense of decorum, and her close ties to family would have been strong deterrents to anything she regarded as deviant behavior.

Cather's book notices during her third year in Pittsburgh show continuing interests and some new enthusiasms. When one of James's later long stories, In the Cage, came out, she reviewed it perceptively, called it a "remarkable story," and praised James's "sympathetic handling of his subject," the story of "a young lady telegraphist shut up for eight hours a day in a cage of a telegraph office . . . in a suburban district of London." She devoted two columns in the Courier, one in the Leader, and an article for the Home Monthly to Richard Realf, poet, soldier, and workman who had spent six of the "happiest years of his disordered life in Pittsburgh" and whose poems recently had been collected. He was a romantic, Byronic type who had committed suicide in San Francisco after a wasted life, and some of his poems she found powerful and poignant. The bitter, ironic poetry of Stephen Crane, however, she cared for not at all. When she reviewed War Is Kind, she wrote, "Either Mr. Crane is insulting the public or insulting himself, or he has developed a case of atavism and is chattering the primeval nonsense of the apes."

Of considerably more interest are her reviews of Frank Norris's McTeague and Kate Chopin's The Awakening. One might expect Cather to dislike Norris's naturalistic novel of a San Francisco dentist destroyed by his inability to cope with life. But she began her review, "A new and a great book has been written," and went on to praise the minute descriptions of Polk Street as "convincing proof of power, imagination and literary skill" and the invention as "vigorous and bold." On the other hand, Chopin's novel was a great disappointment. She wondered why Chopin devoted so "exquisite and sensitive, well-governed a style to so trite and sordid a theme." There was no need for a second Madame Bovary, as she termed the novel, and she had no patience with the heroine, Edna Pontellier, who demanded "more romance out of life than God put into it." Women of the Bovary type, she wrote, "really expect the passion of love to fill and gratify every need of life, whereas nature only intended that it should meet one of many demands." This response to the novel shows no sympathy at all for nineteenth-century women trapped in matrimony in a male-dominated society. It also reveals Cather's own belief in romantic love as a destructive force and helps to explain her own avoidance of entangling emotional relationships.

Two other novelists that Cather might have been expected to disparage but did not were Zola and Harold Frederic. Cather thought that Zola was perhaps the "greatest mind in France today," and she admired his courage in taking on the French establishment in the then-current Dreyfus affair. But "his greatness as a man," she wrote, "has not always been to his advantage as an artist." She had read Zola extensively and never had cared for the naturalism of the Rougon-Macquart novels; yet in Germinal, which had just appeared, she thought the artist and theorist were in perfect balance and the result was "the greatest of labor novels." Frederic, who had died relatively young in 1898, was a realist whose novels Cather liked, despite her usual aversion towards realism. She reviewed his posthumously published The Market Place as a book worth reading and deplored the untimely death of a promising talent. In summing up Frederic's career, she recalled that his best novel, The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), which is about a Methodist minister's loss of faith, was for the first two hundred pages "as good as anything in American fiction."

Cather's occasional reviews of plays and musical events also gave her additional chances to extol the merits of her favorite actors and singers. She went to see Minnie Maddern Fiske, Julia Marlowe, Richard Mansfield, and Olga Nethersole on the stage. She reveled in Fiske's "penetrating intellect," thought Marlowe's Rosalind in As You Like It a marvel, enjoyed Mansfield's Cyrano de Bergerac, and found Nethersole's performance "interesting and artistic" in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, "the greatest play written in the English tongue for many a long day." This year Cather also had a chance finally to hear Wagner well performed when the New York Metropolitan Opera Company brought Lohengrin and Die Walküre to Pittsburgh with Nordica, Schumann-Heink, and the two de Reszkes in the casts. These performances were "something long to be remembered."

When Cather went home for the summer in 1899, she treated herself to a leisurely boat trip through the Great Lakes, about one thousand miles by water, with a day's stopover at Mackinac Island. She wrote Mariel Gere that she would be in Nebraska by August 6, but her mother, who was then living in Lincoln, was sick and she expected to have to spend all her time with her and probably would not get to visit with Lincoln friends. She was not alarmed about her mother but worried and felt her filial duty strongly. Whatever else she did during that summer is unrecorded, but she certainly did some writing. She tried a one-act farce, "The Westbound Train," that she gave to Sarah Harris for the Courier in September, and she perhaps wrote an important story, "Eric Hermannson's Soul," that she sold to the Cosmopolitan for publication the following April.

Although she had been a drama critic for six years, she had not tried writing drama since she was literary editor of the Hesperian. Reprinted in her Collected Short Fiction, "The Westbound Train" is a unique item in that gathering. She never tried writing a play again. It resembles nothing so much as one of Howells's little farces that she earlier had been rather contemptuous of. Taking place in the Union Pacific depot at Cheyenne, the farce consists mostly of a monologue by a woman en route to San Francisco to meet her husband. It involves mistaken identity, another woman, a misdirected telegram, and, of course, a happy resolution of the muddle. The little piece is an entertaining trifle; but humor is relatively rare in Cather's work.

She returned to Pittsburgh early in October 1899 to begin her fourth year in the East. She stopped off in Chicago en route to Pennsylvania to see Elia Peattie and to have dinner with Peter Finley Dunne (Mr. Dooley). Her first surviving letter to Dorothy Canfield was written on the twelfth from the McClung home on Murray Hill Avenue. Cather must have gone there to stay for a while after returning from Nebraska before finding herself another boardinghouse. Canfield by this time had gone to Paris with her mother and was beginning her graduate work in Romance languages. Isabelle McClung, two years older than Dorothy but four years Cather's junior, was taking Dorothy's place as the adoring younger friend. Cather reported to Dorothy that Isabelle had met her at the Union Station and they had been tramping about in the hills and listening to Walter Damrosch's orchestra.

By the fall of 1899 it is clear that Cather was getting tired of daily journalism. She had been writing for the papers since her junior year in college and was ready for a change. Her old friend Elia Peattie, whom she had known as a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, was then in Chicago and was urging her to come too. Peattie, who had become a nationally published fiction writer, thought that there was no woman journalist in Chicago who could touch Cather. At that moment Cather rather thought she would go to Chicago, but nothing came of this project. It is likely that by spring Isabelle was reason enough for Cather to stay on in Pittsburgh. She remained and the following summer for the first time did not go home to Nebraska. After deciding to stay, she also made the decision to quit the Leader, and her last contribution to the paper appeared on April 19, 1900.

The appearance of "Eric Hermannson's Soul" in a large national magazine may have given her the courage to leave the paper. The story, a long and subtle one, is a very competent piece of fiction and marks a clear advance in her narrative skill. Returning to the world of Nebraska and the material of "On the Divide," it creates another blond giant as a protagonist but a much more complex character than Canute Canuteson. Eric is a young Siegfried who has emigrated to Nebraska at eighteen, worked in the fields, played his fiddle at all the dances, hugged the girls, and visited Lena Henson, a woman of dubious reputation. When a passionate exhorter from the fundamentalist Free Gospellers captures Eric's soul, he puts away his violin and becomes another one of the dull clods from the Old World "sobered by toil and saddened by exile." At this juncture beautiful Margaret Elliot comes out of the East to visit on the Divide. She meets Eric, is attracted to him, rides with him, and plays the organ for him, "probably the first good music he had ever heard."The hold of the Free Gospellers loosens. Eric falls in love with the accomplished Margaret. He agrees, at her urging, to play his fiddle again and to attend a dance she is giving before her departure for home. In doing so, he barters his soul, as he believes, for one evening of pleasure. The story ends with Margaret getting on the train and Eric, in possession of his soul, deaf to the reproaches of the Free Gospellers' preacher.

A bare plot summary does injustice to this tale. It is the way the material is handled and the careful management of detail that make the story significant. One notices first of all that Cather is beginning to possess her material and to handle it with a measure of aesthetic distance that makes one both see and feel the world of immigrant farmers on the Divide. The prairie, the grass, the fields of wheat and rye, the western sky—all are evoked, not simply described. In one particularly effective scene Eric and Margaret climb the windmill, as Willa and her brother Roscoe had done in the summer of 1893 when they visited Uncle George's farm, to view the clear night sky stretching away to the distant horizon, "which seemed to reach around the world." As they watch, the weary wind carries the heavy odor of the cornfields to them and the music of the dance sounds faintly from below. Before they descend there is one passionate kiss, which frightens Margaret and makes her draw back from the love she sees in Eric's eyes. There is tension in this scene and a skillful development of the conflict between East and West. The author's sympathies lie with the West, but she understands the pull of culture and civilization. Also, her developing technique is nowhere better shown than in a scene depicting powerful sexual emotion without exceeding the limits permissible in magazine fiction of that day. In a ride across the prairie one afternoon Eric and Margaret meet a pack of wild horses, and Margaret's pony nearly stampedes. Eric jumps off his horse, grabs the bit of Margaret's rearing pony, and while it is biting and kicking viciously, subdues it. The scene, which has an orgastic intensity, is followed immediately by Eric's declaration of love. The entire story is well conceived and well executed and avoids the sentimental ending of the standard Western, which Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) would inaugurate, in which boy gets girl and the happy couple ride off into the sunset together.

Even before her last by-line appeared in the Leader, Cather had made a change. She joined the staff of a short-lived, five-cent weekly paper called the Library . Charles Clark, a young man with literary ambitions, inherited twenty thousand dollars and launched the publication with great expectations and small realizations. The venture only lasted six months, until the money ran out, but during its brief life Cather contributed weekly stories and articles and was decently paid for her work. She wrote five stories, seven poems, and sixteen articles and essays, using her own name and five different pseudonyms. She also revised the early story "Peter" for its third appearance and reprinted "A Night at Greenway Court." The essays show a growing maturity and more leisurely composition, while the stories demonstrate that she was still trying out various subjects and themes. The essays include the article on Crane, the Brownville piece ("The Hottest Day I Ever Spent"), and the profile of Bryan. But she also wrote on opera personalities, pictures at the Carnegie Gallery, and "The Men Who Make the Pittsburgh Papers."

The five stories that appeared in the Library are not very important. "The Sentimentality of William Tavener" is the story with a Virginia memory already mentioned. "A Singer's Romance" is a reworking of the material in "Nanette, An Aside,"an opera-singer story, but this time told from the point of view of the singer rather than her maid. The singer foreshadows the fictional portrait of Nordica, which appeared sixteen years later in "The Diamond Mine." "The Conversion of Sum Loo" is another Chinese story set in San Francisco, where Cather never had been, and invites comparison with the earlier tale, "The Son of the Celestial." This time the protagonist is a Chinese businessman whose infant son dies after he allows his wife to have the baby baptized at a Christian mission. The pathos is feeble, and the story is certainly one of Cather's bad apples. "The Dance at Chevalier's" is also a poor story that Cather signed with a pseudonym. Dealing with the rivalry of a Mexican and an Irishman for the affections of the beautiful Severina Chevalier, it ends with the Mexican poisoning the Irishman. This story's only interest lies in its use of the French Canadian settlement north of Red Cloud that Cather later evoked memorably in O Pioneers! "The Affair at Grover Station" is a ghost story far more skillfully done than the early football story that Dorothy Canfield supplied the plot for in 1893. Again Cather explored the dark underside of romanticism, the world of the grotesque, which would become an important aspect of her late novels. As the narrator says, "It's a grewsome tale, and someway we don't like to be reminded that there are more things in heaven and earth than our systems of philosophy can grapple with." The story has a deep-dyed villain of Oriental origin who murders the debonair station agent after quarreling with him over the beautiful daughter of a former Wyoming senator. The ghost of the dead man appears to the narrator and writes on a blackboard the clue to finding the body. When the body is found in a locked boxcar many miles away, it has chalk on its fingers. The story is a good yarn, set neatly in a framing device, and it no doubt owes its authentic command of technical railroading to Douglass Cather, who worked for the Burlington in Cheyenne.

After staying through the summer in Pittsburgh, Cather was ready by fall for a change of scenery. Writing Will Owen Jones from Pittsburgh on September 29, when she thought she soon would have to return to Nebraska, she said she had taken the position on the Library only temporarily. Though it was a good job, the problem was that her mother was sick again, and her family wanted to move to Lincoln. Her mother was too ill to load the cookstove, she reported, and she would have to do it. She expected to be in Nebraska by November to stay for the winter. Could Jones use her on the Journal ? She would not be too haughty to work for her old paper, and besides, she had lost the art of loafing and couldn't write verse and fiction all the time: about three or four days a week were enough. After that her head got muddy. Her letter concludes by saying that she had had a wonderful year, the happiest of her life so far. There were a lot of her things coming out in the fall, both in prose and verse, and the world was a good place to live in. She was exaggerating a good deal in the first half of her statement, as she published only the piece on Nevin in November and two poems in December, but she may already have sold "Jack-a-Boy" to the Saturday Evening Post, which printed it in March. Undoubtedly her growing love for Isabelle McClung added greatly to the sum of happiness of that year.

Instead of returning to Nebraska, however, Cather went to Washington. She stayed with her cousin Howard Gore and found a job translating letters and documents for the United States Commission to the Paris Exposition of 1900. Tom Outland's impressions of the national capital in The Professor's House no doubt mirror her memories of working in a government building at this time: "How it did use to depress me to see all the hundreds of clerks come pouring out of that big building [the War Department] at sunset! Their lives seemed to me so petty, so slavish . . . . Thousands of them, all more or less like the couple I lived with. They seemed to me like people in slavery." But Tom also remembered from his walks about the White House grounds in late afternoon "those beautiful, hazy, sad sunsets, white columns and green shrubbery, and the [Washington] monument shaft still pink while the stars were coming out." Cather remained in Washington until about the middle of March, though she made a trip back to Pittsburgh for Nevin's funeral in February. As the writing habit was inveterate, she also became a Washington correspondent for the Journal and the Index of Pittsburgh Life, which had absorbed the defunct Library. Her Washington correspondence ran from December to March, after which she returned to Pittsburgh, moved into the McClungs' house, and became a high school teacher.

Her thirteen columns for the Journal and twelve for the Index reviewed plays and concerts, interviewed public personalities, covered art exhibitions, and described in general life in the capital. Her first column reported on the opening session of the Senate and another performance by Teresa Carreñio. Because Washington did not have a proper auditorium, Señora Carreño had to play in a church where the Ten Commandments were frescoed in red and yellow above her head. At one point she was studying them so intently that she almost missed a cue. But the concert was a success: it "came in like a lamb and went out like a lion," beginning with Mozart and ending with Liszt.

Although Cather went back to Pittsburgh to spend her usual Christmas with the Seibels, she was in Washington for most of the holiday season, which supplied material for her column. The weather was so mild that people went about without wraps, but "the street corners were gay with flower stands" and there was a "forest of Christmas trees and holly bushes about the old market place." The avalanche of Christmas presents that descended on President McKinley from admirers throughout the country interested her. "During the W. C. T. U. convention here I heard one lady complain that an oil painting executed by herself, which she had sent the President last Christmas, was nowhere to be found in the White House reception rooms."

The theater, as usual, occupied a great deal of Cather's attention. She went to see a production of Hedda Gabler just after Christmas, and in January she had the unusual opportunity to see Maude Adams and Sarah Bernhardt perform in the same play, Rostand's L'Aiglon. Ibsen was never one of her favorites, and she thought the tragedy in Hedda Gabler was unconvincing; but she reported that the young actress, Blanche Bates, who played the title role had an enviable intellectual grasp of the role and was "one of the most intelligentfaces among the actresses of the younger generation." After seeing Adams on Saturday night and Bernhardt on the following Monday, she wrote: "A complete analysis of the two renderings would be futile and would be little less than brutal to the young actress." But she made the analysis anyway, though she noted after panning Adams that her schooling had been "of the most superficial nature" and that her head had been "early turned by the indiscriminating adulation of a fatuous and fickle public." Bernhardt, on the other hand, after thirty-eight years on the stage still had the marvelous voice that French poets thirty years before used to write about: some of her lines "once heard cannot soon be forgotten." As for acting, in the duke's death scene Bernhardt "rose to absolute sublimity," while Adams failed utterly, getting from it only "cheap pathos."

For her last contribution to the Index Cather went to Georgetown to visit "one of the quaint 'literary landmarks' of Washington . . . the little red cottage . . . where for nearly fifty years Mrs. [E.D.E.N.] Southworth planned adventures for self-sacrificing chambermaids and noble, though affectionate factory girls." She confessed to her readers that she made the trip "in the spirit of jest," for the endless procession of novels produced by Mrs. Southworth belonged with the trashy fiction of Ouida and Marie Corelli that Cather never could stand. But she was rather humbled by the experience, as she reflected on the appalling amount of "physical labor the poor woman accomplished, sitting in the little library facing the river, writing thousands upon thousands of pages." Cather ended up marveling at the "passion for creative experiments" that drove Mrs. Southworth, and that artistically ended "just where it had begun." She doubted if Henry James himself was "more sincere, or whether his literary conscience [was] more exacting than was hers." Cather was no longer quite the brash, self-assured young critic she had been when she began her journalistic career.

About the time Cather was switching from journalism to teaching, two more of her stories appeared—"Jack-a-Boy" in the Saturday Evening Post (a magazine she later disparaged) and "Eldorado: A Kansas Recessional" in the New England Magazine. Neither story reflects much credit on her, but the former is interesting as a tribute to her youngest brother Jack, then eight years old. She always had special affection for this little brother, missed him when she was away from Red Cloud, and when he was ready for college, sent him to Carnegie Tech. The story is the sentimental tale of a little boy who moves into an urban apartment house and charms an elderly professor of classics, the Woman Nobody Called On, and the narrator, a female music teacher. After giving these characters a new lease on life with his winning ways, the little boy dies of scarlet fever. Post readers in 1900 probably found the pathos touching, but Cather had not yet learned how to inject sentiment without becoming sentimental. She was still under the deleterious influence of Nevin, who had told her that as a child he had been taught never to be afraid of sentiment. The other story, "A Kansas Recessional," also is hardly memorable. It concerns a scam in which a Virginia colonel, a former Confederate officer, is sold land in western Kansas. The story is told with heavy irony, with an O. Henry surprise ending in which the colonel gets his money back, but not much can be said for it. New England readers, however, may have been comforted to read about the horrors of life in Kansas and the misfortunes of gullible investors in western real estate.

Cather began her career as teacher at Central High School in March. Just how she got the job is not known, but she was a mid-semester replacement for a teacher who resigned because of ill health. Judge McClung may have heard of the opening and recommended her, as he and a senior member of the English Department were fellow alumni of Washington and Jefferson College. Also some of the members of the Pittsburgh School Board lived not far from the McClungs, and the judge may have suggested her to one of them. Or Charles Gerwig, then secretary of the Board of Education of Allegheny, across the river, may have been responsible. At any rate, the High School Journal reported in its Easter issue that "Miss Cather, another new teacher, has now taken Miss Heard's place in Room 19 as teacher of Latin, Algebra, and Composition." From March until the end of the school year in June Cather had to work harder than she ever had before to keep up with her classes. Teaching composition was a breeze, and Latin she knew well, though grammar never had received much of her attention; but algebra must have been an ordeal. She had taken four years to work off the freshman math requirement at the University of Nebraska, and having to teach algebra could only have cost her great effort. She really must have been weary of journalism to let herself in for this demanding schedule. When she returned to Red Cloud for the summer, she was worn out and had lost twenty pounds. She wrote the Seibels that she had not been able to see them before leaving because of the horrors of the high school final exams.

She was not too exhausted, however, to accept an invitation to be guest editor for the August numbers of Sarah Harris's Courier. This she did in July before leaving to spend several weeks in the Rocky Mountains. In the columns she wrote she discussed a wide variety of topics, including western railroads; the writer Ernest Seton-Thompson, whom she had met in Washington; the composers Edward MacDowell and Victor Herbert; the Chicago Art Institute; Eden Phillpott's new novel; small-town life; Homestead, Pennsylvania; D'Annunzio's novel Il Fuoco ; and Eleanora Duse. She wrote enthusiastically about MacDowell's music, but to ask Herbert for inspired composition, she said, was like "asking for champagne at a mutton shop." Yet, Herbert, as conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, had proved a good business manager, was popular with his musicians, and had pulled the orchestra out of debt. The Chicago Art Institute, Cather thought, was a wonderful museum performing a valuable service in public education. "There are thousands of people all over the prairies who have seen their first and only good pictures there." Her taste in art at this point ran more to Jules Breton's Song of the Lark and the peasant folk of Millet than to the ballet dancers of Degas.

Eden Phillpott was one of Cather's literary enthusiasms, and she greeted his Sons of the Morning as "a remarkable new book." She liked his sympathetic portrayal of the British yeoman and thought he was one of the few younger writers who could step into the shoes of Hardy, Meredith, or George Moore. She wished that there were some American writer who "could write of the American common people, the people on whom the burden of labor rested, who plant the corn and cut the wheat and drive the drays and mine the coal and forge the iron and move the world." American writers who did write about the people, she declared, "all write of trusts and strikes and corporations and man-devouring railroads, of the mere conditions of labor and not of men at all." She was calling for a writer of her own description, for she herself would in a dozen years begin writing of the people who "plant the corn and cut the wheat."

Cather was always interested in story-telling for children and had done great deal of it herself for her younger brothers and sister, but she took a dim view of the story-telling hours then becoming popular among children's librarians. "They tell the story of the Trojan War, omitting, the story Helen's elopement; the story of Faust expurgated for the youthful mind; the story of Napoleon's energy, maintaining a careful silence as to his ambition." These enthusiastic librarians were trying to abolish evil from literature for the benefit of young minds. She thought it did a child no service to keep him from "the knowledge that the world is a hard place to live in, and that he will have to do many difficult and distasteful things before he gets through with it."

Her account of Homestead, Pennsylvania, must have been eye-opening for Lincoln readers. She described in vivid detail the conditions in Potterville, the stockade within which lived the immigrant laborers who worked in Carnegie steel plant. The stockade had been built by Superintendent John Potter during the strike of 1892 to house scab labor—Germans, Slavs, Italians, Russians, blacks—while the union was being crushed. They lived there in a state of barbarism, seventy inmates in a six-room house, for example. When one worker got out of bed, another took his place, and on Saturday nights "the whiskey drunk in Homestead . . . would float an ocean steamer." She commented sardonically that the splendid library Carnegie had built at Homestead was used only by "the bosses and draughtsmen and office forces." The mill hands, who toiled twelve hours a day, six days a week, had no leisure to enjoy Carnegie's bounty.

When Cather returned to Pittsburgh in the fall of 1901, she resumed her duties at Central High School as a full-time English teacher. Perhaps she had been willing to put up with teaching Latin, algebra, and composition during the preceding spring because she knew there would be a resignation in the English Department in the fall. She remained at Central High for two more years, then moved across the river to Allegheny High School to replace her friend Preston Farrar, and taught there until 1906, when Sam McClure carried her off to New York to be one of his editors. Cather might have remained a high school teacher indefinitely if this had not happened. She wrote an old friend in 1940 that she liked to teach and could have stuck it out forever if McClure had not happened to see some of her stories. Apparently her plan was to use her spare time, especially her summer vacations, to write until she felt able to drop teaching and become a full-time writer. Her sale of stories to the Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post must have encouraged her to think she could do this. She also wanted to write a novel. Her salary was only $650 a year, certainly less than she had made at the Leader, but free room and board at the McClungs' more than made up the difference.

Central High School was a dismal, grimy structure on a bluff overlooking the Union Station. There were four stories of gray stone topped by two ugly towers. It seemed to Emerson Graves, the title character in "The Professor's Commencement," a story Cather published the year after she began teaching, like "a fortress set upon the dominant acclivity of that great manufacturing city, a stronghold of knowledge in the heart of Mammon's kingdom." In the fall and winter, fog from the river and smoke from the soft coal burned by Pittsburgh industries made the city dark and dirty. Sometimes street lights had to be turned on in mid-day. The trains passing below added their share to the noise and filth. "Often, when some lad was reading aloud in the classroom, the puffing of the engines in the switch yard at the foot of the hill would drown the verse and the young voice entirely." The inside of the building was old and decrepit-floors worn down, walls defaced, and one had to climb three dingy flights of stairs to get to Cather's room on the top floor.

Although "The Professor's Commencement" concerns the reflections of a high school English teacher on the eve of retirement, his attitude towards his work and his students is Cather's. "Nominally he was a professor of English Literature, but his real work had been to try to secure for youth the rights of youth; the right to be generous, to dream, to enjoy; to feel a little the seduction of the old Romance, and to yield a little." Many of Cather's students no doubt were like the professor's students, "boys and girls from the stories and offices, destined to return thither, and hypnotized by the glitter of yellow metal. They were practical, provident, unimaginative, and mercenary at sixteen." But not all.

One of her most famous students, Norman Foerster, who became a well-known critic and professor of American literature, remembered her as a teacher whose manner seemed natural and human, but without contagious sparks. "Her voice was deeper than is usual; she spoke without excitement; her manner was quiet, reposeful, suggesting reserves of energy and richness of personality." Another student recalled that Cather was "one of the very few young teachers in a faculty of gray-haired veterans." Still another remembered that her manner towards students was very forthright. She called the boys by their last names, which was unusual, and demanded their attention with a no-nonsense approach.

When her students walked into her classroom at the beginning of the school year, they found a rather masculine young woman sitting on her desk. She told them her name was not pronounced "Kyther" or "Kayther," but it rhymed with "Rather." Her voice was deep. She wore the starched shirt waists that her journalistic colleagues were familiar with, sometimes Buster Brown collars with red or black ties knotted four-in-hand or Windsor style, and a skirt short enough to show her ankles. One day they saw blue stockings with white polka dots, another time spats. She walked about her classroom with a manly stride, wore shoes with rubber heels, and talked to her students with thumbs in belt or pockets. She had already begun to comb her hair back in pompadour fashion, and when she finished a discussion, she smiled. Her students remembered "beautiful, even white teeth."

As a composition teacher, Cather knew that the only way to learn to write was to write."She set us to writing themes, one every class day, usually in the first ten minutes of the period." The subjects were simple: "My First Party," "An Italian Fruit Stand," "My Favorite Play." She red-penciled "fine writing" of the kind she had indulged in as an undergraduate in college. She probably was thinking of her former pupils when she wrote her well-known essay "The Novel Démeublé" twenty years later and referred to "that drudge, the theme-writing high school student." Her method was "designed to teach us first to observe carefully, then to describe and narrate clearly." She was hard to please and graded themes severely. She seldom gave a grade of more than 85 and that rarely. "Mostly we got 70s and occasionally achieved an 80 on our themes which were all carefully corrected and returned to us."

When she received an outstanding theme, however, she did not stint her praise. One student named George Hughey recalled an occasion when Cather asked him to stay after class. She wanted to know if he had attended the transportation exhibition that he had been assigned to write about for a contest. He said he had. She wanted to know why then he had not produced the required essay:"If you don't hand in an essay, You won't pass my course." Hughey wrote the piece and won a twenty-dollar gold piece, which was presented to him by Andrew Carnegie himself in a public ceremony. "When Hughey went to class the next day, Cather came down from her desk in front of the classroom, threw her arms about him, and kissed him."

Cather gave her students a lot of reading, both poetry and prose. She required them to memorize poetry, drilled them on prosody, insisted that they identify similes and metaphors as they read. Her classes were never dull, and often she digressed to tell them anecdotes of stage or literary personalities she had known. Her knowledge of Latin was always evident, as she frequently pointed out Latin origins of English words. Once when her class was reading the Idyls of the King and came across a line in "Lancelot and Elaine" that read, "There 's many a youth now crescent," she pointed out that "crescent" comes from cresco, "I grow." She also made her students look up references to classic mythology and at the end of the semester gave her students summer reading lists.

Cather was not a success with all her students. She never concealed her likes and dislikes, was outspoken in condemning sloppy work, and had little patience with the duller students. She played favorites, often inviting the students she liked to Sunday tea at the McClungs. "She was greatly admired by some of her students, and just as heartily disliked by others." This apparently did not bother her and was indeed characteristic of the way she had made friends and enemies in Red Cloud and in college, and had spared no one's feelings in her years as drama critic in Lincoln and Pittsburgh. One former student thought that she demanded too much of her pupils, and Cather believed she was too much of a perfectionist. She also did not mind humiliating students whose ineptitude irritated her by reading their compositions aloud in class.

It is not surprising that Cather was not universally popular among her colleagues. Her natural talents no doubt caused resentment and jealousy, as did her inability to abide fools. One teacher who followed Cather some years after she had resigned recalled that bitter feelings still existed among faculty members. She attributed this to Cather's "devotion to the brilliant students and her intolerance of those who did not learn quickly." But it was equally true that she did not mix socially with her colleagues, and they never had a chance to get to know her. She went home when classes were over and spent her evenings grading papers, reading with Isabelle, and writing stories.

That her teaching at Central High School was successful is proven by her move in 1903 to a more desirable position at Allegheny High School. A great contrast with Central, Allegheny High was relatively new, located in a much more attractive area, and the salary was better. She began with a stipend of $750 a year and ended up making $1,300. She was by then a master teacher with two young recent college graduates as assistants. The only drawback to the new position was a longer distance to commute by streetcar, clear across the river to Allegheny from the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. As she began what was to be her last year of teaching, she wrote Mariel Gere, also a teacher, that she liked her work more every year and thought that she was doing it better all the time.

During Cather's first semester as a teacher at Central, she had no time to write, but during the next year as a full-time English teacher, she resumed writing for the newspapers. She wrote fifteen columns for the Pittsburgh Gazette during 1901-2, using her pseudonym Henry Nickelmann for all but four. She placed her work in the Gazette because her friend George Seibel had become Sunday editor and invited her to contribute. Again she wrote about what happened to interest her at the moment: two essays on viewers and pictures at the Carnegie Institute Art Gallery, "Pittsburgh's Mulberry Street, " a tenement district, "Stage Celebrities Who Call Pittsburgh Home," "Pittsburgh's Richest Chinaman," and "Richard Mansfield as Actor." She also wrote an essay about children who lived in hotels and one called "Poets of Our Younger Generation."

She wrote relatively little fiction in this period, publishing only two stories in 1902, neither of which is very important. "The Professor's Commencement" is interesting chiefly as it reflects Cather's teaching experience, but the protagonist is an improbable scholar who has chosen to bury himself for thirty years in "a city high school where failures in every trade drift to teach the business they cannot make a living by." Although he has been writing a history of modern painting, he knows that he will never finish it. As he awaits his final commencement, which coincides with his retirement, he feels "like the ruin of some extinct civilisation," or as he switched the figure, all his students, "those hundreds of thirsty young lives had drunk him dry." Perhaps Cather was speculating on her fate if she were to spend thirty years in the Pittsburgh high schools. The most arresting thing about the story is the professor's memory of the one truly gifted student he had taught in his entire career, who had "died wretchedly at three-and-twenty in his master's arms." Here in 1902 is the germ of Professor St. Peter's Tom Outland in The Professor's House.

The other story of this year is "The Treasure of Far Island," the autobiographical western tale previously mentioned. It concerns the return to his hometown of a successful playwright, Douglas Burnham, who was Speckle Burnham, mayor of the play town in "The Way of the World." He comes back to Empire City, which is Red Cloud again, twelve years after leaving home for college, the same interval that separated Cather from the writing of this story and her arrival in Lincoln in 1890. Although the story makes use of early memories, particularly the island in the Republican River, it is mawkish and uncontrolled. At the end Douglas and Margie, the tomboy he remembered from childhood, revisit Far Island, relive the old days, and find that they are destined for one another. In telling this story, Cather sprinkled over it a good two dozen allusions to myth, history, and literature. Seven years later, however, Far Island became the setting for an unforgettable story, "The Enchanted Bluff."

After nearly a year and a half of teaching, living economically with the McClungs, and saving her money, Cather planned her first trip to Europe. For any educated American with European antecedents the periodic need to visit Europe to water his or her cultural roots is a compelling imperative. For Cather the urge was especially intense. The European immigrants she had met on the Divide, the German-French culture of the Wieners in Red Cloud, her early love of the classics, her deep immersion in French literature starting in college, her reviewing of books and plays by European authors and playwrights, her wide reading of British writers—all these factors drew her inevitably to the Old World. As soon as school was out in June 1902, she and Isabelle McClung sailed from Philadelphia for Liverpool, embarking on the Noorland on the fourteenth and reaching England on the twenty-sixth. They planned a three-months' tour of England and France that would not bring them back until late September. To supplement her savings, Cather arranged to send back travel letters to the Journal, fourteen of which appeared between July and October. These letters gave her Nebraska friends a good account of her responses to Europe. They are charged with excitement and enthusiasm, the thrill of seeing for the first time places and things she had read about since she was a child. They have a freshness and charm that still attracts, and the picture that emerges of Europe nearly eight decades ago, before two world wars ravaged and changed the Old World unalterably, has intrinsic historic interest.

The two young women had the good luck to land in the grimy English Midlands on a radiant June day when the city of Liverpool was gaily decorated for the coronation of Edward VII. From their hotel they could see St. George's Hall across a square in which countless Union Jacks were fluttering in the breeze. At the foot of the Duke of Wellington's statue a blind man played a concertina, while in the square were throngs of bobbies, red-coated soldiers, and people in holiday spirit. From the hotel window it was all lively and picturesque, a tourist poster, but when they went into the street they were shocked by the shabby, tasteless dress of the working class, the stoop-shouldered, unhealthy physical appearance of the people, which they thought stood in marked contrast to the American reality. "I have been in England a week now," Cather wrote, "and I have not seen one English girl or woman of the middle class who is not stoop-shouldered to a painful degree . . . . Even in the little, little girls one sees the beginning of it . . . . It amounts to a national disfigurement." And she added: "Girls with [the] skin of a rose and well featured enough have the figures of riddled old dames." If the appearance of the working class depressed her, however, she was enchanted by the sound of British English and wrote that after "hearing only English voices for a few days, the first American voice you hear . . . is very apt to suggest something of the nature of burrs or sandpaper."

They did not stay in Liverpool long but departed soon for Chester, where Cather wrote delightedly on July 1 of the quaint red-brick houses, the majority very old, with diamond windowpanes and high-walled gardens behind. The walls were beautifully toned and colored by age and overgrown with ivy and Virginia creeper. Hedges of holly or alder trees rose above the walls, and underfoot was the matchless English green of the sod. They promenaded along the top of the old wall of the city and peered into tidy walled gardens below. Chester was an authentic bit of the Old World they had come to find. When they went out to Hawarden Castle, they spent nearly half a day of utter solitude at the foot of the splendid ruined Norman tower originally built in 1075. The rains and winds of nearly a thousand years had given the masonry of the tower a clean-washed look. She wrote: "One can understand, lying a morning through at the foot of the Norman tower, why there are Maurice Hewletts in England." It seemed to her an overwhelming temptation to try reconstructing old ruins in historical fiction. Ultimately she couldn't resist this urge and turned to historical fiction in Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), Shadows on the Rock (1931), and Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940). When she died, she was at work on a novel laid in medieval Avignon.

While the two women were in Chester, Cather's attention was drawn to what she called "The Strangest Tribe of Darkest England," the people who lived and worked on the canal boats. She devoted one whole letter to the Journal and later an article in the Gazette to the barge men and women, whom she found utterly picturesque. They had their own culture, a caste system, distinctive dress, and a life-style that set them apart from the rest of the English. They lived and died on their boats, ferrying goods back and forth between Liverpool and London. One particular boat woman that Cather observed "had been born in the cabin of a flat [boat], had been a baby and had had all her childish ailments and grown to maidenhood shut in a box [cabin] 5 x 6, with half a dozen brothers and sisters. She had been courted and married somewhere between the tiller and the tow-path . . . and borne her children in the cabin where she herself was born."

Cather's highest priority on her trip to England was to visit Shropshire and to meet A. E. Housman, whose poetry she admired extravagantly. She described herself as Housman's bond slave ever since A Shropshire Lad had appeared, and she wanted to see the places he wrote about. Her letter to the Journal of July 11 is datelined "Ludlow" and describes both Ludlow and Shrewesbury, the latter surrounded by a loop of the Severn River, "which is nowhere more green and cool and clear, and nowhere more indolent and inaudible in its flowing. The broad meadows across the stream from the town are those on which Housman says that boys played football in the days of his boyhood." As the literary pilgrims looked across the stream towards the meadows, a group of youngsters trooped out with a ball and began to play. It was a perfect experience: Housman's poems come to life. Later in Ludlow, twenty miles to the south, Cather found the real heart of Housman country. She and McClung drove to their hotel through noiseless streets of a town of thirty-five hundred, somewhat smaller than in Queen Elizabeth's time. "High green hills rise to the north and west, all marked off into tiny pocket handkerchief fields bordered by green hedge rows and looking like the beds of a large hillside garden. To the south lies the valley of the Teme, with low, round hills on either side, none of them wood covered."

But there was no trace of Housman in Ludlow or Shrewesbury. Cather told her Journal readers that she had gone to the library in Shrewesbury and seen "old files of the little country paper where many of his lyrics first appeared as free contributions signed 'A Shropshire Lad.'" This was sheer invention, as the poems never had been published in such a manner. She also told her readers that no one there knew anything in particular about Housman and that people "were greatly astonished to hear that the book [A Shropshire Lad ] had been selling in America for six years." She wrote a friend the following year that no one in Shrewesbury she had talked to had ever heard of Housman. The public library, she said, had a copy of his book with uncut pages. When she got to London, she added, she battered the doors of his publisher until they gave her his address. Then she, Isabelle, and Dorothy Canfield, who had joined them in London, all went to call on Housman. Dorothy wrote Cather many years later: "As we went out together, I remember your saying how odd it was that nobody knew a thing about him personally . . . . 'We may find that he is a blacksmith, for all we know."'

Cather did not describe her visit to Housman in her Journal letters, but she told people about it later, and garbled versions got into print and vexed her the rest of her life. One of them by Ford Maddox Ford, whom she called the prince of prevaricators, said she went to Housman as the representative of the Pittsburgh Shropshire Lad Club and gave him a solid-gold laurel wreath. The three women did take a bus out to his lodgings in Highgate and found him living in a horrible boardinghouse in a miserable suburb. Cather wrote that he was the most gaunt and gray and embittered individual she knew, and the poor man's shoes and cuffs and the state of the carpet in his little hole of a study gave her a fit of dark depression. When they arrived, Housman, a bachelor, was expecting some Canadian cousins and came racing down the stairs to greet them. After the mistaken identity was discovered, "he was courteous, said with a neutral British pleasantness that he would be glad to have us go upstairs to his study." It was a plain, threadbare room with cheap furniture badly needing some wax and rubbing. Cather sat on a couch with broken springs and tried to talk to him about his poetry. He was manifestly uneasy talking about his verse and said that writing poetry was not his real business, that he took much more interest in his Latin texts and classical philology. He was then a teacher of Latin at University College, London, and a great classical scholar.

Fortunately Canfield saved the day by mentioning that she was working at the British Museum on a doctoral dissertation dealing with Corneille and Racine in England. Scholarly research was a topic Housman could talk about, and for the rest of the visit he and Canfield carried on a dialogue. Meantime, Cather sat brooding over the astonishing contrast between the man before her and the magical lyrics that had so moved her. He was, she thought, making just about the only English verse of the decade that would last, poetry remarkable technically as it was unique in the truth of its sentiment. Before they left Housman gave her the manuscript of an unpublished poem. When the three young women finally got out of Housman's boardinghouse and onto a bus headed back to London, they all burst into tears. It was probably her great disappointment that kept her from sending an account of the visit to the Journal. In her old age she always intended to write about the experience someday in order to set the record straight, but she never got around to it. One of the last letters she ever wrote was to Dorothy Canfield Fisher asking for memories of the visit.

The last three weeks of July were spent in London, and besides visiting Housman the travelers saw a great deal of the British capital. They put up at a hotel "almost under the dome of St. Paul's, and on the same street up which Lady Jane Grey daily went to meet her judges at the Guildhall. The lord mayor still goes up to the Guildhall by the same street, and he drives by our windows daily in scarlet and gold." But the picturesqueness and historical scenes were offset by the street life, which she thought nowhere "more gloomy, more ugly, more grimy, more cruel than in London." There were shabby people, bars filled with men "red-faced and wet-eyed, pouring can after can of liquor down their throats," "alley-nursed, street-bred" girls, sometimes sober, oftener not. The first charms of English speech also were tempered by the cockney flower vendor: "Her voice is harder than her gin-sodden face, it cuts you like a whiplash as she shouts: 'Rowses! rowses! penny a bunch."'

Cather and McClung explored London's East End, which looked like Hogarth's "The Harlot's Progress," watched an Italian religious procession, visited galleries, parks, and the usual tourist attractions. They were especially interested in painters' studios, visiting several, and one entire letter to the Journal describes the studio of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, material Cather made use of later in "The Marriage of Phaedra," a story in The Troll Garden. Shortly before crossing the Channel to France, they saw Beerbohm Tree's production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Tree played Falstaff. Cather thought the production pretty bad, as Tree had pruned all the bawdy lines so as not to offend his Victorian audience, and as a result presented a Falstaff "whose resemblance to Shakespeare [went] little further than the paunch." The performance was redeemed in part, however, by the appearance of two feuding leading ladies in the same cast, Madge Kendal and Ellen Terry, who played two of the merry wives, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page.

Cather had been a Francophile since early childhood. The stories in Virginia of Mrs. Love's French childhood, the joie de vivre of the French Canadian settlement north of Red Cloud, Mrs. Wiener's memories of France, Cather's saturation in French literature—all these made her eager to get to France. She empathized completely with the homesick, homeward-bound passengers on the Channel steamer as they approached Dieppe early one morning at the end of July. "Above the roar of the wind and thrash of the water I heard a babble of voices, in which I could only distinguish the word 'France' uttered over and over again with a fire and fervor that was in itself a panegyric . . . . All the prone, dispirited figures we left [on deck] two hours before were erect and animated, rhetorical and jubilant. They were French people from all over the world . . . . Above all the ardent murmurings and the exclamations of felicity, there continually rose the voice of a little boy who had been born on a foreign soil and who had never been home. He sat on his father's shoulder, with his arms locked tight about his neck and kept crying with small convulsions of excitement, 'Is it France? Is it France?"'

Then the dawn began to come. The sky was black in the direction of England, and the coast of France began to grow gray ahead of them. Soon the high chalk cliffs of Normandy were a pale purple in the half light, and fishing boats began to pass the ship. When they touched the dock, the sky, the gravel beach, and the white town were all wrapped in a pale mist, and the narrow streets were canals of purple shadows. Everyone was speaking French, "clear voices that phrased the beautiful tongue they spoke almost as music is phrased." In a sense she too was coming home with the French passengers.

The next six weeks in France were a deeply moving artistic and literary pilgrimage. Before getting to Paris they stopped to sightsee in Rouen, where Flaubert had been born and worked. They paid their respects to a monument to the master, then turned to a nearby statue of de Maupassant, friend and pupil of Flaubert and another of Cather's mentors. Cather saw her first French cathedral, the magnificent twelfth-century Notre Dame, which dominates the old city of beautiful half-timbered houses. She was even more impressed, however, with nearby St. Ouen, one of the jewels of French Gothic architecture. She remembered her emotional response to St. Ouen nearly twenty years later when she created Claude Wheeler, her Nebraska farm boy in One of Ours who visits Rouen as a member of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I: "When he reached the choir he turned, and saw, far behind him, the rose window, with its purple heart. As he stood staring, hat in hand, as still as the stone figures in the chapels, a great bell, up aloft, began to strike the hour in its deep, melodious throat; eleven beats, measured and far apart, as rich as the colours in the window, then silence . . . only in his memory the throbbing of an undreamed-of quality of sound." Although Claude is reminded of Joan of Arc when he visits Rouen, Cather nowhere mentions her in the newspaper letters for the Journal. She did note, however, that the heart of Richard Coeur-de-Lion was buried behind the choir of St. Ouen.

Although she read French fluently, she never had learned to speak the language, and Willa and Isabelle were glad to have Dorothy Canfield as their guide for the first few weeks in France. The three women reached Paris in early August and put up at a pension at 11 Rue de Cluny on the Left Bank. Canfield stayed with them a while, then left to join her parents in Scotland. Before she left, they all visited Barbizon near Fontainebleau in the environs of Paris to see where Millet, Rousseau, and other painters of that school had worked. As they walked in the forest, Cather remembered that this was where Stevenson had fallen in love with the woman he later married in California. The village of Barbizon wasn't much, but the surrounding fields reminded her of the rolling Nebraska prairie on the Divide. "To complete the resemblance," she wrote in the Journal, "there stood a reaper of a well-known American make, very like the one on which I have acted as super-cargo many a time. There was a comfortable little place where a child might sit happily enough between its father's feet, and perhaps if I had waited long enough, I might have seen a little French girl sitting in that happy, sheltered place, the delights of which I have known so well." She admitted that those fields in harvest time made her a little homesick.

Back in Paris the pilgrims visited all the tourist sights, toured the Louvre, explored the city. Cather was especially interested in visiting cemeteries and devoted a letter to two of them, the Cemetery of Montmartre, near the white wedding-cake church of Sacré Coeur and overlooking the city, and the most famous burial ground of all, Père-Lachaise. She walked the streets of Montmartre, which Baudelaire and Verlaine had haunted, then inspected the grave of Dumas fils, who was buried hard by the grave of Alphonsine du Plessis, the original of La Dame aux Camélias. She also visited the grave of Heine, which was covered with flowers, "probably from some young German sojourning in Paris." At Père-Lachaise she looked up the tomb of Alfred de Musset and quoted from his verses. She was pleased that the grave was kept up and that Parisians cared enough to keep fresh flowers on it. Balzac's grave seemed ugly and deserted by contrast, but that did not matter, for Balzac "lives in every street and quarter; one sees his people everywhere."

At the end of August the two women took a train to the south of France to spend their last two weeks in Provence and on the Mediterranean coast. They traveled second class to Lyon and had an entire compartment to themselves, then to economize went on to Avignon third class. That was a great mistake for two fastidious American women addicted to bathing regularly. There were eight women and an infant jammed into their compartment, most of whom were women of the soil who "are all very well in pictures by Millet . . . but they are not the most desirable traveling companions in a little compartment on a burning August day." Then there was a German girl who "looked very much like a fat, pink pig . . . and had not bathed these many years." Once they got to Avignon, however, and put up at a good hotel, one that Henry James had written of affectionately, they were entranced by the old city with its wonderful papal palace and gardens overlooking the Rhone. From the gardens they could see the old Roman bridge still reaching partway out into the river, and in another direction the snowy peaks of the Alps shimmered in the smog-free air of 1902. They paid only two dollars a day for full pension at their hotel, which served them a gourmet ten-course dinner, "each better than the last, with wines that made us sad because we knew we would never taste their like again."

From Avignon Cather and McClung went on to Marseilles in the rain, but when they arrived on the coast the sun came out, and as they looked out to sea, "the sunlight played on the white cliffs of the little island . . . with the name of the Château d'If." This view took her back to her childhood, "when one lived and suffered and triumphed with Edmund Dantès" in The Count of Monte Cristo. Later at Le Seyne, a small port farther east, a squall came up while they were eating dinner. "Blue lightning and wild gusts of rain, and metallic thunder that rattled rather than roared, with a great dashing and splashing of water." She was perplexed for a moment. Where had she seen such a storm? Then she remembered: "It was on the stage of the Funke Theatre, when Mr. James O'Neill used to be sewn up in a sack and flung by the supers from the Chateau d'If into the Mediterranean." It was like a stage storm, ended abruptly, and two hours later the travelers left by train for Hyères, a health resort further down the coast. "Below Hyères, the scented pines slope down to the sea," and the sea was as "still and motionless as a plaque of blue porcelain, with a sky of enamel above it. In the distance the hills are a pale violet." After Hyères they visited Le Lavandou, where the coast for a hundred miles on either side was as wild as when the Saracens held it. Then they went on to Nice and Monte Carlo, which Cather did not like at all after the simplicity and peace of the coastal villages. There was nothing real about Monte Carlo, with its "oppressive splendour": "the sea was too blue to be wet, the casino too white to be anything but pasteboard." The final stop on their itinerary, however, was Arles, which was real and wonderful. She was greatly interested in the remains of Roman civilization, marveled at the well-preserved Roman arena, and was moved by the ruins of the Roman theater. But best of all, the area around Arles recalled Daudet at every turn. Cather's final letter from Europe, dated Arles, September 16, is entitled "In the Country of Daudet." He was the French writer of all French writers she then loved the most.

After leaving Arles, Cather and McClung retraced their steps to the north and sailed for home. Cather was late in getting back to her classroom, but her students must have profited from her travels, as she brought to life for them scenes she had visited and places they were reading about. She also was ready to begin assembling her first book.

CHAPTER 8

April Twilights and The Troll Garden

Cather's first book was not a collection of stories, as one might expect, but a slim volume of poems, April Twilights. She had loved poetry since childhood, had delighted in the poems of Campbell, Moore, Longfellow, Keats, Arnold, Poe, and Byron that she found in the family bookcase, and probably began writing verse as soon as she began writing anything. When she entered the university, where publications existed for student writing, she promptly turned out thirty-five lines of blank verse in praise of Shakespeare for the June 1, 1892, issue of the Hesperian. Subtitled "A Freshman Theme, " these lines are of a piece with the precocious essay on the great god Shakespeare published in the Journal the previous November. In these verses she sings of "The dwarfed children of earth's sterile age" who "Turn to thee once again, O sun born bard." She followed up this poetic flight with more blank verse in praise of Columbus, which the Hesperian obligingly printed the following fall. Then she did several translations from Horace and Anacreon.

"I do not take myself seriously as a poet," Cather said in 1925, but during her Pittsburgh years she wrote verse rather steadily. She apparently found no inconsistency in her versifying and her belief that women probably should not write poetry at all because their only theme was love and their good poetry "emotional in the extreme." But then she never thought of herself as a woman writer-only as a writer, period. After moving to Pittsburgh, she published seven of her own poems in the Home Monthly, sent a few more to the Courier, and contributed additional ones to the Library. By 1900 she was able to place her poems in national magazines, and before her April Twilights came out in 1903, she had sold eight poems to the Critic, Lippincott's, Harper's Weekly, and the Youth's Companion. She very much wanted to bring out a book to prove to the friends and relatives who were expecting great things from her that she was an author. "The Player Letters" had come to nothing, and she had not yet been able to write a novel. It must have seemed that she was not getting on very fast. She already was older than Keats, and as old as Shelley and Crane when they died, that is, going on thirty. Suddenly a volume of verse became a possibility.

By the end of 1902 Cather had enough visibility as a poet to attract the attention of Richard Badger of Boston, who operated a vanity press that specialized in publishing aspiring poets—often women. Referred to by one reviewer as "the befriender of the yet uncommissioned troubadour, " Badger sent out seductive letters to prospective clients, praising their poems and offering to bring out their verses in handsome little volumes. He also indicated very delicately that the author would be allowed to share in the expense of publication. Either Cather was too naive to realize that the Badger imprint would be a signal to reviewers of an unpublishable poetaster or she was desperately eager for an audience.

In any event, she wrote Will Owen Jones in early January 1903 that she was publishing a book of poems in the spring. Badger, she said, had made her a good offer, and if the book sold well she would make a tidy little sum. To impress Jones, she added that Badger was bringing out a lot of new verse by such poets as Clinton Scollard, Edith M. Thomas, and Harriet Prescott Spafford. She thought she would be in good company and wanted Jones to lend her a Lincoln directory so that she could circularize her friends. Under such publication arrangements it is a wonder that April Twilights attracted any attention at all. But Badger's net sometimes caught a big fish, as it did when he landed E. A. Robinson's first book, and Cather's poems were good enough to receive over a dozen reviews, some of them thoughtful and intelligent. But it is doubtful if she made any money from this edition.

She later regretted publishing the volume and in 1908 bought up all the remaining copies and destroyed them. When Elizabeth Sergeant turned up a copy in a secondhand shop in 1912, Cather wrote that she had hoped her friend would never run across that book of bum verse. She said she had bought up and sunk in a tarn all the copies she could get. She did not want Sergeant reading her verses because they belonged to a period when she was young and had never been anywhere. This, of course, was not true, but by 1912 she had turned her entire attention to fiction and had lost interest in writing verse. She did not write much more poetry after the 1903 volume came out and published only sixteen more poems during the rest of her life. She did allow Alfred Knopf to reprint the book in 1923 with thirteen of the original thirty-seven poems omitted and twelve new ones added. In her collected works she reprinted it once more but dropped two more poems and added one.

Cather's poetry is a minor part of her canon, but it is worth examining because it bears an integral relationship to her entire career. Nothing she wrote is unrelated to the entire body of her writing. Just as the early stories explore themes and motifs that later appear in her mature fiction, so do the poems. Her opinions, her interests, her enthusiasms, her influences, appear neatly encapsulated in the short lyrics she was fond of writing. That the poetry is bookish and literary is to be expected, but occasionally there is an inspired line or image or figure of speech. The poetry that readers hear in her later fiction has its foreground in her youthful verse.

Cather's taste in poetry, as in literature, was largely classical and romantic. When she reviewed William Archer's anthology of British and American poets, Poets of Our Younger Generation, which appeared while she was putting her own book together, she summarized her views on American verse. She recognized that Emerson was the great seminal influence on American poetry, but there were not many contemporary poets she admired. She never mentioned Dickinson or Robinson, who were new poets in the nineties, but she praised, with reservations, the work of Bliss Carmen and gave her highest accolade to Louise Imogen Guiney, whose "achievement of excellence in expression and the mastery of meter none of our younger poets have equaled."

She did believe, however, that poets in the past thirty or forty years had naturalized American verse, in contrast to the Europeanized work of Longfellow, Bryant, Holmes, and Lowell. The dominant characteristics of new American poetry, she thought, were perfection of form and intensity of spiritual experience. Also it was moving toward shorter forms, chiefly the lyric, developing along the same lines as French poetry. Some of the masterpieces of American verse she listed as Thomas Bailey Aldrich's "Memory," Emerson's "April, " Poe's "To Helen, " and Sidney Lanier's "The Ballad of the Trees and the Master." It is not surprising that her own verse followed what she thought were the national trends.

"In April Twilights," writes Bernice Slote,one moves in a mythic landscape. Figures of gods and god-men perform the rituals of legend in pastoral Arcadia, the world of Roman glory, or scenes from medieval balladry and romance. But the Virgilian shepherds and minstrels blend into the equally indefinite 'lads' of Housman, who had his own elegiac tone; Arcadia is also Shropshire and Provence, with life shown in allegory. The classical-pastoral scene is overlaid with a glitter of plumes and swords and roses from the mythical kingdom of Ruritania—a glow that might be called 'Zenda-romantic.' For there is in Willa Cather a good deal of her much-read, much-loved Prisoner of Zenda, with its far-away, heroic action and its bittersweet ending of unfulfilled love. The poems also have something of the neo-Greek or medieval tone of Rossetti, Swinburne, and Wilde, and more than a touch of Wagnerian story and song."

Relatively few of the poems (20%) are rooted in personal experience. The opening one, "Grandmither, Think Not I Forget," is a love poem that invokes the memory of Grandma Boak, who had died while Cather was in college. "The Namesake" commemorates her uncle who was killed in the Civil War, and the dedicatory poem to her brothers Roscoe and Douglass recalls memories of the Republican River, Red Cloud, and the dreams of childhood. "The Night Express" derives from a summer in Nebraska when the body of a Red Cloud boy who died away from home was brought back in a Burlington baggage car. The scene at the station parallels the opening of her story "The Sculptor's Funeral." "Poppies on Ludlow Castle," "The Mills of Montmartre," "Provencal Legend," "London Roses," and "Paris" were direct products of her trip to Europe. The last is a good imagistic poem evoking the French capital at evening:
Behind the arch of glory sets the day;
The river lies in curves of silver light,
The Fields Elysian glitter in a spray
Of golden dust; the gilded dome is bright,
The towers of Notre Dame cut clean and gray
The evening sky, and pale from left to right
A hundred bridges leap from either quay.

Cather was deeply involved with the Arcadian theme: the lament for the lost glories of a grander past. She got this from her reading of the classics, but it suited her temperament. This motif appears in "Arcadian Winter, " "Winter at Delphi," "Lament for Marsyas," and I Sought the Wood in Winter." Apollo, Pan, minstrels, shepherds are all there, along with huntsmen, runners of races, laurels, and daffodils. The settings, of course, are the Old World, which fueled Cather's imagination through her reading; but the Arcadian theme persists in her best fiction, as in My Ántonia, where she succeeds in transplanting Arcadia from the Old to the New World, and therein lies one secret of her power as a novelist: the ability to naturalize ancient myth in an American setting.

The themes of loss and nostalgia, which are closely related to the Arcadian motif, also come from other classic and Renaissance sources. The poem "Eurydice" is built on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which tells of the singer's loss of his beloved as he tries to lead her back to Arcadia from Hades. Cather made good use of this myth as a dominant theme when she came to write The Song of the Lark a decade later. The elegiac note of Francois Villon's "Ou sont les neiges d'antan?" ("Where are the snows of yesteryear?"), which is prominent in her later fiction, is clearly sounded in "Aftermath," which celebrates the vanished past:
Can'st thou conjure a vanished morn of spring,
Or bid the ashes of the sunset glow
Again to redness? Are we strong to wring
From trodden grapes the juice drunk long ago?
Can leafy longings stir in Autumn's blood,
Or can I wear a pearl dissolved in wine,
Or go a-Maying in a winter wood,
Or paint with youth thy wasted cheek, or mine?

The answer, of course, is no: "I might as well / Covet the gold of Helen's vanished head, / Or kiss back Cleopatra from the dead!"

Cather's literary and artistic enthusiasms were both a help and a hindrance to her poetic composition. Being, a "bond slave" to Housman inspired an attractive poem in "In Media Vita," but the verses sound entirely too much like an imitation of Housman:
Lads and their sweethearts lying
In the cleft of the windy hill;
Hearts that hushed of their sighing,
Lips that are tender and still.
Stars in the purple gloaming,
Flowers that suffuse and fall,
Twitter of bird-mates homing,
And the dead, under all!

Cather recognized her limitations in her verse, and when she wrote Sergeant disparaging her poems, she quoted as a horrible example the opening line of "White Birch in Wyoming." One might expect this to be an effective nature poem recreating memories of visits to her brother in the Rockies. "Stark as a Burne-Jones vision of despair, " the poem begins, then goes on to describe the tree; not only does she require of the reader familiarity with Pre-Raphaelite painting, but also she ends the poem with Wagnerian metaphors of Valkyries and Brunhilda.

In one poem, however, she did make good use of western memories. This is "Prairie Dawn, " a unique item in her volume, the only poem in blank verse and the only one without literary antecedents. With sharp visual imagery, plain language, the evocation of more than one sense perception, this poem probably strikes a contemporary reader as the best in the volume:
A crimson fire that vanquishes the stars;
A pungent odor from the dusty sage;
A sudden stirring of the huddled herds;
A breaking of the distant table-lands
Through purple mists ascending, and the flare
Of water ditches silver in the light;
A swift, bright lance hurled low across the world;
A sudden sickness for the hills of home.

Good as this poem is, Cather still had not discovered Nebraska as a subject for verse, though she sometimes laid her stories there. The landscape in this poem is probably Colorado or Wyoming, not the corn and wheat fields of the Divide, and the "sudden sickness for the hills of home" is no doubt a reference to her native Virginia. Emotionally, the Pittsburgh high school teacher who spent her days teaching English literature to Pennsylvanians was yet a long way from her prairie childhood.

The love poems in April Twilights illustrate further Cather's limitations. She seems to have felt that poets, especially women, were expected to write love poems, and she produced a number of them. But despite felicitous language and skillful metrics, they are strangely disembodied. There is no sense in them of the presence of the beloved. "Evening Song" begins:
Dear love, what thing of all the things that be
Is ever worth one thought from you or me,
Save only Love,
Save only Love?

Or in "The Hawthorne Tree," the one who climbs to the poet's "white bower" seems more an abstraction than a flesh-and-blood lover.

Cather's taste in prosody was conventional nineteenth-century rhymed verse and closed forms. Seven of the poems are sonnets, and most of the rest use regular stanzas and conventional rhyme schemes. Her metrics are skillful, and there is genuine melody in her verses, but she uses the thee and thou and second-person singular -eth verb endings of old-fashioned poetic diction. The use of refrain and incremental repetition is good, and there is a lot of variety in the verse forms. Although she admired the primitive elemental force and the joy of life in Whitman, she thought he had no sense of form and did not experiment with free verse.

Reviewers treated her book very well when it came out in April. Her friend George Seibel led off with a glowing notice in the Pittsburgh Gazette, calling the volume "a book of genuine poetry in unpretentious guise ... singing its way straight to the heart of every one who looks within its covers." One would have anticipated praise from Seibel, but other reviewers were equally complimentary. The New York Times thought Cather's poetic gift was genuine and that the book gave "promise of an unfolding to be looked for with eagerness." She got a full page in Poet Lore, complete with picture and biographical data; but that magazine was published by the Gorham Press, which also printed Badger's books, and was somewhat suspect. Jeannette Gilder, who had bought two of Cather's poems as editor of the Critic, reviewed the book for the Chicago Tribune as the "work of a real poet." An English magazine that published a roundup review of a number of volumes of American verse thought Cather's work was better than most. It had "some tenderness, some music, and some originality. Nowhere does the verse reach a high level, but it is seldom bathetic and never silly."

When the book was reissued with deletions and additions in 1923, it was reviewed by the poet Eunice Tietjens, who stated judiciously the case for and against Cather as poet: "This is a book of poems by a great literary personality, who well deserves the Pulitzer Prize—but not by a great poet .... Her stories are unforgettable. They etch themselves into your consciousness .... Much of herself comes through. The same humanity, the same sense of drama, the same directness of vision.... Eighteen or twenty years ago I read several of these poems ... and as I read them now they are as familiar as old friends. Yet now, examining them in the cold light of later knowledge, I see that I have loved and remembered them because of the humanity, and not because of the poetry."

While Cather was basking in the glow of being a published poet, a momentous chain of events was taking place. H. H. McClure, head of the McClure Syndicate, passed through Lincoln scouting for talent, and Will Owen Jones urged him to look at the work of his former columnist. H. H. McClure told his cousin, S. S. McClure, the magazine editor and publisher, and that volatile genius wrote Cather inviting her to submit her stories for possible magazine and book publication. She mailed them to him in April but without much confidence that anything significant would happen. She already had submitted some of her stories to McClure's Magazine, and they had come back with rejection slips. A week after the parcel left Pittsburgh, however, she received a telegram from McClure summoning her to his office immediately. As soon as she could get away from her school, she took the train to New York and presented herself to McClure on the morning of May 1, 1903.

Life was never the same for her after that interview. She walked into the offices of McClure's on East Twenty-third Street at ten o'clock that morning not worrying much, she wrote Jones afterwards, about streetcar accidents and such; at one o'clock she left stepping carefully. She had become a valuable property and worth saving. McClure with characteristic enthusiasm for his discoveries had offered her the world. He would publish her stories in book form. He would use them first in his magazine, and those he could not use, he would place in other journals for her. He wanted to publish everything she wrote from that point on. When she told him that some of the stories already had been rejected by McClure's, he said he never had seen them and called in his manuscript readers and asked them in her presence to give an accounting of their stewardship. She wrote Jones: "I sat and held my chin high and thought my hour had struck."A moment like that turned back the clock for her and made her feel as important as when she was editor of the Hesperian. There were even more plans in the wind, she said, but if she wrote of them she would be writing until midnight. She thanked him for getting her launched at last, and with a light heart signed herself faithfully always.

There was more to come after the interview in the magazine office. McClure took her out to his home at Ardsley in Westchester County to meet his wife and children and Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson, who was visiting the McClures. Mrs. Stevenson already had read the stories, and they talked them over together. McClure accepted the tales without any revisions and wanted to know all about his new discovery, who she was, where she came from, what she had done up to then. There was no circumstance of her life that he did not inquire into, and he began to plan her future for her. She said that if he had been a religious leader he would have had people going to the stake for him. What a genius he had for proselyting! He took a hold of one in such a personal way that business ceased to be a feature of one's relationship with him.

McClure urged her to stay with them until she had to return to Pittsburgh, but Cather could remain only a day because she had promised to visit the Canfields, who then lived in New York. When she left McClure, she was in a state of delirious excitement, his captive for life. Three years later she went to work for him, eleven years later wrote his autobiography, and in his old age, when she was rich and he was old and poor, contributed to his support. Next to her father and brothers he was the most important man in her life. Her devotion to McClure, however, was a hindrance to her career, for he kept her editing his magazine long after she should have been channeling all her creative energies into writing fiction.

Meantime, her future seemed assured, and her first volume of fiction would be published the following year. She was out in the current and moving swiftly at last, ten years after her debut as a newspaper columnist and drama critic. Though she still had a lot to learn about writing, she never again would have trouble placing her work. But she still had to return to Pittsburgh and her classroom. As it turned out, she would remain on the faculty of Allegheny High School for two more years. McClure was longer on promises than on performance and did not bring out her book until 1905. He also used only two of her stories in his magazine and did not find other magazines to take three more that had not been published previously. She never commented on his failure; she was happy enough to have a contract that assured publication.

Seven stories made up the collection that McClure, Phillips, and Company agreed to bring out. One, "'A Death in the Desert,'" already had appeared in Scribner's the previous January; another, "A Wagner Matinee," was published by Everybody's Magazine the following February and may have been placed there by McClure. Two more, "The Sculptor's Funeral" and "Paul's Case, " generally regarded as the two best tales in the group, came out in McClure's in 1905 the latter appearing actually a few weeks after the book. Given the title The Troll Garden, the collection was published in April. It carried on its title page a quotation from Charles Kingsley: "A fairy palace, with a fairy garden; ... Inside the Trolls dwell, ... Working at their magic forges, making and making always things rare and strange." Across from the title page was another epigraph from Christina Rossetti's "The Goblin Market": "We must not look at Goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits; / Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their hungry thirsty roots?" And the book was dedicated to Isabelle McClung.

All of the stories in The Troll Garden deal with art and artists. Readers of Cather's newspaper columns might have been surprised at these stories if they had remembered her writing in 1901, "The world is weary unto death of stories about artists and scholars and aesthetic freaks, and of studies of the 'artistic temperament.'" Nevertheless she was interested in the lives of artists and musicians and continued writing stories about them for the next two decades. The East still had most of her attention, for five of the tales take place in Pittsburgh and New York, Boston and London. The Boston story is about the West, but only two are laid in Western towns.

There is overall design and meaning in the collection and a careful arrangement of stories to support the themes woven into the fabric of the text. The two epigraphs provide a clue to Cather's meaning. The quotation from Kingsley comes from The Roman and the Teuton and is part of a parable he tells to introduce a discussion of the invasion of Rome by the barbarians. The forest people, who represent the barbarians, are attracted to the troll garden (Rome), covet it, and finally overrun it, only to discover afterwards that they have destroyed the marvels they sought.

In Rossetti's poem two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, live innocently together in a fairy-tale cottage. Every morning and evening animal-like goblin men emerge from a sinister glen nearby hawking their luscious fruit. The girls know these are forbidden fruits, but Laura cannot resist the temptation and buys the fruit, paying with a golden curl. The dire consequences of this act are that Laura can no longer hear the seductive cries of the goblin men and goes into a physical decline. As she becomes prematurely old and haggard, Lizzie, who still can hear the tempting offers, sets about to save her sister. She confronts the goblin men with an offer to buy, but she will not taste. A dreadful fracas results, and the men smear the fruit over her. She rushes home, invites Laura to "eat me, drink me." Laura kisses Lizzie hungrily but finds that the juices of the fruit are now bitter, repulsive. The outcome of this encounter, however, is the restoration to health and youth of the wayward sister.

In a column Cather wrote for the Journal in 1895 she quoted and summarized the poem, concluding, "Never has the purchase of pleasure, its loss in its own taking, the loathsomeness of our own folly in those we love, been put more quaintly and directly." For her story collection she equated the fruits of the goblin men to the magical things rare and strange made by the trolls in their garden. In either case the possession was fraught with danger: things desired are not only delightful and marvelous but also dangerous and capable of corrupting. There is no evidence that Cather was aware of the sexual allegory here that contemporary feminist critics have read as the cry of a Victorian woman against the sexual politics of the nineteenth century.

In the arrangement of the stories, the first and the last, "Flavia and Her Artists" and "Paul's Case, " depict characters seduced by art. Flavia Hamilton, who operates a "hotel, habited by freaks, " as the ironical actress-commentator Miss Broadwood puts it, is pursuing false gods in her worship of art. Cather must have observed archetypal Flavias in her years as a music and drama critic in Pittsburgh when she attended soirees given by Pennsylvania matrons, wives of steel and coal moguls, who devoted themselves to lionhunting. Flavia Canfield was enough like the title character to cause a temporary estrangement between Cather and Dorothy Canfield. That Flavia cannot distinguish between the true and the false is overt enough in the talk, but her myopia is further accentuated by Cather's abundant use of Roman allusions, always ironically. Her house is a "temple to the gods of Victory, a sort of triumphal arch"; her relationship to her children is described as like that of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi; and the story ends with Arthur Hamilton, her husband, compared to Gains Marius among the ruins of Carthage.

The Jamesian flavor of this story is obvious, for Cather was still in her Henry James phase, and the reason she never reprinted the story may well have been that it seemed later too much influenced by the master. But her attention to James's craftsmanship was important to her in developing narrative skill. The story is well told through the perspective of Imogen Willard, daughter of one of Flavia's old friends, who is invited to Flavia's menagerie because she has the odd distinction of being a woman who has earned a doctorate in philology. Imogen (perhaps suggested by Dorothy Canfield), because of her childhood friendship with Flavia's husband, can observe the relationship between the couple as Arthur's partisan. The invention of Miss Broadwood (much like the real actress Johnston Bennett), who doesn't take herself seriously, provides the running commentary on the "freaks" by on who is a real artist, not a stuffed shirt.

What Flavia does not know when she fills her house with artists is that her guests hold her in contempt. The story turns on the vicious profile of her that M. Roux, a famous French novelist, gives an interviewer after he leaves the house party. Flavia's indulgent, patient husband withholds knowledge of the interview from her and deliberately insults the guests in order to empty the house. The tale ends with her thinking that her husband is a barbarian incapable of appreciating art.

"Paul's Case," perhaps Cather's best-known story, depicts a forest child destroyed by the forbidden fruit. Paul is a Pittsburgh schoolboy who cares nothing about Latin or math but lives for Carnegie Hall, where he has a job ushering, and for the theater, where he has friends among the local stock company. He hates his life in a prosaic, conventional, middle-class neighborhood. Paul's principal and his father decide that he must leave school, go to work, and stop hanging around the theater and Carnegie Hall. But Paul cannot stand life in a business office and steals a thousand dollars from his employer. He goes to New York, buys himself elegant clothes, rents a suite at the Waldorf, and lives for a while his dream life as a rich patron of the arts; then when his money is gone and his father is about to come after him, he goes to Newark and quietly drops under the wheels of an oncoming locomotive.

The story has been justly admired for its narrative skill and its psychological portraiture. It is the only important use Cather ever made of her experience as a Pittsburgh high school teacher and the only story she would allow to be anthologized towards the end of her life. It captures the tone of Pittsburgh in 1905 and was compounded, she remembered in 1943, of two elements: the first was a boy she once had in her Latin class, a nervous youth who was always trying to make himself interesting and to prove that he knew members of the local stock company; the other was herself, particularly the feelings she had about New York and the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel when she was teaching and occasionally visiting the city. Another ingredient that she never mentioned was the theft of an employer's money by two Pittsburgh boys who ran off to Chicago. They were found broke in a Chicago hotel a week later and brought back home, but not prosecuted because the families reimbursed the employer. The Pittsburgh papers were full of the story, reported the Bookman in a brief profile of Cather at the time The Troll Garden was published. Cather also had sat on disciplinary committees, such as the one Paul appears before at the outset of the story. Norman Foerster remembered being disciplined by a committee on which Cather sat for carrying a crib-sheet into an examination.

"'A Death in the Desert, ' " the first story to be published in a magazine, is the centerpiece of the book. Its chief character, Adriance Hilgarde, inspired by Nevin, the composer, never appears in the story but is the dominant influence on the other characters. Cather must have written the tale soon after Nevin's death, but she later would not admit that she had put him into the story. She did concede that if people saw him in it, something of his personality must have been there. He was the first artist she had ever known, she said, and made a deep impression on her. She remembered him as a figure full of charm and grace and was glad if the story recalled him to friends who had known and loved him.

The story takes place on a ranch near Cheyenne, where one can see from the ranch house "a blinding stretch of yellow, flat as the sea in dead calm, splotched here and there with deep purple shadows; and, beyond, the ragged blue outline of the mountains." Katherine Gaylord, singer, is dying of tuberculosis on her brother's ranch. Onto the scene comes Everett Hilgarde, younger brother of the great composer Adriance, who stops in Cheyenne en route to the West Coast. He accidentally discovers that Katherine is there dying and stays with her several weeks until the end. Years before when she had been on her way to stardom and one of his brother's students, he had loved her with a schoolboy's passion.

Not much happens in the story. Everett and Katherine talk, mostly about Adriance, and in their talk the lives of all three are revealed. Adriance sends the score of his latest sonata, the greatest composition he has yet written. As Everett plays it for her, she dissolves: "This is my tragedy, as I lie here spent by the race-course, listening to the feet of the runners as they pass me." Adriance, youthful, charming, and exuberantly creative, still leads the race. While Katherine is dying Everett reflects on his own life. If her life is tragedy, his is pathos. He had the bad luck to resemble his brother, to aspire to an artistic career, but to be endowed with mediocre talent. He has accepted his fate, however, and resolved "to beat no more at doors he would never enter."

Cather placed this story in the middle of the collection because it presents three different artists and three different careers. Katherine is a forest child who has entered the garden only to be destroyed there. Everett, who is always being mistaken for his brilliant brother, is one who is denied entrance. Adriance enters and survives. But Katherine and Adriance are really two sides of the same coin: Nevin in his prime and Nevin who died at the age of thirtyeight. The story gains irony from its setting in the stark landscape of eastern Wyoming and from the title, which comes from a poem by Browning, a dramatic monologue delivered by the Apostle John as he dies in a Middle Eastern cave attended only by a few faithful friends.

The second and sixth stories in The Troll Garden are an appropriate pair, because they both deal with western characters whose lives end in defeat. "The Sculptor's Funeral" is one of Cather's best-known stories because for many years she allowed anthologists to reprint it. Then late in her life she decided it presented a false picture of prairie towns and withdrew permission to use it. The tale is set in a little town like Red Cloud, though she moved it to Kansas, doubtless to avoid the charge of satirizing the homefolks. It falls into the category of revolt-from-the-village literature and invites comparison with the earlier work of E. W. Howe or Hamlin Garland and, later, the fiction of Sinclair Lewis and the poems of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. The opening scene comes from the memory that inspired the poem "The Night Express," and the plot was suggested by the funeral of a Pittsburgh artist, Stanley Reinhart. Cather wrote in a newspaper column at the time that Reinhart's family had not appreciated him, that no one in Pittsburgh knew anything about him, or cared, and that it passed all understanding how he could have come out of that commercial city.

The story begins with the arrival in Sand City of the body of Harvey Merrick, world-famous sculptor, who is regarded by his fellow townsmen as one local boy who did not amount to much. As the various characters sit about the mean and tasteless Merrick house during the wake, Banker Phelps expresses the general sentiment: "What Harve needed, of all people, was a course in some first-class Kansas City business college." Then he might have amounted to something and helped run the family farm; instead, his father had indulged him and sent him off East and to France to study art. One man in town, however, knew, loved, and appreciated the sculptor, and voices scathing denunciation of the mean-spirited and ignorant villagers. He is Jim Laird, the local lawyer, who never managed to get away from Philistia, and by the time the sculptor's body is brought home, has become an alcoholic. The contrasts are further heightened by the creation of Henry Steavens, student and follower of the sculptor, who accompanies the body and provides a sympathetic audience for Laird.

"A Wagner Matinee" reverses the situation in "The Sculptor's Funeral" by taking a Nebraska farm wife to Boston. The story fits into the overall design of The Troll Garden because the narrator's - Aunt Georgiana is a former musician who has been denied for more than thirty years any possibility of entering the garden. She has been exiled to the barbarous environment of a bleak prairie farm, where she has toiled like a slave helping her husband wrest a living from the inhospitable land. Cather paints a grim picture of Nebraska farm life in the pioneering days through her description of Georgiana with her "ill-fitting false teeth, and her skin ... as yellow as a Mongolian's from constant exposure to a pitiless wind and to the alkaline water" and her hands that once had played the piano at the Boston Conservatory now "stretched and twisted into mere tentacles to hold and lift and knead with." When the aunt has to visit Boston to collect a legacy left her by a bachelor uncle, she stays with her nephew, a Nebraska farm boy who, like Hamlin Garland, has managed to shake the mud off his boots and get to Boston. The pathos of the tale is overwhelming as the narrator, with misguided kindness, takes his aunt to a symphony concert and reawakens in her the memory of the lost garden. This is an excellent story, lean and compact, narrated with skill from a young man's point of view, the same perspective Cather used later in my Ántonia and other works.

"A Wagner Matinee" caused Cather a great deal of embarrassment when it came out in Everybody's in 1904. Will Owen Jones took her to task in the journal: "The stranger to this state will associate Nebraska with the aunt's wretched figure, her ill-fitting false teeth, her skin yellowed by the weather.... If the writers of fiction who use western Nebraska as material would look up now and then and not keep their eyes and noses in the cattle yards, they might be more agreeable company." Cather wrote Jones defending herself, denying that she had any intention of disparaging the state. She had placed the story back in pioneer times, she said, and thought that everyone admitted those were desolate days. She had thought she was paying tribute to those uncomplaining women, who weathered those times. Farm life was bad enough when she knew it, and what must it have been like before that? She had to admit, however, that she had used the farmhouse where she and her family had lived before they moved into Red Cloud and some of her recollections.

She also had to admit that her family felt insulted by the tale. Everyone assumed that her Aunt Franc had sat for the portrait of Aunt Georgiana, because Aunt Franc had graduated from Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary and had studied music before marrying George Cather in 1873 and moving to pioneer Nebraska. The family told her it was not nice to write about such things as she put into the description of Aunt Georgiana. Cather wrote a friend that the whole affair had been the nearest she ever had come to personal disgrace. She seemed to have done something horrid without realizing it, but someday she supposed it would seem funny. That she could not have intended cruelty to her aunt is perfectly clear from the warm, affectionate tone of all her letters to Aunt Franc. After visiting her aunt on the farm when she was in college, Cather wrote Mariel Gere that Aunt Franc had organized a literary society among the farm families at Catherton and she surely did her share of distributing manna in the wilderness.

The third and fifth stories in the collection are "The Garden Lodge" and "The Marriage of Phaedra," one dealing with a musician and the other a painter. These are the poorest tales in the volume, stories that were not placed in magazines before book publication, and stories that Cather never reprinted. "The Garden Lodge" concerns Caroline Noble, who deliberately gives up a career as a concert pianist (as Cather's friend Ethel Litchfield had done) to marry a Wall Street tycoon. Caroline had grown up in an artistic household where there had been intense devotion to art but never enough money to pay the bills. "Caroline had served her apprenticeship to idealism and to all the embarrassing inconsistencies which it sometimes entails, and she decided to deny herself this diffuse, ineffectual answer to the sharp questions of life."

After six years of marriage this practical, sensible woman is surrounded by children, wealth, and an indulgent, loving husband. One day she invites the great Wagnerian tenor Raymond d'Esquerre to stay with them, and they spend hours together in the garden lodge. He feels the need to get out of Klingsor's Garden occasionally and to work in a quiet place, and he knows Caroline Noble is no lion hunter but a serious, gifted nonprofessional artist. After he leaves, she goes to the garden lodge alone, plays the first act of Die Walkure, the last of his roles they had practiced together, and the memory of his presence overwhelms her. "It was not enough;this happy, useful, wellordered life was not enough." A storm breaks and rain beats in, as Caroline passes the night in a dark agony of the soul. The next morning, however, she awakes, despises herself for her self-indulgence, creeps back to the house from the garden lodge, and resumes her life.

"The Marriage of Phaedra" is about the sale of an unfinished masterpiece by the widow of a recently deceased artist. The barbarian in this story is the widow, who sells the painting against the deathbed wishes of the painter to a Jewish art dealer from Australia. This, in the mind of the point-of-view character, a young artist-admirer who wishes to write a biography of the master, is the equivalent of destroying the great painting. The tale was obviously suggested by Cather's visit to Burne-Jones's studio in London during her European trip. The valet James, who presides over the empty studio and was invented for Cather's travel letter to the Journal, is appropriately named, for this story is very Henry Jamesian in its narrative technique. The story develops as the artist-biographer researches his subject by striking up an acquaintance with the valet and interviewing the dead artist's sister-in-law and wife. The tale owes a further debt to James in its use of the painting, "The Marriage of Phaedra," to give meaning. The marital difficulties of the painter of the story and his wife are suggested by the tangled affairs of the Greek myth in which Phaedra marries Theseus and then falls in love with her stepson Hippolytus.

McClure's enthusiasm for Cather's fiction notwithstanding, reviewers of The Troll Garden were not overwhelmed. The only long signed review in a national magazine appeared in the Bookman, but this reviewer, Bessie du Bois, was not enchanted. She called the book a "collection of freak stories that are either lurid, hysterical or unwholesome, and that remind one of nothing so much as the coloured supplement to the Sunday papers." Except for Jim Laird in "The Sculptor's Funeral" and Paul in "Paul's Case," she thought the characters all "mere dummies, with fancy names, on which to hang epigrams." And the subject matter dealt with "the ash-heap of the human mind—the thoughts and feelings that come to all of us when the pressure of the will is low, the refuse and sweepings of the mental life."

Other national reviewers treated the book among their brief notices. These were anonymous paragraphs that in general saw promise in Cather's work but were restrained. The New York Times thought the stories showed "deep feeling and ability," but many were too ambitious and seemed "to be more the work of promise than fulfillment." This reviewer probably had not read beyond the first story, for he called "Flavia and Her Artists" the best of the collection. The Independent reviewer would recommend the stories "strongly but not widely" among his friends, but he did select "The Sculptor's Funeral" and "Paul's Case" as the best. He rapped Cather on the knuckles for seeing only the ugly side of pioneer life. The Dial reviewer also seemed not to have read the entire book; the Critic found "real promise"; and the Reader Magazine described the tales as "singularly vivid, strong, true, original. "

When book buyers did not rush out to get The Troll Garden, McClure, Phillips, and Company did not reprint it, and there were still copies left in stock when the company sold its book business to Doubleday, Page and Company the next year. Cather took the book's lack of success philosophically and went on teaching high school. Witter Bynner, however, who then was fresh out of Harvard and McClure's office boy, had great faith in the book and tried to interest Henry James in it. He sent James a copy and followed it up with a letter. James replied that he had received the book but had had no intention of reading it until getting Bynner's letter. "Being now almost in my 100th year, and with a long and weary experience of such matters [receiving complimentary works of fiction] behind me, promiscuous fiction has become abhorrent to me, and I find it the hardest thing in the world to read almost any new novel. Any is hard enough, but the hardest from the innocent hands of young females, young American females perhaps above all. " But he added that in spite of these feelings he would do his best for Miss Cather. Bynner sent Cather a copy of the letter, to which she replied that it had given her a keen satisfaction. James's attitude was exactly the one she would have wished him to have, and she would have been very much hurt if he did not have the opinion he expressed about "promiscuous fiction." She felt exactly the same as James about fiction by young females. His letter, she thought, was a kind of moral stimulant, and she promised Bynner she would stand up with good grace to whatever punishment James might mete out. There was, however, no further communication from James.

In 1911 Elizabeth Sergeant bought a secondhand copy of the book and read it for the first time. She found "The Sculptor's Funeral," "A Wagner Matinee," and "Paul's Case" all exciting stories, full of passion and superbly executed and wrote Cather of her"joy and critical estimate." Cather replied that she was pleased Sergeant had found something to enjoy, but the stories had been written so long ago "that they now hardly seemed to belong to her. She herself had outgrown the harsh mood that had inspired the Western ones. The starvation of a girl avid for a richer environment seemed to stick out, to deform, to make the picture one-sided." When Cather was chiding Edward Wagenknecht for wanting to resuscitate her early fiction in 1936, she said that if he wanted evidence against her, wasn't "'A Death in the Desert'" poor enough? There was a certain honest feeling in it, she thought, of a very young kind, but it was really flimsy enough to bring up as a reproach to any writer.

By the time she wrote that letter she had completely abandoned "'A Death in the Desert"' and was omitting it from her collected works. She had cut a third of the story when she reprinted it in 1920 in Youth and the Bright Medusa and improved it substantially, so much so that Dorothy Canfield Fisher in reviewing the later version commented on the changes. She suggested that anyone who wanted to see how a real artist could "smooth away crudeness without rooting out the life" of a story should study the revisions. Cather, however, was never satisfied with the tale and apparently decided it would be impossible to rework it further. The story contains more obtrusive literary allusions and quotations than any of her other stories, and it is likely that a young artist's death in the desert no longer had the power to move her at the age of sixty-five that it had when she was twenty-nine.

The three stories that Sergeant liked particularly survived in the collected works. Cather touched up "The Sculptor's Funeral" and "Paul's Case" for the 1920 and 1937 reprintings but made no substantial changes. "A Wagner Matinee, " however, underwent a successive softening of the harsh portrait of Aunt Georgiana, as Cather revised the tale in 1920 and again in 1937. One should read the story in The Troll Garden version, for the author performed so much plastic surgery on her character that she transformed Aunt Georgiana from a cruelly used, worn-out farm wife from a harsh, isolated prairie farm into a quaint little old lady from the boondocks.

After the book came out and the 1905 school year ended, Cather and Isabelle McClung traveled west to spend two months in Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. They spent a week with Douglass in Cheyenne and a week camping in the Black Hills with Roscoe. After that they returned to Red Cloud for a month and helped Cather's father fix up a new house he had bought. She wrote Mariel Gere that her sister Jessica had a dear little home of her own and was pregnant and happy and that she had seen a good deal of Mrs. Garber, who was as charming as ever but greatly aged and saddened by the death of her husband. Her younger siblings Jack and Elsie were now big children, though they still seemed little to her. She thoroughly enjoyed her visit and thought the West was where she wanted to live. She said she was planning to get home to Red Cloud for a year before very long. After they left Red Cloud, McClung returned to Pittsburgh, and Cather went on to New York to visit Edith Lewis, whom she had met in Lincoln in the summer of 1903 and had visited in New York the summer before.

While Cather was awaiting publication of her book, she apparently tried to write a novel. If McClure wanted to publish everything she wrote, she would take him at his word. Little is known about this attempt, but several notes appeared in the Journal during the summer of 1905 when Cather was visiting Nebraska. The paper reported that she had finished a novel that would be published in the fall. It was said to be "in an entirely different vein from any of her previous work. It is her first long story . . . but win not make a very heavy book as it was cut down one-third with the intention of adding to its strength. The scene is laid in Pittsburgh." By the following February the enterprise was dead, the manuscript returned from McClure. Cather wrote Bynner, who had asked what she was doing with the novel, that she had not taken it out of the wrapper he had mailed it in until a few weeks before when she needed a piece of string. She had done absolutely nothing with it. It seemed not quitebad enough to throw awayand not quite good enough to wrestle with again. Therefore it was reposing in her old hat box. Thus it was back to teaching for another year.

Even if McClure had decided her manuscript was unpublishable, he did not forget that she was one of his authors. He must have sent her an invitation to Mark Twain's seventieth birthday dinner held in the Red Room at Delmonico's in New York on December 5. She was one of 170 literary and quasiliterary notables who attended the banquet arranged by Colonel George Harvey, head of Harper and Brothers. Cather also was one of the 50 guests who got to meet Twain before the dinner. Twain and Howells were the celebrities on this occasion, but there were many lesser notables that Cather must have been excited to meet or at least to see: Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Alice Brown, George Ade, Julian Hawthorne, and Owen Wister. Charles Major and Rex Beach were there too, but Cather disliked their writing. George Washington Cable and John Burroughs were present; so were Andrew Carnegie and Emily Post. Somehow Dorothy Canfield, who had not yet begun her literary career, managed an invitation. Viewed in retrospect, the only important writer at the dinner besides Twain and Howells was Cather. No one had thought E. A. Robinson, Edith Wharton, or Theodore Dreiser worth inviting. It was a glittering evening nonetheless, and Cather enjoyed it seated at a table between two editors, Edward Martin of the humor magazine Life and Frederick Duneka of Harpers. Cather had a high opinion of Twain's Mississippi River books, thought Huck Finn one of the three most enduring American classics, and later when she was living in Greenwich Village followed up her acquaintance.

By the time the second semester began during the winter of 1905-6, Cather's years in Pittsburgh were rapidly drawing to a close. Sometime in the early spring McClure made a quick trip to Pittsburgh, went to see Cather at the McClungs' house, stayed for dinner, and enchanted everyone with his talk. His magazine was in a state of crisis; he needed new editors immediately. When he returned to New York, he had persuaded Cather to join his staff even before the school year ended. The high school paper reported in March: "When we return from our April vacation, we shall fail to see Miss Cather; but ... we feel relieved in knowing that next September she will again be able to take her classes." The canny McClure must have lured Cather to New York on a temporary basis, then after she arrived persuaded her to stay. The finality of her departure was made clear when the June issue of the paper printed her farewell letter, dated June 2:

Dear Boys and Girls:

Now that I find that I shall not return to the High School next fall, I have a word to say to you. A number of my pupils in various classes, and especially in my Reporting Class, asked me, when I came away, whether I should be with you next year. At that time I fully expected to be. The changes in my plans which will prevent my doing so have been sudden and unforeseen. I should hate to have you think that I had not answered you squarely when you were good enough to ask whether I should return, or to have you think that I put you off with an excuse.

I had made many plans for your Senior work next year and had hoped that we should enjoy that work together. I must now leave you to enjoy it alone. One always has to choose between good things it seems. So I turn to a work I love with very real regret that I must leave behind, for the time at least, a work I had come to love almost as well. But I much more regret having to take leave of so many students whom I feel are good friends of mine. As long as I stay in New York, I shall always be glad to see any of my students when they come to the city.

I wish you every success in your coming examinations and in your senior work next year.

Faithfully yours,

Willa S. Cather

CHAPTER 9

McClure's Magazine

At the beginning of 1906 McClure's Magazine was a fabulously successful enterprise under the editorial direction of an erratic genius, Samuel S. McClure. As the journalist Mark Sullivan wrote in his autobiography, McClure "was the pre-eminentmagazine genius, easily first, in a period in which magazines flowered as never before." For the previous three years his magazine had led the muckraking movement in exposing graft, corruption, dishonesty, and venality in big business, in government at all levels, and even in the labor unions. In January 1903, S. S. McClure had written an editorial announcing the movement, as he simultaneously published the third in Ida Tarbell's sensational series on the Standard Oil Company, Lincoln Steffens's exposure of municipal corruption in Minneapolis, and Ray Stannard Baker's article on lawlessness in the mineworkers' union.

Tarbell, Steffens, and Baker, all working for McClure at the same time, gave the magazine a brilliance perhaps unsurpassed in American magazine history. McClure had a genius for discovering talent and directing it. He had a passion for accuracy and facts and an old-fashioned missionary zeal to cure the ills in the body politic. As an impoverished Irish immigrant who had come to America with his widowed mother at the age of nine, he was Horatio Alger in real life. He worked his way through Knox College in Illinois, married a professor's daughter, talked his way into the editorship of a bicycle magazine in Boston, organized the first important newspaper syndicate, and founded his magazine in the midst of the Panic of 1893. Remarkably, his journal survived and in three years reached a circulation of three hundred thousand. The December 1896 issue, McClure wrote modestly, had "more pages of paid advertising than any other magazine at any time in the history of the world."

McClure's biographer believes the magazine "was the most exciting, the liveliest, the best illustrated, the most handsomely dressed, the most interesting, and the most profitable of an abundance of superior magazines. Indeed, for the fifteen years from 1891 to 1910 McClure's was probably the best general magazine ever to be published anywhere. Judged from the standpoint of impact on its times, of the daring and vision of its editorial formula, of the sustained excellence of its editorial matter, McClure's has never had a peer." The biographer, who is McClure's grandson, may exaggerate a little, but not much. McClure's was a supernova in the journalistic firmament. Besides a talent for picking writers, McClure could talk almost anyone into working for him, and when he did, he gave them a free hand. He plowed his profits back into the magazine and thought nothing of spending thousands of dollars on one story.

After Baker joined McClure's, he found everything different from the haste and superficiality of the newspaper world. When he was assigned to write a piece on General Leonard Wood, he visited Cuba, Massachusetts, and Washington and spent five or six weeks gathering material, all the while on salary and expense account. Ida Tarbell recalled in her autobiography: "I spent the greater part of five years on 'The History of the Standard Oil Company,' . . . I know of no other editor and no other publisher who has so fully recognized the necessity of generous pay and ample time." This openhandedness was unprecedented in that day; editors of most magazines sat in their offices and waited for contributions to come in the mail bag.

McClure not only hired brilliant investigative reporters; he also had a nose for sniffing out good fiction and paid generously for it. Much of Kipling's best work appeared in McClure's, and Stevenson was one of McClure's great enthusiasms. He published Thomas Hardy, Arnold Bennett, Stephen Crane, O. Henry, Jack London, Mark Twain, and Conan Doyle. He thought that he had probably lost more money publishing Joseph Conrad than anyone else. He also published Anthony Hope Hawkins, J. M. Barrie, William Allen White, Bret Harte, Booth Tarkington, Hamlin Garland, Howells, Joel Chandler Harris, and Sarah Orne Jewett. Then he bought memoirs of prominent people like Carl Schurz and Ellen Terry, commissioned interviews with Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and gave his readers the first magazine accounts of the Wright brothers' flight and Marconi's wireless transmissions. When McClure read in the paper about Roentgen rays, he sent a reporter all the way to Germany to get a story on this new marvel.

As a genius, however, McClure was a hard man to work for. At the time he summoned Cather to New York in 1903 and bewitched her with his ebullient personality and undeniable charm, he was philandering with a third-rate woman poet, bounding back and forth across the country and to Europe looking for talent, throwing off editorial ideas like a Fourth of July pinwheel, and spending the company's money as though it were inexhaustible. The hard work of getting out the magazine was left for Ida Tarbell and others, and the business affairs fell to John Phillips, his former college classmate, who had been with him for many years. Finally the strain of living and working with McClure, of trying to keep his indiscretions from causing scandal, of thwarting his schemes for bankrupting the company, proved too much for Tarbell and Phillips. When McClure insisted on planning a new magazine, starting a People's University, a textbook publishing company, a People's Life Insurance Company, and a People's Bank, his associates had had all they could stand.

In late March 1906 when McClure returned from one of his many trips to Europe, they confronted him with an ultimatum. Either he would sell out his interest in the magazine to Tarbell and Phillips, or they would sell out to him. They could no longer work with him unless they could control the company's affairs. Both sides thrashed about during April. McClure wrote Phillips that he could not give up his magazine: "Kings who have come to the end of their tether, as a rule suffer death rather than give up part of their power." He felt the same way. The outcome was that McClure made arrangements to buy out his partners. His former associates then left him for good, taking with them Steffens, Baker, and a good many other members of the staff. McClure was left only with writer Burton Hendricks, his chief manuscript reader Viola Roseboro', and the office boy Witter Bynner. On May 10 the rebels cleaned out their desks and departed. Late that afternoon Bynner found McClure sitting alone in the editorial department. "Bynner, " he asked, "are you leaving me too?" Bynner could not speak. McClure broke into sobs.

McClure had been hedging his bets, however, as he saw the blowup coming. His quick trip to Pittsburgh to hire Cather had taken place two months before, and on May 10 she was already at work. There wasn't even time to find a boardinghouse or apartment. She came to New York accompanied by her librarian friend May Willard, and the two women put up at the Hotel Griffon on West Ninth Street. She must have begun her new job in April and worked steadily through the spring. By the end of June she had to take a week off to rest. Events had moved so fast that she hardly had time to reflect that the girl from Red Cloud, Nebraska, had made it to the publishing capital of the United States and the staff of a great national magazine. She had fought her way to the top in a man's world, and in two more years she would be managing editor of McClure's.

There was plenty of action during the first few months that Cather worked for the magazine. In rapid succession McClure hired Perceval Gibbon, George Kibbe Turner, Henry Kitchell Webster, Will Irwin, Ellery Sedgwick, George Kennan, and Cameron Mackenzie. Bynner, who was only four years out of Harvard, found himself managing editor for five days until Irwin was lured away from the New York Sun to take the job. Gibbon, a Welsh journalist whom McClure hoped would be another Kipling, stayed only a few weeks, though he became a popular contributor; and Webster, a novelist, remained only a couple of months. Ellery Sedgwick, an experienced editor, lasted a year before moving on to the Atlantic Monthly. Kennan, uncle of the diplomat and also a Russian expert, was dispatched to San Francisco to carry on Lincoln Steffens's muckraking investigations of city government, and Turner, a veteran reporter, was sent off to Galveston to report on the creation of the commission form of city government. Of all the new employees only Cather and Mackenzie survived the vicissitudes of the magazine for the next six years. The faithful Viola Roseboro' inaugurated the new regime by discovering a writer, Damon Runyon.

Ellery Sedgwick in his autobiography reported that a week at McClure's "was the precise reversal of the six busy days described in the first chapter of Genesis. It seemed to end in a world without form and void. From Order came forth Chaos." The staff worked under some natural law of desperation. The chief was continually interrupting, cutting, and revising, and the staff made periodic efforts to circumvent him by hiding out in nearby hotel rooms in order to finish articles and to meet deadlines. "Yet with all his pokings and proddings the fires he kindled were brighter than any flames his staff could produce without him.... The intensity of McClure's enthusiasm would bring any project to a white heat." William Allen White used to say that "Sam had three hundred ideas a minute," and Edith Lewis, a proofreader on the magazine, remembered that he wanted all his ideas acted on immediately. "Some of his ideas were journalistic inspirations, some, of course, were very impractical; he did not bother to sort them out, he expected his staff to do that." Lewis also recalled that working on McClure's was like working in a high wind. Yet in spite of the fireworks McClure never lost his temper, treating everyone courteously, office boys and managing editors alike, and when Tarbel and Phillips defected, he wrote: "They leave me retaining my deepest love and affection and esteem and confidence. I think I may say it is the greatest tragedy thus far of my life to lose them."

This was the man whose life was inextricably entwined with Cather's for the next six years and to a lesser extent beyond that. That she was devoted to him is without question, but she could see him objectively; and a half a dozen years after they were both out of the magazine, she wrote a story "Ardessa, " laid in a magazine office like McClure's. The editor, who is named O'Mally, has come out of the West like McClure and has built a great muckraking magazine in six incredible years. On his staff are five famous men, every one of whom he has made ("it amused him to manufacture celebrities"); but no amount of recognition can make a stuffed shirt out of O'Mally. He is a born gambler and a soldier of fortune: "O'Mally went in for everything; and got tired of everything; that was why he made a good editor." It is restful, however, when O'Mally is back visiting in Nevada, his home state. Then the great men of the staff are left alone, "as contemplative as Buddhas in their private offices, each meditating upon the particular trust or form of vice confided to his care." The story concerns the boss's secretary, Ardessa, who has grown lazy during O'Mally's many absences, and O'Mally's devious efforts to get rid of her. He has a soft heart like McClure, and when he asks the business manager to take his secretary off his hands, he says: "I can't do anything. She's got the upper hand of me.... I can't discipline people."

Cather must have wondered sometimes about the fate that had landed her on the staff of a muckraking magazine. She had little interest in McClure's crusading zeal, found social reformers very dull people, and took the dimmest possible view of literature that had a social message. She did not despise the expert investigative reporting that McClure's published and thought it had its place, but her eye was always on art. "Economics and art are strangers," she wrote later. Fortunately Cather usually could concentrate on buying fiction and poetry for the magazine and leave the social issues for her colleagues to contend with. She and Viola Roseboro' read the manuscripts that flooded in from hopeful fiction writers and poets, nearly all of which were uniformly bad and unpublishable. She did have to spend some of her time whipping into publishable form articles by semiliterate writers who knew all about copper mines in the West but could not get their material down on paper.

One of the first writers Cather dealt with as a member of McClure's staff was Harrison Dwight, who had been born in Constantinople, had been a diplomat and foreign correspondent, and was then curator of the Author's Club in New York. He was a friend of May Willard, who introduced him to Cather soon after she arrived in New York. She slipped easily into the role of fiction editor, just as she had assumed without any experience the role of drama and music critic. She liked a story he submitted, "The Valley of the Mills, " which had an exotic Turkish setting.She suggested changes and cuts, and after he tinkered with the tale, she bought it for a future issue. She must have been rather blunt in her criticism, however, for when Dwight commented on her candor, she replied that there was no use talking about such things unless one were candid. She admitted that when she read stories she had violent feelings one way or the other. She always wanted to hang garlands on people or to put them to torture, according to the way they managed or mismanaged a possibility. She liked Dwight's story enough to persuade McClure to spend five hundred dollars commissioning Frank Brangwyn, a British artist whom she thought the best painter of oriental subjects alive, to illustrate it.

Meetings and discussions of this story led to a friendship and Cather's requests to see more of Dwight's work. She liked another story, but Dwight apparently couldn't revise it to her satisfaction, and she never bought anything more from him. They must have disagreed on a number of things, and in a letter after he had gone back to Europe, Cather wanted to know why he so scorned Pierre Loti. She had seen a resemblance to Loti in some of his work, but he had not been flattered. She said that she would swoon with joy if anyone saw traces of Loti in her work. She said she could not figure out why he was afraid to touch the poetic aspect of things and concluded that his problem was that he was afraid of being sentimental. She envied him his travels while she was grinding away at the office and hoped he would find some more exotic tales for them. As long as she was at McClure's, his work would have an ardent advocate. She loved his outlandish and picturesque settings, but what he had to do was to make the story run a little hotter and swifter through his atmosphere. She also told him on another occasion that she always held out in argument that a feeling could be a story just as much as an incident.

It was hot in New York that summer, and Cather did not get back to Red Cloud that year. Life in New York, however, was exciting, and she was thrilled to be a part of the metropolis. She had been to New York perhaps eight times during her Pittsburgh years, and in Edith Lewis she had a friend who already was working there. After making her way by stages from the Divide, to Red Cloud, to Lincoln, to Pittsburgh, and finally to New York, she never left the city to live elsewhere. She made many trips to the West in subsequent years and later spent the summers on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy and autumns in New Hampshire, but she remained a resident of New York. She often complained about the noise and dirt and the everincreasing vulgarity, but she died in Manhattan forty-one years later. Even before she had been in New York a year, she was writing Dwight that the city was big and raw and relentless and grinds one up into little bits every day. The New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and all the amenities of life available in the metropolis kept her there.

In October Cather went back to Pittsburgh for three weeks to visit Isabelle, and when she returned she moved into a studio apartment at 60 South Washington Square, in the same building with Lewis, and commuted to the magazine office on East Twenty-third Street. Greenwich Village at that time was a pleasant place to live. Few automobiles yet marred the urban scene, and on the north side of Washington Square the long row of mellow brick houses gave the area an aristocratic look. On the south side of the square were less pretentious buildings occupied by writers and artists. The studio apartments that painter Don Hedger and singer Eden Bower occupy in the story "Coming, Aphrodite!" are drawn from Cather's memory of her early years in New York. These characters live on the top floor of an old house and share a grubby bathroom at the end of the hall. Hedger's single room with a cheerless northern exposure looks out on a court and the roofs and walls of other buildings. He has a sink, a table, and two gas burners in one corner. Eden Bower's apartment is somewhat pleasanter—two rooms facing west on the square.

But down below, the square was lovely that summer. The fountain had been turned on for the season and was "throwing up a mist of rainbow water which now and then blew south and sprayed a bunch of Italian babies that were being supported on the outer rim by older, very little older brothers and sisters. Plump robins were hopping about on the soil; the grass was newly cut and blindingly green. Looking up the Avenue through the Arch, one could see the young poplars with their bright, sticky leaves, and the Brevoort [Hotel] glistening in its spring coat of paint, and shining horses and carriages,—occasionally an automobile." Farther uptown were the theaters and the opera house, and still beyond them was Central Park.

Cather's ambition to make a successful career in a man's world was realized brilliantly at McClure's, but her other goal, to become an artist, was derailed during her years on the magazine. She wrote Dwight nine months after going to New York that she wondered if she ever would write another line of anything she cared about. It seemed improbable at that point, and she thought that people seldom got out of this sort of coil once they were in it. Her mind was so full of things other than her own writing that ideas had simply stopped coming. She was feeling no impulse to do anything except grind and edit. As a result, she wrote very little to please herself during her years at McClure's. She published four stories in 1907, but these no doubt had been written before leaving Pittsburgh. In 1908 and 1909 she wrote just one story each year, and the following year is a total blank. During 1911, the last year in which she gave the magazine her full attention, she published one tale and managed to write a short novel, her first.

All four of the stories Cather published in 1907 are very competently written, very professional, and very Jamesian. They also are rather bloodless. She still was playing the sedulous ape to Henry James in matters of style and technique, character, subject matter, and theme. Three of the four tales deal with artists, and three are testimony to her lifelong love affair with France, with settings in Paris and Normandy. She placed three in McClure's, and sold the fourth to the Century. "The Namesake," which appeared first, is the story that owes its inspiration to the uncle who had died in the Civil War. The others are "The Profile," "The Willing Muse," and "Eleanor's House."

"The Profile" also has a literary antecedent in Hawthorne and is so reminiscent of "The Birthmark" that Witter Bynner in his old age remembered it by that title. He recalled that McClure's staff tried to talk her out of publishing the tale on grounds that it would hurt the friend on whose physical disfigurement it was based. The story appeared in the magazine, however, and nothing happened; but it is another case of Cather's insensitivity to the use of real people as suggestions for her fictional characters.

The story deals with a portrait painter who is commissioned to paint the daughter of a rich California rancher. The girl is painted in profile because she has a dreadful scar from a burn sustained in childhood, but she acts totally unconscious of the mark, as though she never had seen herself in the mirror. The artist falls in love with the girl, marries her, and as the years pass becomes obsessed with the necessity of making his wife acknowledge just once her disfigurement. Meantime, a young cousin comes to Paris to study and stays with the painter and his wife. The painter falls in love with the cousin, the wife reproaches him, and in a moment of anger he speaks to her of the scar. The wife reacts violently and takes the next train for Nice; and the next morning the cousin's face is badly burned when her study lamp explodes. After the wife sues for divorce, the painter marries the cousin, his second wife with a facial disfigurement. The story is interesting as an experiment in the use of symbol, but it lacks the subtlety that Cather achieves in her later fiction.

"The Willing Muse" is a story about two writers who marry: Kenneth Gray, who writes rather anemic scholarly novels that cost him a great deal of time and effort, and Bertha Torrance, who turns out two best-sellers every year. Friends hope the marriage will inspire Kenneth to reach his full potential, but his reaction to Bertha's astounding fecundity is a complete inability to write. He is reduced to answering his wife's fan mail until one day he simply can't take it any longer and disappears. Cather again makes use of a male narrator and a very Jamesian minor-character point of view. Bertha Gray may remind readers of Jane Highmore in James's "The Next Time" and Kenneth Gray of Paul Overt in "The Lesson of the Master" or Ray Limbert in "The Next Time."

The last of these four stories, "Eleanor's House," is the most Jamesian of all. It is about a man who is so devoted to the memory of his first wife, Eleanor, that he cannot bear to take his second wife, Ethel, to visit the home created by Eleanor. The main character, Harold Forscythe, is thirty-eight when the story opens. Eleanor has died after ten years of a very happy marriage, and now Harold has remarried; but Ethel has lived for two years in the shadow of Eleanor. She comes to the point where she has to do something and while her husband is away goes to visit Eleanor's house. She finds Harold there stretched out on the bed in Eleanor's boudoir. Ethel's appearance on the scene, however, has the effect of exorcising the dead Eleanor's hold on Harold. The story ends with the couple sailing to America and a new life, leaving the Norman countryside and selling the house to Eleanor's best friend. The story, which is pretty good psychological drama, is told from the point of view of this best friend.

Cather never reprinted any of these stories, regarding them all as bad apples and apprenticework. When F. L. Pattee wanted to anthologize "The Willing Muse" in 1926, she rejected the proposal out of hand. The story, she wrote, was so tepid and bloodless that she would not consider under any circumstances letting it be reprinted. Yet these stories are better than she remembered, and as they appear in her Collected Short Fiction, one can see a steady development in narrative technique and character portrayal. She no doubt did not want to be reminded of her Henry James phase, and of course, she had not yet found her authentic voice.

After Cather had been reading and editing manuscripts for eight months, McClure gave her an important assignment. He had in his files a manuscript he had bought some time before from Georgine Milmine on the life of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Milmine had collected an enormous amount of interesting—even sensational—material, all meticulously researched, but she was incapable of writing a publishable biography. Because Mrs. Eddy had led a rather bizarre life and was the founder of a religion, the material was potentially explosive. McClure, with his passion for accuracy, had put several of his staff members to work on it. He sent Mark Sullivan to New England to check facts; then he asked Burton Hendricks to rewrite the biography. Hendricks produced the first installment, which McClure's published in January 1907, but McClure wasn't satisfied with it. At that point he turned to Cather and told her to take over. She was to continue checking facts where Sullivan had left off and to finish rewriting the manuscript. To do this she went to Boston, moved into the Parker House until she found an apartment on Chestnut Street, traveled about rural New England, and spent most of 1907 and part of 1908 on this assignment.

Leaders of the Church of Christ, Scientist were upset when they learned of McClure's plans to publish this series. Spokesmen for the church visited McClure's office one day and insisted that the articles be suppressed. They were assured that the facts all had been checked carefully, that the series would be perfectly straightforward. When the visitors wanted to see the material in advance of publication, McClure flatly refused. Then they threatened him with a loss in advertising revenue, but McClure went ahead with the publication, and nothing came of the threat. The series was a great success, circulation figures increased, and McClure was delighted with Cather's work. Mary Baker G. Eddy: The Story of Her Life and the History of Christian Science ran in fourteen installments over the next eighteen months.

McClure had not lost his touch. While the Christian Science series was being prepared, McClure's was publishing a serial by Kipling, Carl Schurz's memoirs, and Hendrick's expose of the life insurance industry. While the series was running, the magazine ran fiction by Conrad and began Ellen Terry's memoirs. McClure could find new writers to replace the stars who had left him, but it turned out that he could not get along without John Phillips to manage the business end of the magazine. He had to mortgage his property to buy out his partners and was in financial trouble from then on. Even with a circulation of over half a million the magazine never made a profit after 1906.

For Cather the Christian Science assignment brought her both grief and the managing editorship. She wrote her father in December that she would not be able to come home for Christmas because she had to work on the Christian Science articles. She was bitter about giving up the trip she had planned, but she couldn't desert McClure. He apparently had convinced her that the magazine faced a crisis and persuaded her to work through the holidays getting the March installment ready for publication on time. Otherwise people would think the church had scared him off. The articles, she reported, were under such a glare of publicity and fire of criticism. The following month she wrote Dwight, who was off in Italy, that she was the fourth person to undertake to rewrite Milmine's manuscript and was about to spend the next five months grubbing among newspaper files and court records. This was the most laborious and sordid work she had ever done, and it was taking every bit of her time and as much vitality as she could put into it. It was sapping her brain and wringing it dry. She was jumping about like a squirrel in a cage and wondering how she ever got into it. She never in her life had wanted to do this sort of thing, but there she was hammering away at it. McClure, however, had promised her six months in Europe after she finished the series.

Following publication of the Life in the magazine, Doubleday, Page, and Company brought it out in book form as The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science. Although Georgine Milmine's name was on the title page both in serial and book form, Cather was the real author of all but the first installment. But the work was so foreign to what she really wanted to write that for the rest of her life, with one exception, she stoutly maintained that all she had done was edit the manuscript. In 1922, however, she felt the need to tell someone the true story and put it in a letter to her old friend Edwin Anderson. But she swore him to silence, and the secret was not divulged until Cather's letter eventually turned up in the archives of the New York Public Library. She ended her letter by saying that Milmine was in the awkward position of having her name on a book of which she did not write a word.

Cather regarded this book as part of her apprenticeship and wanted to forget it, as she did her early stories and her journalism. She said she wrote it as a sort of discipline, an exercise. It was her first long piece of work, however, and marked another milestone on her way to becoming a novelist. In her essay "The Novel Demeuble" she writes that "the novelist must learn to write, and then he must unlearn it; just as the modern painter learns to draw, and then learns when utterly to disregard his accomplishment, when to subordinate it to a higher and truer effect." Cather's experience with the life of Mary Baker Eddy was an analogous lesson.

Cather thought that McClure picked her to write the series because she was unprejudiced. She hadn't a bone to pick with Christian Science, she told Anderson. The subject was sensitive, however, as the church in its thirty-year history had grown powerful and Mrs. Eddy's book, Science and Health, was, next to the Bible, the most important book to her followers. In June 1906 Christian Scientists from all over the world had met in Boston to dedicate "the most costly church building in New England and one of the most pretentious in the United States." By that time there were already six hundred other Christian Science churches and many thousands of adherents. Hot arguments raged, nonetheless, over the sources of Mrs. Eddy's system of healing disease by the mind, whether it was from divine inspiration, as she claimed, or borrowed from Phineas P. Quimby of Portland, Maine, who had treated her in the 1860s.

The book that Cather wrote reads like a legal brief. She presented the materials dispassionately, documenting Mrs. Eddy's life every step of the way with hard evidence—letters, court records, sworn affidavits. There is none of the emotional coloring and figurative language that characterizes all of Cather's previous journalism. She not only worked with the data in Milmine's manuscript, but she also collected new material, for a number of the documents are sworn statements dated February 1907, after she went to Boston. Also, because Mrs. Eddy was still living, she added several more years to Milmine's biographical material. The series as a whole is an astonishing performance. McClure's erstwhile star Ida Tarbell could not have done it better, and Cather, had she wanted, could have been as good as any of the magazine's investigative reporters in uncovering political corruption and corporate venality. The New York Times commented editorially after the series began that McClure's was performing a large public service.

If the work of writing the Christian Science series was distasteful and uncongenial, the assignment to Boston was a marvelous stroke of good luck. She was excited about seeing for the first time the literary and historic landmarks of Boston she had read about all her life and traveling through the mountains and towns of rural New England. While Nebraska had only a geologic past, Massachusetts had as much history behind it as her native Virginia. She also discovered the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which drew her back year after year and eventually became her final resting place. The stay in Boston was richly productive of friendships: Ferris Greenslet of Houghton Mifflin, who became her publisher; Margaret Deland, writer, and Louise Imogen Guiney, poet; Louis Brandeis, future Supreme Court justice, his wife, and her sister Pauline Goldmark, social worker; Laura Hills, painter.

Her most important friendships began, however, one day in February 1908, when she set out to pay a call on Mrs. Brandeis in Otis Place. When she arrived, her hostess said she wanted to take her to visit a very charming old lady, Mrs. James T. Fields, widow of the former Boston publisher, who lived in nearby Charles Street. Together they began what for Cather was to be a moving journey into the past. The famous firm of Ticknor and Fields was a part of literary history, the imprint on some of the books she had read as a child in Red Cloud. That Mrs. Fields could still be living in Boston in 1908 seemed incredible. Her husband had been the friend and publisher of Hawthorne, Emerson, Lowell, Holmes, and Longfellow, an early editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and a key figure in New England's golden literary age. Annie Fields was in fact living at 148 Charles Street in the same house where Dickens, Thackeray, Arnold, and a host of other notables had been entertained. She had married young, when Fields was a middle-aged widower, and already had survived her husband by twenty-seven years.

Although Mrs. Fields was over seventy, she did not seem old when Cather was conducted into her drawing room. "Frail, diminished in force, yes; but, emphatically, not old." She was still a cheerful, vital spirit, a woman with a merry, musical laugh, a hostess of consummate skill and grace. In her presence Cather relived literary history. Mrs. Fields had talked to Leigh Hunt about Shelley; she had known Joseph Severn, who had given her a lock of Keats's hair. The house was full of treasures: rare editions, manuscripts of great authors, association copies of books written by her guests. If one did not "go at" her, she would talk of her famous visitors just as though they were people who had dropped in for tea last week. For the first time in her life, Cather later wrote, she felt that Americans had a past of their own, and she went away with an exultant feeling. "It was at tea-time, I used to think, that the great shades were most likely to appear; sometimes they seemed to come up the deeply carpeted stairs, along with living friends. At that hour the long room was dimly lighted, the fire bright, and through the wide windows the sunset was flaming, or softly brooding, upon the Charles River and the Cambridge shore beyond. The ugliness of the world, all possibility of wrenches and jars and wounding contacts, seemed securely shut out."

Cather loved going to that house on Charles Street, and she loved its occupant, though she never quite got over her sense of awe. She also visited Mrs. Fields at her Massachusetts summer place at Manchester and wrote her frequently, but in her letters she was always afraid of touching on one of Mrs. Fields's prejudices and letting the noisy modern world in on her. When DeWolfe Howe disposed of Mrs. Fields's correspondence after her deathCather insisted that her own letters be destroyed. They were too artificial and unrepresentative, she said. When she was with Mrs. Fields, however, she did not feel constraint, and their relations were natural. She delighted in the sharp contrasts between her world of McClure's Magazine and the surviving bit of the Victorian era on Charles Street. It was delicious to have Mrs. Fields look up from the paper and ask gravely who Rex Beach was and did he have anything to do with letters? Mrs. Fields was the soloist, and she was the accompanist, Cather wrote Howe, and she did not mind learning from her hostess. One day Mrs. Fields quoted a line of poetry: "A bracelet of bright hair about the bone."

"That's very nice," said I, "but I don't recognize it."

"Surely," she said, "that would be Dr. Donne."

"I never pretended to Mrs. Fields," Cather continued, and so she asked brazenly, "And who ... was Dr. Donne?" Mrs. Fields was patient with her ignorance and sent her up to bed with two thick volumes of Donne to read. Despite her omnivorous reading, Cather had many gaps in her knowledge of English literature, and there are no references at all in her years of journalism to the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets.

She learned a great deal from Mrs. Fields, not just the anecdotes of literary history or who John Donne was. It was her manner, her complete faith in the great tradition, her life-style, to use the contemporary term, that instructed Cather. She was an exemplary figure, a role model, even though Cather regarded herself as a liberated woman, modern and progressive. When she reviewed Howe's edition of Mrs. Fields's diaries, Memories of a Hostess, in 1922, she quoted a sentence from Aristotle that Mrs. Fields had copied in her diary as a young woman: "Virtue is concerned with action; art with production."The problem of life, she added, was to harmonize the two. In a long life, wrote Cather, "she went far toward working out this problem... . In the patriot, the philanthropist, the statesman, she could forgive abominable taste. In the artist ... she could forgive vanity, sensitiveness, selfishness, indecision, and vacillation of will." Cather too pondered this maxim and tried to reconcile these dichotomies.

When Cather first climbed the stairs to Mrs. Fields's drawing room that memorable day in February 1908, there were two women having tea together, Mrs. Fields and her old friend and sometime companion Sarah Orne Jewett. It was a wonderful surprise to meet Jewett, "who looked very like the youthful picture of herself in the game of 'Authors' I had played as a child, except that she was fuller in figure and a little grey." The friendship with Jewett that began over tea that afternoon lasted only sixteen months, but it was one of Cather's most cherished relationships. Jewett died unexpectedly at the age of sixty; yet in those sixteen months she became one of the most prepotent forces in Cather's literary development. She was, moreover, the first important woman writer Cather knew.

Cather saw her on other occasions at Mrs. Fields's that winter and spring, again when she visited Mrs. Fields in the summer at Manchester, and in the fall at Jewett's home in South Berwick, Maine. She tried to get Jewett to write a story for McClure's, and she promised she would, but her health was precarious and she never managed to do it. Jewett was strongly attracted to Cather and wrote her in August: "I wish that I could see you and that something might bring you to Boston and for a night to Manchester. For more than a night, or as long as you could stay." After Cather's visit to Maine in November, Jewett wrote: "I was sorry to miss the drive to the station and a last talk about the story and other things; but I was too tired.... And I knew that I was disappointing you, besides disappointing and robbing myself." After Jewett's death Cather visited Sarah's sister Mary in South Berwick, and for her Jewett's room and desk became a sort of shrine. Jewett served Cather as an important role model as she struggled to find her authentic voice.

Cather had not begun to appreciate the stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, however, until she was an adult. At the age of nineteen, she wrote Alexander Woollcott in 1942,she was not the least interested in Jewett. She found nothing in her stories that she wanted in a book. She was blind alike to their elegance and truthfulness. She was then reading Balzac furiously and everything of Tolstoy. Young people, she said, don't care how a thing is done; refinement simply goes over their heads, and form means nothing. By the time The Country of the Pointed Firs came out in 1896 Cather had developed a passion for Jewett's work, and when she edited a collection of Jewett's best stories in the twenties, she ranked The Pointed Firs along with The Scarlet Letter and Huck Finn as one of the three most enduring American classics.

The six months in Europe that McClure promised Cather when she began work on the Christian Science series shrank to four months and was belated. She was able to make a trip back to Red Cloud in the summer of 1907,but the life of Mrs. Eddy took longer to complete than anyone anticipated. In April 1908, however, Cather and McClung again sailed for Europe, this time going directly to Italy. They spent a week in Tuscany and visited Rome, Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi coast on the Gulf of Salerno. Cather responded to this first trip to Italy with intense delight. Her letters are rhapsodies to the beauty of the land and the grandeur of the antiquities.

After reaching Naples, she wrote Mrs. Goudy, her old teacher, about her first couple of weeks in Italy. She and McClung had tramped about the Apennines visiting old monasteries. In one lonely sanctuary high on a mountaintop they found a single monk living amid the ruins, who showed them wonderful Latin manuscripts in his crumbling library. On another day they found an original code of the Lombard League in a Benedictine abbey that had been founded in the eleventh century. Then the two women moved on to Naples and Pompeii, which were more wonderful than anyone could imagine. They spent two days amid the ruins of that buried city before returning to Naples to look at the art treasures in the museums there. Naples itself was a marvel, and their hotel overlooked the bay, which Cather thought the most beautiful body of water in the world. She was sitting on her balcony every afternoon and watching Mt. Vesuvius change from violet to lilac to purple. She could almost throw a stone to the tiny island of Megaris where Lucullus once had his garden and where Brutus met Cicero after the murder of Caesar. Street singers sang under her window every night, and every morning she went to the flower market to buy roses and camellias.

She was captivated by the Roman sculpture in the Royal Museum. It was full of royal Roman families in youth and in age, and she felt as if she had known them all personally. She was brushing up on her Latin and reading Tacitus and Seutonius. They also had been going about in the country looking at vineyards and fields in bloom. The vines were in new leaf; oranges and lemons were ripe; peach and cherry trees were blooming. The olive trees above the Mediterranean were soft and gray, and all the country folk were out digging in their fields, just as Virgil described it in the Georgics. Such a ravishing world, she concluded, and such a short life to see it in!

One week later she was writing Jewett from the Hotel and Pension Palumbo in Ravello overlooking the Mediterranean high above Amalfi. The camellias were in bloom in the Rufolo Garden, and the hotel was covered with yellow roses. She had a room facing the sea. Apparently Jewett had once stayed in the same hotel, for Cather refreshed her memory of the breathtaking view. The land dropping down to the sea looked like hot green porcelain whose flow had been checked by the jagged cliffs along which ran the Salerno road. It was surely a sea of legend, a sea that glimmered centuries away with the opaque blue water that Puvis de Chavannes painted. The day before there had been a religious festival in Amalfi, and she had started out gaily in the company of Italians along the footpath leading down to the town. Just as the path came out on an open place along the carriage road, a group of Nebraskans she had not seen for years came into sight. There was nothing she could do but go back to Ravello with them and leave her Italian companions and the fiesta.

The Italian interlude ended all too soon, and Cather was back at her desk by August 6. She later told people that she had become managing editor about this time, but she never listed herself as more than an associate editor in her Who's Who entries. McClure's biographer believes she shared the duties of managing editor with George Turner, but he was off on roving assignments much of the time, while Cather remained in the office doing the work. In actual fact McClure was his own managing editor as well as editor-in-chief, and the person or persons who sat on the editorial desk were merely expected to handle routine editorial correspondence, dispose of would-be contributors who insisted on calling in person, recognize any new talent that swam into view, and keep McClure informed of what was going on. But McClure himself also spent much of his time traveling so that whoever was in the office did the work of putting out the magazine.

Cather also was able to get along with McClure better than anyone else. They had their common Western background as a bond, also their mutual interest in romance and writers like Kipling and Stevenson. Sergeant, who saw them both in action in 1910 reported: "Clearly the two of them were partners in an alliance that had tang and motion. Their Midwest voices harmonized, their seething inner forces supplemented each other. There was an inspirational quality about the dynamic unspoiled assistant that kept the older editor afloat on his sea of discovery."

Every editor who worked for McClure had the unofficial job of trying to keep the chief from going off half-cocked. Cather said later that she spent a lot of her energy helping the magazine wriggle out of commitments McClure had made to writers and their agents. She didn't have enough help in this duty, however, and was unable to prevent McClure's ultimate downfall. When he had Tarbell, Phillips, and Steffens with him, the three of them could hold him down, but they had been with him for a long time and knew how to do it. The newer employees like Cather didn't have the experience. Will Irwin, who was managing editor for a year after the blow-up, remembered: "As a curb on genius, I was not a success."

Cather made a significant change in her living arrangements after her return home from Europe. She and Edith Lewis took an apartment together at 82 Washington Place and began a relationship that lasted until Cather died thirty-nine years later. The two women had met in 1903 when Lewis was visiting her family in Lincoln after graduating from Smith. She then had gone to New York to seek her fortune in the publishing business, and Cather had visited her there several times. When Cather went to work for McClure's, she helped Lewis get a job as proofreader on the magazine. They had lived as neighbors at 60 South Washington Square, and when Cather was working on the Christian Science articles, the magazine had sent Lewis to Boston with proof. Now they were to be permanent apartment-mates. The relationship was a close, loving friendship that survived the vicissitudes of nearly four decades.

The close bond between Cather and Lewis has been described as a marriage, but that term is misleading and suggests more than the evidence warrants. Isabelle McClung always remained number one in Cather's affections, even after she married in 1916. Lewis, however, was devoted to Cather and spent her life smoothing the way and protecting the privacy of her more gifted friend. Sergeant wrote of the relationship: "A captain, as Will White of Emporia said ... must have a first officer, who does a lot the captain never knows about to steer the boat through rocks and reefs." Lewis was the one who bought the railroad tickets, made the hotel reservations (usually in her own name to avoid publicity), acted as traveling companion when she could get away from her job, and in general was Cather's "stand in." The arrangement worked out very well, and the two women lived together harmoniously and comfortably. Lewis, however, had her own career, first as copy reader for McClure's, later a magazine editor, and then an advertising writer for J. Walter Thompson.

The only story that Cather was able to publish in 1 908 was "On the Gull's Road, " which McClure's used in its December issue. It owes its setting to the transatlantic crossing she and McClung had just made in July, and the story might well have been suggested by people encountered during the voyage. There is little action in the story, simply a developing relationship between two characters who spend their days in deck chairs talking as their ship travels from Genoa to New York. Mrs. Ebbling, the Scandinavian wife of the ship's chief engineer, and a young diplomat-artist gradually fall in love. As the young man's love grows, he becomes aware that Mrs. Ebbling is intensely unhappy in her marriage and proposes an elopement. She, however, is suffering from an incurable heart disease and refuses to encumber his life. The admirer is left with bittersweet memories, as he tells the story twenty years later.

A plot summary does not convey the skill of the narration or the subtlety of the character development. Though the influence of James still seems apparent, the story has originality and sentiment without becoming sentimental. There are some good moments in the tale, as Mrs. Ebbling's entrapment in an unhappy marriage and the narrator's growing love are gradually revealed. Cather suggests sexual passion by associating Mrs. Ebbling continually with the sea, as though she were Venus emerging on her scallop, describing her with metaphors of water. To reenforce this image Cather leaves the narrator with a memento from Mrs. Ebbling—a coil of her hair that curls and clings about his sleeve like a living thing and two pink sea shells, both enclosed in a little box.

Cather had doubts about this story when she read proof and sent a copy to Jewett. She was afraid the scent of the tube-rose was still clinging to it and it rather screamed, but her fears that her friend would not like it were unfounded. Jewett read the story with"deep happiness," and it made her feel very near to the writer's "young and loving heart." Mrs. Ebbling was drawn with "unerring touches and wonderful tenderness for her." She added: "It makes me the more sure that you are far on your road toward a fine and long story of a very high class." She had one stricture, however; she thought the lover should have been a woman, or the story should have been told in the third person. "The lover is as well done as he could be when a woman writes in the man's character—it must always, I believe, be something of a masquerade. I think it safer to write about him as you did about the others, and not try to be he! And you could almost have done it as yourself—a woman could love her in the same protecting way—a woman could even care enough to wish to take her away from such a life. But oh, how close—how tender—how true the feeling is! the sea air blows through the very letters on the page."

Jewett was responding to what she saw as a technical problem in the narration, but feminist critics see the use of a male narrator here and elsewhere in Cather's fiction as a masquerade, because no magazine would have published a story in 1908 of a love between two women. The gender of the narrator, however, is almost undetectible, and if the subtitle, "The Ambassador's Story" were dropped and one clause ("I threw my cigar away") cut, no one could identify the sex of the anonymous first-person narrator. In fact, one sentence reads: "I returned to the deck and joined a group of my countrywomen." But Cather certainly intended the narrator to be male and never paid any attention to critics who thought she should write more like a woman. She had been writing from a male point of view from the beginning and had begun her adolescence in the role of William Cather, M. D. If anyone had charged her with a deliberate masquerade, she would have denied it indignantly and defended her male point of view on aesthetic grounds.

Jewett was not satisfied with the letter she had written about "On the Gull's Road." She thought about the story and her young friend for the next two weeks and then wrote a long second letter which really said what was on her mind. She saw enough potential in Cather that she felt obliged to level with her. "I cannot help saying what I think, " she began, "about your writing and its being hindered by such incessant, important, responsible work as you have in your hands now." She thought it impossible for her to be a magazine editor and at the same time have her writing talent mature properly. Although The Troll Garden contained some good work, especially "The Sculptor's Funeral," "you are older now than that book ... but if you don't keep and guard and mature your force, and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago."

Then she went on to review Cather's background and career to date. "You have your Nebraska life,—a child's Virginia, and now an intimate knowledge of what we are pleased to call 'the Bohemia' of newspaper and magazine office life. These are uncommon equipment, but ... you stand right in the middle of each of them when you write, without having the standpoint of the looker-on who takes them each in their relations to letters, to the world." Cather also had had a good education, which was essential and important to her, but at this point in her career (age thirty-five) she needed a quiet place to write. "Your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet centre of life, and write from that to the world ... in short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up." Otherwise, she added, what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, what might be insight is only observation, and what might be sentiment is only sentimentality. "You can write about life, but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it."

This remarkable letter from an old writer to a young one touched Cather deeply.She responded with an eight-page reply a day or two after receiving it. In her answer she analyzed herself, her prospects, her ambitions, her talents, more profoundly perhaps than ever before. The letter is very revealing of her state of mind thirty-three months after joining McClure's staff. She admitted that she was deeply perplexed about her life. She was not made to have to do with what McClure called "men and measures." In order to get on with that kind of work, she had to go at it with the sort of energy most people had to exert only on rare occasions. Consequently, she was living from day to day much like a trapeze performer on the bar. It was catch the right bar at the right time or onto the net you go. Her mind was off doing trapeze work all day and only came back to her at night dog tired and wanting to sleep.

Then the reading of so many poorly written manuscripts had a deadening effect. She knew that some people could do it, but it gave her a kind of dread of everything made out of words. She felt diluted and weakened by it all the time as though she were in a tepid bath and could no longer stand heat or cold. She often thought of trying to get three or four months a year of free time to write, but then the planning of articles for the magazine was pretty much in her head, and it was difficult to hand the details over to anyone else. Her mind had become a sort of card catalogue of notes meaningless except to her. What McClure wanted to do was to make her into as good an imitation of Ida Tarbell as he could. He wanted her to write articles on popular science and other things for half of each week and attend to the office work in the other half. That combination would be perfectly possible, she feared, but quite deadening. He wanted above all things good, clear-cut journalism. She did not despise such writing, but she got no satisfaction out of it.

It seems clear from this letter that McClure was engaged in brainwashing. She said he kept telling her that she would never be able to do much in writing stories, but she could be a good magazine executive and had better let it go at that. She often thought that he probably was right. If she had been making any progress during the past five years, it was progress of the head and not of the hand. At her age she ought to have some sureness in her pen and some facility in turning out a story. In other matters—things about the office—she could usually do what she set out to do, and she could learn by experience; but when it came to writing she was a new-born baby every time. She always came into it naked and shivering and without any bones. She never seemed to learn anything about it at all.

She thought one had a right to live and reflect and feel a little. When she was teaching she did. She learned more or less all the time, but now she had the feeling of standing still except for a certain kind of facility in getting the sort of material McClure wanted. This was stiff mental exercise, but it was about as much food to live by as elaborate mental arithmetic. Of course, there were interesting people and interesting things in the day's work, but it was all like going around the world in a train and never getting off to see anything close up. She did not have a reportorial mind, couldn't get things in fleeting glimpses, and the excitement did not stimulate her; it only wore her out. It did to her brain exactly what she had seen alcohol do to men's. It spread out their brain cells so that they didn't touch, and everything leaked out, as power did in a broken circuit.

Whether or not McClure was right in thinking she would never be a writer, she thought perhaps she ought to consider her immortal soul. He thrived on the perpetual debauch of editorial work, but five years more would make her fat, sour, ill-tempered and—worst of all—fussy. She added that she was still sending money home now and then, but if she stopped working the following summer, she would have savings enough to live very simply for three or four years, which would give her time to pull herself together. Since she was fifteen she had never had six months free in a stretch. It was foolish to lose one's real pleasures for the supposed pleasures of the chase or the stock exchange.

When Jewett warned Cather that she needed a quiet center for her life or her writing would not improve, she obviously touched a raw nerve. One wonders why Cather did not take this advice and get out of McClure's office. The answer must lie in the hypnotic influence McClure had on her, the attractions of New York, the things a very good salary could buy, the satisfaction of having fought her way to the top, and the genuine self-doubts that this letter reveals. She concluded her letter by observing that she must have something like a split personality.

The work of managing editor took its toll physically as well as mentally. She quoted Jewett a couplet from Goldsmith:
And as an hare whom horns and hounds pursue,
Pants for the place from which at first she flew.

She felt like such a rabbit most of the time, even though she was called an executive at the office. By the following March she was seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Whether it was exhaustion, flu, or something else, the record does not say, but she was being looked after by Isabelle McClung, and McClure wrote in mid-March: "I am anxious about ... your health; but I hope that you will soon recover your vigor.... I want you to rest as long as Miss McClung feels that it is necessary." McClure also told her that she had worked a remarkable change in the way the magazine was being run. "I have a sense of things being in a competent condition that I have not had ... for a long time." He confessed to a sense of loneliness "not only personal but professional, when you are not around." He later told his wife: "The best magazine executive I know is Miss Cather."

She was much too severe, however, in her self-analysis. In her previous letter to Jewett enclosing a copy of "On the Gull's Road" she said she had finished a western story her friend might like better. McClure had sniffed at it, said it was all introduction, and apparently did not want to publish it, but she had made use of her Nebraska memories and felt the tale had merit. It did indeed: It was "The Enchanted Bluff," the tale that evokes her memories of her brothers and camping on Far Island. It is as good as anything she had done up to that time, and Harper's liked it and published it the next April. A rich evocation of her adolescence in Red Cloud, it foreshadows very directly her mainstream fiction. It uses the same setting as "The Treasure of Far Island," making use of memories of camping on an island in the Republican River, but this time Cather realized she did not need any formal plot structure. The story merely brings together six boys who talk around a campfire on an island the night before the narrator leaves home to begin teaching school on the Divide. It introduces the legend of Coronado and the Spaniards on the Great Plains, which recurs in My Ántonia; the symbol of the rock, which appears in Death Comes for the Archbishop and Shadows on the Rock; and the Southwest, which fired Cather's imagination long before she ever visited the area.

As in "On the Gull's Road," she created a male narrator, and again the story is told twenty years after the fact. As the boys sit about their fire, one of them tells the legend of the Enchanted Bluff in far-off New Mexico, the story of a lost Indian village on top of an inaccessible rock in the midst of the desert. All the boys resolve someday to climb that rock. When morning comes, the boys disperse and in the years between the time of the story and the telling of it, they all go off into prosaic adult occupations. The narrator ends the tale reminiscing about their youthful dreams and aspirations. The prose in the story is vintage Cather, as it opens: "We had our swim before sundown, and while we were cooking our supper the oblique rays of light made a dazzling glare on the white sand about us. The translucent red ball itself sank behind the brown stretches of corn field as we sat down to eat, and the warm layer of air that had rested over the water and our clean sand bar grew fresher and smelled of the ironweed and sunflowers growing on the flatter shore. The river was brown and sluggish, like any other of the half-dozen streams that water the Nebraska corn lands. On one shore was an irregular line of bald clay bluffs where a few scrub oaks with thick trunks and flat, twisted tops threw light shadows on the long grass. The Western shore was low and level, with corn fields that stretched to the skyline, and all along the water's edge were little sandy coves and beaches where slim cottonwoods and willow saplings flickered."

There is no doubt that McClure appreciated Cather's work and rewarded her generously. "I have been greatly pleased with your letters and your work," and "I am awfully proud of your splendid work," he would write when she was out of town on magazine business. He had another way of holding on to her, perhaps even more effective than praise. He sent her to Europe in May 1909 on a trip to hunt for writers and manuscripts. He believed in frequent trips to Europe and elsewhere and thought a roving editor was more likely to discover talent than a sedentary one. When he hired Lincoln Steffens, he told him he had to learn to be an editor.

"How can I learn?" Steffens asked him. "He laid his hand on my knee. 'Not here,' he said. 'You can't learn to edit a magazine here in this office.'

"Where then can I learn? Where shall I go to learn to be an editor?

"He sprang up and waved his hand around a wide circle.

'Anywhere,' he said. 'Anywhere else. Get out of here, travel, go—someplace.'" Steffens took a train for Chicago and began his distinguished career as magazine writer and editor.

Cather was in England for two months on this scouting trip. She went to hear Vera Figner, a Russian political prisoner who had been released after twenty-two years of mostly solitary confinement in the dread Schlusselburg Prison on an island in the Neva River near St. Petersburg. From this lecture came a series of articles by David Soskice, The Secrets of the Schlusselburg, for which she wrote the introduction. She also met interesting theatrical and literary people, one of whom was William Archer, drama critic, writer, and contributor to McClure's. He took her to the funeral of George Meredith and to the first London performance of the Abbey Theater. They sat with Lady Gregory in Yeats' box and saw Synge's The Playboy of the Western World. One Irish actress became the model later for a character in her first novel, Alexander's Bridge. She also met H. G. Wells, Ford Maddox Ford (then Ford Maddox Hueffer), Edmund Gosse, and Katherine Tynan, Irish poet and novelist.

This trip made a lasting impression, especially the association with Archer, whom she saw on subsequent occasions when he visited New York. She recalled another performance of the Abbey Theater that she also saw with Archer in a letter to her biographer E. K. Brown. This was a second play by Synge, the one-act Rising of the Moon , which puzzled the audience a good deal, including Cather. At supper after the performance Archer asked her what she thought of the play. She replied that it was interesting but not very dramatic. He responded gently that anything interesting in theater belongs there and is dramatic. Recalling this incident, she thought she had learned something important from Archer. All at once he had struck out a foolish platitude she had previously respected devotedly. Archer's idea became a principle she applied to her own best work.

While she was in London, she received the devastating news that Sarah Orne Jewett had died. She heard the news on Saturday, June 26, and immediately wrote Mrs. Fields a letter of sympathy and an expression of her own grief. She was overcome by the fact, and as she went about feeling numb and inert she realized that everything she had been doing in London was in hopes of interesting Jewett. She was even having clothes made that she hoped her friend would like. Now all the wheels were standing still and the ways of life seemed dark and purposeless. The day after she wrote a letter came from Mrs. Fields in an effort to soften the blow. Cather was deeply touched by her kindness, as she wrote Mrs. Fields from her ship the day she reached New York, July 13.

There was no time to grieve. As soon as the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse docked, she had to get back to the office. For the next twenty months she was chained to her editorial desk most of the time. She did manage six weeks in Nebraska in September and October, but McClure spent a great deal of time in Europe leaving her to run the magazine alone. The year before, he had gone abroad the day after she landed from Italy; he simply could not sit still. By Christmas she was so tired that she went to bed for the holidays. Fortunately she had Isabelle McClung with her for November and December, she wrote Aunt Franc, and that was a comfort, especially at Christmas, which always was a homesick time for her. McClung also had been shopping for her and had trained a new maid. Meantime, Cather still was doing her trapeze act at the office. She had commissioned an article on the Cherry Mine disaster and was keeping an eye on a grand jury investigation resulting from a McClure's article on Tammany Hall and white slavery. Later in the spring she went up to Boston to talk to Hugo Munsterberg, a Harvard psychologist, about a series of articles he would write during a forthcoming trip to Germany.

McClure's did well under Cather's stewardship. During the first year of her managing editorship the circulation rose by sixty thousand, and in the second the figures were even better. In June 1910 a special announcement stated that three issues had gone out of print in the past year and the current number was the largest in the magazine's history. McClure was still so much in debt, however, that the company was not making a profit. The articles and stories that McClure's published in this period are pretty much of a piece with the material used in previous years. Mrs. Humphrey Ward, then very popular, was the serialized novelist, and Cather bought fiction from Arnold Bennett, O. Henry, Theodore Dreiser, and Jack London. She also accepted stories from Rex Beach, whose work she usually disparaged, and three tales from Kathleen Norris in six months. Nonfiction articles included muckraking pieces by Turner, a series on Grover Cleveland, and work by Jane Addams. William Archer wrote on the theater, and there were more reminiscences by Ellen Terry. One day she bought an article on the sweated workers in the garment industry from a brisk young woman from Boston and Bryn Mawr.

This was Elizabeth Sergeant, who walked into McClure's offices with her manuscript and a letter of introduction from Pauline Goldmark. Cather was not much interested in sweatshops, but she liked her visitor immediately and found Sergeant really was more concerned with literature, France, and general culture than with social issues. A friendship developed that was very close for the next two decades. It was never broken off, though the two women did not see each other often after the twenties. Cather's friendships—and her hates—usually were formed on the basis of instant, intuitive reactions; she knew right away if she wanted to bother with a person, and Sergeant met the test. Cather also did not drop old friends, even when they displeased her; and when Sergeant became an ardent New Dealer in the thirties while Cather remained a staunch Republican, they steered clear of politics.

The editor that Sergeant met in McClure's offices in January, 1910 was a buoyant, rather square woman with no trace of the reforming feminist about her. She shook hands in a direct, almost brusque manner and led her visitor through the jostle of the noisy anterooms to her private office. Her boyish, enthusiastic manner was disarming. Her voice had a western resonance about it that contrasted sharply with Sergeant's Boston accent, and her clothes were informal, as if she rebelled against urban conformities. She wore a bright striped blouse and a loud Irish-tweed skirt that cut her sturdy legs in half. During the interview that followed Cather read Sergeant's article, found it sufficiently objective and factual for McClure's and after some cuts and condensation agreed to accept it. Then she changed the subject:

"Tell me . . . why you joined the reforming pamphleteers? This all has its place—it's good—but aren't short stories more in your line? I don't mean tenement stories—you look like a Jamesian—am I right?" Sergeant argued vigorously that society had to protect the exploited immigrant families crowded into lower Manhattan, but before long she was telling Cather about her recent trip to Greece and how she met Anatole France in the Athens museum. This led to Flaubert, Balzac, Tolstoy, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and Jewett; and when Sergeant said she had given a copy of The Country of the Pointed Firs to a French writer who compared it to Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, there was no doubt this was going to be a close friendship.

Another lifelong friendship began at McClure's when the future playwright Zoe Akins submitted verse to the magazine. Cather rejected the verse but found the poet a delightful young woman of twenty-three who had come to New York from St. Louis to be a writer. When she sent back the verse, Cather told Akins she ought to try playwriting. She did, and after achieving success with Declassee in 1919 went on to write one successful play after another until she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1935 Cather and Akins carried on a lifelong correspondence, writing each other warm and affectionate letters several times a year. Although Akins settled in California in the thirties, she came to New York on theater business every year and the two friends always got together. Cather had no hesitation in telling Akins when her plays were bad, but Akins always took the criticism good naturedly. She also had a genius for sending gifts that pleased Cather, such as a blooming apple tree at Christmas, a green jacket to work in, a Chinese nightingale. The only time Cather ever addressed sharp words to this friend was when Akins sent her a dramatized version of A Lost Lady that some young Hollywood writer had made. She wrote in 1936 that Akins was one of her comforts and one of the few people she trusted. On another occasion she wrote that she envied Akins's natural ability to enjoy life and her courage to take chances. When Akins got married for the first time at the age of forty-six, Cather wrote a warm letter of congratulations, wished she were going to California that year so that she could hear all about it. She thought that Akins, if anyone, could make matrimony go. Always for Cather there was a golden glow about this friend.

Besides Sergeant and Akins, there was a widening circle of friends in New York. She no longer found her friends among theater folk, except for George Arliss and his wife, who lived near Washington Place and were frequent guests. She thought his characterization of Disraeli was one of the great performances of the era, and she enjoyed frequent after-theater parties at his apartment. She developed a close friendship with Viola Roseboro', her colleague at McClure's, and came to know and admire Ida Tarbell, even though the latter had left McClure in the celebrated break. Another friend and neighbor was Mrs. Clara Potter Davidge, who had built E. A. Robinson a studio behind her house at 121 Washington Place. Cather met Robinson there but never bought any of his poems for McClure's.

Cather also got to know Mark Twain during his last years when he lived at 21 Fifth Avenue not far from Washington Square. He spent a good deal of time in bed in those years and entertained three or four young people at a time, including Cather on occasion, in his bedroom. Cather recalled these sessions when she wrote William Lyon Phelps in 1936 to praise an article he had written on Twain for the Yale Review. She was glad he did not accept Van Wyck Brooks's thesis that Twain was a blighted genius. If he had been the imaginary character Brooks created in The Ordeal of Mark Twain, she said, he never would have written Huck Finn; and if Brooks had ever seen that old lion in bed telling stories, he never could have written his book. Twain, for his part, was much taken with Cather's poem, "The Palatine," when it appeared in McClure's in June 1909 and read it to his secretary, young Albert Bigelow Paine.

For most of 1910 she drudged away on Twenty-third Street while McClure remained away. In July she wrote her former pupil Norman Foerster, then a recent Harvard graduate, that she was editing the magazine all alone and did not expect a vacation until October. She managed to get away at the end of September for two months but was too worn out to go home and only went to New England. McClure returned long enough for her to get her energy back and return to the office, but then he left for Europe once more. Christmas, 1910 however, was a happy occasion. Her younger sister Elsie, whom she was sending to Smith, came to visit, and McClung also was there for a month. The black maid Isabelle had trained the year before was Cather's chief treasure, and the little apartment ran like clockwork. She wrote Aunt Franc on February 22 that her health had been much better than the previous winter.

She spoke too soon, however, for almost immediately she woke up in the night with an agonizing earache. After pacing the floor in increasing pain, she and Lewis got dressed and went to see the only doctor they knew, whose home and office were uptown. There were no cabs available; so they took a streetcar. At the doctor's home they stood a long time on the doorstep ringing the bell before lights appeared in an upper window. The doctor diagnosed the case as acute mastoiditis and sent Cather to the hospital where she was operated on and remained for several weeks. Before she was fully recovered, Lewis remembered, Cather went back to London on magazine business. Although she wrote Aunt Franc that she might have to go to London in April, there are no contemporary records documenting this trip. If she did make the journey, she could not have been gone much more than a month, for she was back in the office in early May.

At the end of the month she went to Boston on business and spent a very pleasant week with Mrs. Fields, one of her best visits. She was in good spirits when she described the visit to Louise Guiney. Mrs. Fields, then seventy-six, had come down to the South Station to meet her, the first time in years she had been there. The charm of the house at 148 Charles Street was never so potent. That other rare spirit, Jewett, seemed not far away, and the house was full of her things. A lift had been installed for Mrs. Fields, and Cather wrote that she had become an expert elevator boy. If she failed as managing editor, she told Guiney, she always could get a job as an elevator operator.

The euphoria revealed in this letter lasted into the summer. She had fully recovered from the mastoid infection of the winter, and though she did not yet know it, her years of editing McClure's Magazine were about to end. Several weeks after returning to New York from Boston, she went back to New England to visit Mary Jewett at South Berwick. She wrote Sergeant that she was saluting her from Sarah Orne Jewett's desk where it all happened. There she could rest perfectly and forget the facts that confront one—Rex Beach, the white slave trade, and all the overwhelming vulgarity in which we all live. Never was a home so pervaded by a presence, she concluded. The visit must have inspired her, for by this time she was at work on her first novel, a three-part serial that she finished by the end of the summer. She also was writing a Nebraska story, "The joy of Nellie Dean." McClure's would publish the novel early the next year, and the Century would take the story.

Her last three months of editing the magazine were a grind. The summer was hot and she had to stay in the city. When she wrote Harrison Dwight turning down a poem that was too long for McClure's, she reported that she would be leaving on September 28 for a six month vacation. As it turned out, these six months stretched into fifteen months, and she never again was in the office for more than brief periods. About the time her extended vacation was to begin, the magazine reached another moment of crisis, and this time Cather was one of those who departed—not for another editorial job but for a career as a free lance.

The new life was precipitated by a financial reorganization of the McClure Company. The "chief" finally had gotten himself into such a financial tangle that his son-in-law Cameron Mackenzie had to raise outside capital. The outcome was a reorganization in which McClure lost control of his empire. He signed a contract for the lease of his magazine with an option to buy. The contract provided that he was to be retained as editor-in-chief, at least outwardly, but as Curtis Brady, the business manager, later said: "What was going to happen ... was so clear a blind man could have felt it with his cane." At this juncture both Brady and Cather resigned their positions, and Mackenzie, who moved over from the business office, and Frederick Collins, editor of the Woman's Home Companion and one of the reorganizers, took over the real editorial reins. The next year McClure was ousted from his position by the new owners—unhorsed after twenty years as founder, editor, and guiding genius. Thus one reorganization whisked Cather from Pittsburgh to New York, and another shake-up pried her loose from the magazine. She did not sever her connection, however, but took a leave of absence and planned to come back as a staff writer rather than as an editor.

CHAPTER 10

Alexander's Bridge

The escape from organized chaos at McClure's came just in time. The euphoria of June soon vanished, and Cather barely avoided turning into the sour, ill-tempered, fussy woman she feared she was becoming. She not only got out of the magazine office but also left the city. She and Isabelle McClung went to upstate New York where they rented a house in Cherry Valley near Cooperstown and Lake Otsego, about forty miles west of Schenectady. There they settled down for three months of quiet and seclusion. Mrs. McClung had grown up in Cherry Valley, and Isabelle, who loved the place, selected their retreat. After three weeks of rest Cather was able to sleep nine hours a night without turning over. There had been four straight days of unrelenting rain, she wrote McClure, but she liked it and had been hiking about in the wet woods no matter what the weather. In fact, the weather was about the only thing that happened in Cherry Valley, but when one was resting, that was quite enough. She wasn't really resting, however; she was writing very industriously and enjoying it immensely. She needed exactly this kind of life, she said, and had not felt so well or been so happy for several years.

At the end of October McClure stopped off in Cherry Valley en route to Michigan on one of his periodic trips to the Battle Creek Sanitarium. He had become greatly attached to Cather after six years of close association and was worried about her state of mind and health. She was feeling guilty over leaving McClure naked unto his enemies. He tried to relieve her feelings before his visit: "You must dismiss the magazine from your mind entirely; forget it exists; and when you come back I hope you will not let yourself be tied up in office machinery." When he got to Cherry Valley, however, he found Cather doing so well that he could not resist talking business. He must have showered her with ideas for articles she could write and urged her to come back to the magazine soon. But outside of the office and New York City she was able to withstand his blandishments, and after he left she wrote that she wasn't even going to think about magazine work for a while. Anyway, McClure was about to leave for Europe again and she would wait until he got back to see what his needs were. She had plenty of her own writing to keep her busy and planned to stay until after Christmas. Nevertheless, his visit had done her a lot of good. His talk had straightened her out more than anything else could have done, and she had never been more delighted to see anyone. When McClure sent her his picture, which arrived on McClung's birthday, she received it with pleasure, and the two women had a grand dinner together and wished for McClure's presence.

About the time Cather left New York for Cherry Valley the Century published a story she had managed to write in 1910 despite her heavy editorial duties, "The Joy of Nelly Deane," another western tale. It is less successful than "The Enchanted Bluff" in evoking her Nebraska memories, but it creates a well-drawn, believable character in Nelly, the "prettiest girl in Riverbend," a prairie town. The story has another first-person narrator, a woman this time, and at first glance one might think Cather was taking Jewett's advice. Peggy, who tells the tale, and Nelly are seniors in high school, members of the Baptist choir, and best friends. The logic of the story, however, requires a female narrator who can receive Nelly's confidences as they sleep together in her bedroom, and Cather could not have told this tale using her preferred male point of view.

"The Joy of Nelly Deane" recounts the brief life and death of a beautiful woman, one of the favorite themes of Cather's early enthusiasm, Edgar Allan Poe. Nelly is seen at two different times, the year she and Peggy graduate from high school, and four years later when Peggy comes back during her senior year in college. Nelly at the outset is not only beautiful, but she also is the happiest, best-natured girl in town. When she isn't singing, she is laughing. She is full of high spirits, but she's also careless and irresponsible. She broke her arm in a foolhardy coasting escapade, got suspended from school for playing hooky to go buggy-riding with her boy friend, and fell through the ice twice because she didn't look where she was skating. Her good looks and gaiety make her the darling of all the older women.

When Peggy returns to Riverbend, Nelly, who has been jilted by the traveling salesman she was engaged to, has become a discontented school teacher. She finally has accepted the proposal of "grim and saturnine" Scott Spinny, owner of the local hardware store. After Peggy goes away again, Nelly settles down, unhappy and rebellious, to the dull routine of village life. In the final scene Peggy comes back ten years later after learning that Nelly has died in childbirth, leaving an eight-year-old daughter and her baby. Peggy sees in young Margaret the reincarnation of Nelly's once-buoyant spirit, and when she picks up the baby, "he had the flush of new beginnings, of the new morning.... It was as if I held her youth and all her young joy."

This affirmation of life after death and sorrow looks ahead to some of Cather's memorable later fiction. After the tragedy in O Pioneers! the novel ends with affirmation; life batters the heroine in My Ántonia, but the book concludes positively; the title character in "Old Mrs. Harris" dies but life goes on in the younger members of the family; Archbishop Latour's death at the end of Death Comes for the Archbishop concludes a life of rich fulfillment. Cather felt the poignancy of the foreshortened life of Nelly Deane and before the story was published wrote the editor of the Century suggesting a change in title. She wanted to call it "The Flower in the Grass" because that was the real idea of the tale: a beautiful girl hidden away in the prairie country where nobody ever saw her. There must have been such girls in Red Cloud, whom she saw when she, like her narrator, returned from the outside world. She might have quoted Gray's "Elegy":
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Cather still had another eastern story to get off her chest before she could turn all her attention to fictional Nebraska. From Cherry Valley she wrote the editor of the Century that she was about to send him a story she thought rather "yellow" [sensational] but dealing with an aspect of New York not often written about. This tale must have been "Behind the Singer Tower," an uncharacteristic and mediocre story that the Century turned down. Collier's bought it, however, and published it in May, by which time Cather was two thousand miles physically and spiritually away from New York.

"Behind the Singer Tower" returns to the use of a male narrator and the frame story. Six friends are cruising New York Bay in a motor launch the day after the great Mont Blanc Hotel has burned down with a large loss of life. An engineer recounts an experience he had many years before as a young man working on the construction of the hotel. He describes his friendship with one of the Italian laborers in his gang, who had been killed by falling machinery. The accident was caused by the stinginess of the chief engineer, who repeatedly refused to replace worn cables. The narrator had sued and won damages from his boss on behalf of the Italian's family. Though the story deals with the exploitation of immigrant labor, Cather's chief animus is with man's inhumanity to man and the indifference of the chief engineer to the cost in human lives in building skyscrapers. The tale belongs in the category of social-protest fiction, but she allows the narrator to undercut her theme. He reflects that the hordes of immigrants who come to America only to be ground up in the great industrial machine are attracted "like iron dust to the magnet" because in building the great city "there must be something wonderful coming."

The story is muddled, the subject uncongenial to Cather's interests, and the pitiful death of the little Italian laborer scarcely arouses pathos. The Singer Tower in the title, which stands near the burned-out hotel, is intended to symbolize the garish vitality of the metropolis: it watches "over the city and harbor like a presiding Genius." The hotel represents the destructive forces of the city. But the symbols are not very effective, and the description of the Singer Tower as a "Jewy-looking thing ... when it's lit up" is one of several surprisingly anti-Semitic remarks usually directed at a Jewish doctor who is one of the listeners. This story perhaps was suggested by the infamous Triangle factory fire in Manhattan in 1911, and it was written while McClure's was running a series of articles on the appalling lack of fire escapes in New York's high-rise buildings. She certainly was thinking about engineers when she wrote this story, as she then was revising Alexander's Bridge for publication in McClure's the next year. It is, finally, the only fictional evidence in her canon that the social policies and contents of the magazine had filtered into her blood.

One of Cather's first chores at Cherry Valley was the revision of the initial installment of Alexander's Bridge, which was scheduled to appear in the February, March, and April issues of McClure's under the title Alexander's Masquerade. It is hard to see how she found time in the previous nine months to write even a short novel between her serious illness, trip to London, visits to Boston and Maine, and her editorial duties through the summer while McClure was in Europe. But she remembered writing it in 1911, and it must have been accepted for publication by September. After making her revisions, she sent another copy of her manuscript to Houghton Mifflin in Boston. Recommending it to his colleagues, her friend Ferris Greenslet wrote in his house memo that the novel was distinguished by "excellence of workmanship," "perceptiveness," and "actuality." He also thought there was a "spiritual sense of life that informs it." It is hard to know just what he meant by the last comment, but the company accepted the book immediately, and Cather signed a contract on December first.

If details of the writing are obscure, the materials that went into it are not. Her many months in Boston working on the Christian Science articles, her apartment on Chestnut Street, her visits to Mrs. Fields, and the house at 148 Charles Street gave her much of the American setting. The one scene in New York and the train ride through New England came from her own experience. Her business trips to London, her friendship with William Archer, her attendance at performances of the Abbey Theater, and her sightseeing in the British capital provided the London background. The ocean crossing, though she never had done it in winter, derives from her eight previous trips by ship between the United States and Europe. The narrative technique owes much to Henry James: the dramatic presentation, the invention of a minorcharacter ficelle, the use of a controlling symbol to provide structural unity. James, too, as a pioneer in the international novel, may have influenced the subject matter.

The plot of the novel is based in part on a real event. The collapse of Alexander's bridge over the St. Lawrence at the conclusion of the story parallels closely a similar disaster that occurred near Quebec in 1907. Cather must have used newspaper accounts of this event, for her bridge, like the real one, crumples and drops into the river while workmen are still out on the span. More than eighty men, including the chief engineer, died in the 1907 catastrophe, which took place after warnings of danger reached the builder too late for action. Further, the construction of the real bridge had been hampered by insufficient funds, and the designer had been obliged to skimp on materials. The man in charge of the project was Theodore Cooper, one of the great bridge builders of the day, but he, like Alexander, would not withdraw from the commission because it offered new problems to solve and the promise of fame.

No known engineer sat for the portrait of Bartley Alexander, the bridge builder, but there is a good bit of Cather in the character. The other woman in the novel, however, had a prototype. Edith Lewis remembered that "there was a gifted young actress in the cast" of the Playboy of the Western World, whose beauty and engaging personality vividly impressed Cather; "it was from her that she drew the figure of Hilda Burgoyne." This actress was no doubt Maire O'Neill, who played the role of Pegeen Mike. Cather saw her on the opening night of the Abbey Theater's London engagement on June 7, 1909 and she could have returned to see her again in one or more of five subsequent performances of the play during her stay in England. The play in which Hilda performs in the novel is housed in the Duke of York's Theater where James M. Barrie's What Every Woman Knows then was running. It is likely that the Irish playwright of the story, Hugh MacConnell, is a composite of Synge and Barrie and maybe Yeats too.

The novel tells the story of Bartley Alexander, who at the age of forty three already is a world-famous engineer. Glowing with strength and cordiality and rugged, blond good looks, he is the bridge builder whose picture the Sunday supplement editors always wanted "because he looked as a tamer of rivers ought to look." He is happily married to a woman who has brought him wealth and social position, but despite the outward appearance of success, he is a restless soul, a man who has found no happiness. When the story opens, he is building a great bridge across the St. Lawrence. On one of his business trips to London he meets Hilda Burgoyne, an actress he once had been in love with in his student days in Paris. They resume their former relationship, and for the next year Bartley lives a double life. After an agonizing struggle he makes the decision to leave his wife for Hilda, but at that moment he is summoned to Quebec by his subordinate in charge of the bridge construction. The bridge has developed alarming evidence of strain, and as Alexander inspects the structure, it falls into the river, killing him and many of the workmen.

Cather explained what she was trying to do in an interview with the New York Sun. "This is not the storyof a bridge and how it was built, but of a man who built bridges. The bridge builder with whom this story is concerned began life a pagan, a crude force, with little respect for anything but youth and work and power. He married a woman of much more discriminating taste and much more clearly defined standards. He admires and believes in the social order of which she is really a part, though he has been only a participant. Just so long as his ever kindling energy exhibits itself only in his work everything goes well, but he runs the risk of encountering new emotional as well as new intellectual stimuli."

The new stimuli that Bartley meets produce actions that reveal his flawed moral nature. At the beginning of the story Lucius Wilson, his old philosophy professor from a Midwest college, tells him in the course of a visit: "I always used to feel that there was a weak spot where some day strain would tell.... The more dazzling the front you presented, the higher your facade rose, the more I expected to see a big crack zigzagging from top to bottom." Wilson, however, at the moment of telling this believes he must have been mistaken. Bartley is at the peak of his career, famous and internationally known. Wilson was right, of course, for Bartley's life comes crashing down at the end, just as his bridge comes tumbling down. He had put too much stress and strain on his life, and he had figured too closely the stresses and strains on his bridge. He had loved his wife, who even at the end "still was, as she had always been, Romance for him, and whenever he was deeply stirred he turned to her." But Winifred with all her charm, taste, and wealth lacked one vital thing, "the energy of youth." This missing elan vital he found in Hilda. The opposing forces of his wife and his mistress ultimately open the fissure that Wilson had foreseen.

As the novel moves towards its denouement, it is Bartley's dalliance with Hilda that delays by a fatal day the telegram warning him of the bridge's danger. He arrives too late to head off disaster, and thus the novel ends by bringing into appropriate conjunction the bridge collapse as symbol of failure and the tragic death of the bridge builder. To give the novel an ironic Jamesian twist at the end, the tragedy that takes place is a lesser one than Bartley can foresee as the train rushes him toward his stricken bridge. In planning to leave his wife for Hilda, he realizes that he will become an outcast doomed to drag out a restless existence "on the Continent—Cannes, Hyeres, Algiers, Cairo—among smartly dressed, disabled men of every nationality; forever going on journeys that led nowhere; hurrying to catch trains that he might just as well miss." He perceives the crack in his moral nature before the crack in his bridge hurls him into oblivion. Like John Marcher's in "The Beast in the Jungle, " Bartley's self-awareness comes too late. Cather adds further irony in concealing from Winifred her husband's infidelity, for the unmailed letter he had written announcing his decision to leave her goes down with him. But when the body is fished from the river, the writing is illegible, and in after years she holds the torch for his memory. Wilson comments at the end: "She never lets him go. It's the most beautiful and dignified sorrow I've ever known."

Although the world of Bartley Alexander is not the characteristic world of Willa Cather, one should not, as she did, relegate the book to a sort of limbo outside the canon of her works. It fits well into the pattern of her life and her total accomplishment. The character of Bartley foreshadows other characters, and in him the author subconsciously reveals herself. Thematically the novel is linked to the reading of her formative years and to her lifelong preoccupations. In its plot Alexander's Bridge uses materials that look both forward and backward.

Bartley is a westerner, a self-made man who has come from somewhere out in Cather country and successfully stormed the eastern citadels. As he reaches forty-three, the spectre of middle age haunts him, and he realizes that he has not got from life all he wants. The crack in his moral nature is caused by his inability to harmonize desire with possibility, and the resultant conflict looks ahead to the similar struggle of Godfrey St. Peter in The Professor's House. Alexander's restless dissatisfaction with his Eastern life also anticipates Jim Burden, the narrator in MyÁntonia. Willa Cather, managing editor of a great national magazine, might have spoken for herself the words she gives Bartley when Wilson comes to visit: You work like the devil and think you're getting on, and suddenly you discover that you have only been getting yourself tied up. A million details drink you dry. Your life keeps going for things you don't want, and all the while you are being built alive into a social structure you don't care a rap about." Bartley has a divided personality, just as Cather admitted having herself, as she toiled on at McClure's and yearned for an escape to a nobler life. Although she managed to harmonize her conflicts, characters divided against themselves always fascinated her.

The foreshadowing of The Professor's House in this novel is particularly interesting. The creation of the minor character observer Wilson, Bartley's former teacher, looks ahead to Professor St. Peter, whose deep attachment to his brilliant student Tom Outland, informs the later novel. But more important are the parallels between Bartley's vision of himself as a small boy in the Midwest and St. Peter's memory of the boy he had left behind in Kansas. The concept of the second self in The Professor's House is more complex than in Alexander's Bridge, but the similarity of the two versions suggests perhaps a conscious reworking of the material in the later novel. To reinforce this notion is the appearance in both books of flower-giving scenes in Paris when both protagonists were students. The two passages are almost mirror images of each other. What makes these correspondences especially striking is that The Professor's House psychologically is the most autobiographical novel that Cather wrote.

The dominant theme in Alexander's Bridge, Bartley's yearning and seeking for something he can't find, runs like a leitmotif through Cather's fiction. It is an integral part of her temperament, for she had been searching and questing up to the time she wrote the novel. Bartley's desires are partly her desires, and later the dissatisfied yearning and seeking that motivate Marian Forrester in A Lost Lady and destroy Myra Henshawe in My Mortal Enemy carry on this preoccupation. Cather universalizes this theme by linking it to classic my- thology. So unobtrusive is her use of myth, however, that many readers miss it completely. When Cather has Hilda sing "The Rising of the Moon," she intends to evoke the myth of Diana, the moon goddess, the object of man's desire. Keats's "Endymion," the story of a youth's search for the moon goddess, fed her creative imagination throughout her life. She also used another version of the myth when Bartley refers to the story of Actaeon, who was changed into a stag when he saw Diana naked. Hilda-Diana in this novel represents the lost youth that Bartley seeks, and for Cather nostalgia for youth is a perennial theme. Moon imagery, as Bernice Slote notes, is "one of the most deeply affective and complex symbols in Willa Cather's writing." She already had made use of this symbol in early stories, "Eric Hermannson's Soul," "The Treasure of Far Island," and "The Enchanted Bluff," and it appears later in The Song of the Lark, A Lost Lady, and My Mortal Enemy.

Cather's use of color to convey meaning is one of the noteworthy aspects of her mature style. Here she uses it effectively to support the Hilda-Diana symbolism. As the full moon rising in the eastern sky is yellow, that color in Cather is associated with love and sexuality. In the novel Bartley first sees Hilda in a yellow gown and slippers, which she wears again the first time he is alone with her in her apartment. Then there are yellow irises in the apartment and a dry, yellow wine for dinner, which Bartley holds up against the yellow light of the candles. Later when Bartley and Hilda go riding in a carriage, it is a glorious sunny afternoon, and as the sun goes down behind them, they drive towards the gold-washed city which is surmounted by golden clouds. Cather had used yellow and gold imagery for the same purpose in "On the Gull's Road" to describe Alexandra Ebbling.

Cather also developed an effective use of contrasts in her fiction, and here she juxtaposes a number of elements. At the start of his career when Alexander is full of creative energy his first bridge is a suspension bridge "delicate as a cobweb hanging in the sky, " but the bridge that collapses is "thousands of tons of ironwork" and after the disaster a "great iron carcass." The two women in his life are also opposites: Winifred, a person of distinction, tall, beautiful, proud, a woman who "moved with ease and certainty"; Hilda, vivacious, simple, generous, and giving, but a woman with an Irish temper. The golden moments in the middle of the novel contrast sharply with the cold, wet conclusion. At the last meeting between Bartley and Hilda in New York, Hilda comes into Bartley's apartment on a cold, raw, rainy day dripping wet with water oozing from her boots. She has come to announce her decision to marry, but before she leaves the lovers realize that they cannot part. Then Bartley rushes off to Canada.

The train ride through rural New England gives Cather a chance to insert a remarkable contrast, which gives poignancy to the final chapter. As Bartley looks out the car window, he catches a fleeting glimpse of a group of boys "camped on the edge of a little marsh, crouching under their shelter and looking gravely at their fire." This image takes him back to his boyhood "to a campfire on a sandbar in a Western river, and he wished he could go back and sit down with them." The nostalgia for lost youth juxtaposed against the reality of Bartley's present predicament makes perhaps the most memorable page in the book. Here for a moment Cather has dropped the world of Boston and London, bridges and theater, and is remembering her own past.

The plot of Alexander's Bridge is no less a part of the whole design of her fiction than is character and theme. The skeleton of the story is the eternal triangle, a basic plot she already had used with variations in "'Death in the Desert,"' and "On the Gull's Road" and would use again in "The Bohemian Girl, " O Pioneers!, and A Lost Lady. As one of the oldest plots in literature, the triangular relationship gains universality by being linked to the story of Helen of Troy. Where the myth of Diana reinforces theme, Paris's abduction of Helen underpins plot; but Cather's use of this ancient story is characteristically subtle. One needs to remember that Paris is called Alexander in the Iliad and that after the elopement of Paris and Helen (Hilda), the bereft wife Oenone (Winifred) mourns the death of her husband. Bartley's story is also the tale of a person killed by his inability to reconcile the contradictions in his character, and in this respect the novel foreshadows the stories of Myra Henshawe in My Mortal Enemy, Claude Wheeler in One of Ours, and the heroine in Lucy Gayheart. In the last of these three novels Cather reuses death by drowning, not only ending Lucy's life that way but also replicating Bartley's death in the drowning of Clement Sebastian. Finally, Cather's persistent view of romantic love as destructive is nowhere more clearly worked out than in Alexander's Bridge.

Cather began disparaging this novel almost as soon as she finished it. Two months after Houghton Mifflin brought it out in book form she wrote Louise Pound not to bother reading it but to wait for "The Bohemian Girl," which would be in McClure's for August. That, she thought, was real. When she wrote an introduction for a new edition of the book ten years later, she could find nothing to praise in her first novel. She had been a beginner, she wrote, and as a novice had felt that knowledge of life could be gained by going out to look at it, as one would go to a theater. The beginner has to work through "his youthful vanities and gaudy extravagances before he comes to deal with the material that is truly his own." After another nine years passed, she looked back on the book as a "studio picture" that had been the result of meeting some interesting people in London. "Like most young writers, I thought a book should be made out of 'interesting material,' and at that time I found the new more exciting than the familiar. The impressions I tried to communicate on paper were genuine, but they were very shallow."

It would be stretching the truth considerably to call Cather either a young writer or an inexperienced one at this time. She was thirty-eight when the novel appeared and had published at least three dozen stories since leaving college. It is also untrue that she could not tell the difference between stories in her best vein and tales in her Jamesian manner. When she had written Jewett in 1908, she had made a clear distinction between "On the Gull's Road" and "The Enchanted Bluff." She knew then that the western material was the real thing for her. The reason she did not mine her mother lode extensively until after writing Alexander's Bridge is probably the obvious one: she was indeed absorbed in her life as managing editor of McClure's, and that life was for her then the most interesting subject for fiction. It was only after she made the break from the magazine that she began to devote herself extensively to western settings and characters. She was being disingenuous in her 1922 preface to Alexander's Bridge when she quoted the advice she once received from Jewett: "Of course, one day you will write about your own country. In the meantime, get all you can. One must know the world so well before one can know the parish."

Cather's feelings about this novel at the time it was published really were ambivalent rather than negative. When she dismissed her novel as unreal in her letter to Pound, she was posing a little before her old friend, who was by then a professor of English literature. When Aunt Franc accused her of allowing a moral flimsiness in the character of Bartley Alexander, she defended the novel vigorously. She admitted the charge but argued that in order to produce work that is taken seriously as literature the writer has to have one of two things: either an unusual knowledge of a character or a peculiar sympathy with him. One cannot write about what one most admires. The writer by some accident must have seen into his character very deeply, and it is this accident of intense realization that gives the writing tone and distinction, lifts it above the commonplace. She went on to say that she had tried to write about several people she admired greatly, but the stories turned out to be utterly commonplace, just like hundreds of other stories. She admitted that she did not know why this was; she wished she knew. She was sure, however, that O Pioneers!, which she had just finished, was a much better book, and she was sure her aunt would like the protagonist of it. She must have found the answer to her question very soon when she realized what she had accomplished in her second novel. The answer had been in one of Jewett's letters all the time: The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper—whether little or great, it belongs to Literature." The material that went into Alexander's Bridge or stories about people she admired was too immediate, too recently acquired, to "belong to literature."

Rereading the novel today, one is inclined to agree with Lewis, who discovered after Cather died that the book really is pretty good. The work is contrived and somewhat artificial, but "When it at last moves into its true theme, the moral division in a man's nature, it gathers an intensity and power which come from some deeper level of feeling, and which overflood whatever is 'shallow' or artificial in the story. " The novel is in fact a very competent piece of work, tightly written, well organized, very professional. Theme and symbol are carefully worked out, and the focus always remains on the main character. The novel is somewhat bloodless, however, a performance of the head rather than the heart, and it does not take hold of the reader the way Cather's later books do. And it is no doubt true that the novel would be forgotten today if the author had not gone on to write My Ántonia, A Lost Lady, and Death Comes for the Archbishop.

The narrative technique is very well managed for a first novel. The story opens with Professor Wilson arriving in Boston to visit, and the invention of this character gives Cather an observer who can comment on the characters and action. He returns in the middle of the novel and in the epilogue. Throughout the novel the action is presented dramatically as the characters interact with one another. When the narration moves into the mind of the protagonist, his reflections are cogent and sometimes moving. There are some first-rate scenes: Bartley's first view of Hilda on the stage, his first dinner in her apartment, their carriage ride outside London. Especially effective is Bartley's Atlantic crossing in winter when he is torn between his ties to Winifred and his desire for Hilda. Cather places him alone in a deck chair bundled up against the weather, "watching the low, dirty sky and the beating of the heavy rain upon the iron-colored sea." The outer weather mirrors Bartley's inner weather. This method of describing people in terms of natural elements may well have been a lesson learned from The Country of the Pointed Firs. Finally, the descriptions of Boston and London convey well Cather's own delight in discovering the charms of Chestnut Street, the Charles River, The Thames Embankment, Westminister Bridge, and the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

Despite the novel's competence, the character of Alexander was a little more than she could achieve at this point in her career. He doesn't really come to life, as Professor St. Peter or Archbishop Latour do in the later novels. Susan Rosowski attributes this failure to the novel's basic concept: Alexander's Bridge is an allegory about art in which Cather explored relationships among the creative energy of the artist, the spiritual world, and the physical one. In some respects the major characters are these ideas: Alexander is energy, a pagan force with the potential for either order or chaos; Winifred and Hilda are emblems of two worlds of experience, spiritual and physical." Neither woman is comprehensible by human motivation, and the plot is more accurately described by the creative process than by human relationships.

Contemporary reviewers, however, treated the novel kindly. It did not get any major reviews, but only one of the notices, which ran from one hundred to two hundred words, disparaged the work. The others saw much promise in this first novel, and they were in general agreement that the writing was superior. The New York Times praised the dramatic situations and the clever conversation; the Outlook thought it "brilliant in its reflections of character and life, and admirably restrained and graceful in form and diction." The Atlantic welcomed this low-keyed study of passion, which developed its plot and character with "dignity and reticence"; "The author's workmanship is deft and skillful, and the swift, clean stroke tells on every page."

Looked after and ministered to by McClung, Cather passed a happy and productive autumn at Cherry Valley. As soon as she finished the revisions of Alexander's Bridge, she started work on a long western story. She wrote Cameron Mackenzie on November third that she had sent her manuscript to him in care of Miss Lewis, and two days later wrote McClure that she was at work on another story. She thought it would be about the length of the bridge-builder tale, but it turned out to be her longest story to date rather than a second short novel. She was working on "The Bohemian Girl," her first important use of the immigrant families and the Divide. When she finished this story, she immediately began another, using much the same material. She gave it the tentative title "Alexandra." It remained unfinished until the following year when it became a part of O Pioneers!.

The six hard years at McClure's took their toll on her health. As a young woman she enjoyed excellent health, but in January, 1912, she was back in the hospital for the third winter out of four. Just what the illness was is not known, but she referred to it in a letter to Mariel Gere as a sharp illness and an exhausting little surgical operation. In February she wrote Zoe Akins from Boston that she had been in a private hospital for several weeks and was then recuperating in Margaret Deland's home. She also was reading proofs for the book version of Alexander's Bridge flat on her back. When she was well enough to travel, Elizabeth Sergeant, then visiting her family in Boston, escorted her to New York by Pullman. Cather always hated herself when she was sick, and as the two women left Boston, she was "in this typical downhearted state of mind." Sergeant remembered: "we watched the flying fields and blue bays, till at last ... she cast her mood like an old skin, and accepted the world as good again." By later February she was back in New York in her apartment on Washington Place, packing for her trip to Arizona, and feeling very fit.

On 2 March 1912 she attended Howells's seventy-fifth birthday dinner in the ballroom at Sherry's. It was another of Colonel Harvey's gala affairs such as Cather had attended when Mark Twain celebrated his seventieth. This time Harvey invited four hundred guests and managed to get President Taft to come to honor his fellow Ohioan. Besides Taft, other speakers were novelist Winston Churchill, William Allen White, and playwright Augustus Thomas. After the speeches an actor, James Barnes, came in dressed as Silas Lapham and recited verses thanking Howells for his contribution to American literature. Cather still had no enthusiasm for poor, dear, gentle Mr. Howells, but she was rather pleased at the storm of applause and affection displayed for the old dean of American letters.

She had been in a mellow mood the day before the Howells dinner when she wrote Sergeant. Mackenzie had taken her to lunch a few days before and had asked if she didn't have something to show for her sojourn in the country. She told him she had a story too long and too highbrow for McClure's, but he guessed he would like to read it. She gave him "The Bohemian Girl" and the next day met him for tea at the Brevoort Hotel. He astonished her by offering seven hundred and fifty dollars. She laughed and replied that McClure's never paid such prices for fiction; her story couldn't possibly be worth more than five hundred. He thought she was being silly not to take what he offered, but if she insisted, he would pay her five hundred, provided she agreed to accept the larger figure the next time. Mackenzie was a shrewd editor and recognized quality and knew Cather was becoming a valuable literary property. The magazine also had been getting a good many letters praising Alexander's Bridge, which had just begun in the February issue.

Cather was so elated by this success that she indiscreetly told Mackenzie of an idea she had for a novelabout an opera singer. He told everyone in the office, and the business department wanted to advertise a forthcoming new serial by Cather in its next prospectus. Under these conditions, she said, she would need the imperturbable nerves of Rex Beach to write the story. The entire episode was giving her a case of stage fright. She did not write an opera singer novel for another three years, if indeed The Song of the Lark had its genesis at this time. She learned a lesson from this experience and in the future was very secretive about what she was writing.

Cather left New York on March seventh to begin her pivotal journey to the Southwest. She planned to stop off in Pittsburgh at the McClungs' for a few days before continuing west, but the day after she arrived, Isabelle's mother had a near-fatal stroke. Cather waited and watched with the family and put off continuing her trip until Mrs. McClung had partially recovered. She took advantage of the unexpected delay to revise "The Bohemian Girl" and add a new scene. When she got to Red Cloud on her way to Arizona, she drove out into the Bohemian country and found that she had struck just the right note in her story. When Akins wrote to congratulate her on the tale after it came out in the August McClure's, Cather admitted she thought it pretty good. She never reprinted it, however, and in her old age decided it really was a rather immature piece of work.

"The Bohemian Girl" begins with the return of Nils Ericson to his farm home on the Divide, twelve years after leaving as a restless young man to seek his fortune in the old country. His mother and older brothers have stayed on the land, amassing large holdings and prospering materially. His older brother Olaf, stolid, dull, and taciturn, has married Clara Vavrika, the girl Nils was in love with when he left. Clara, the daughter of Joe Vavrika, who keeps a tavern in the Bohemian community, is a handsome, vivacious, unhappy woman. Life with the smug, self-satisfied Olaf is slowly stiffling her natural vitality. None of the Ericsons like Clara, but Olaf, who is in politics, puts up with her in order not to lose the Bohemian vote. Clara finds her only happiness in daily visits to her aging father, whose temperament is like her own. Nils resolves to take Clara away from this deadening environment, and by degrees she succumbs to his urgings. The story ends, except for an epilogue, with the lovers riding off in the night to catch the midnight flyer and escape from Nebraska.

This is as romantic a plot as Cather ever devised. For the moment she had abandoned her belief in the destructive nature of romantic love and left the future of the lovers to the reader's imagination. The story borrows its title, though not its plot, from the romantic nineteenth-century opera by the same name, and Cather also uses its nostalgic aria, "I dreamt that I dwelt in Marble Halls." The story has a fairy-tale quality about it, as though Nils were Prince Charming who awakens the sleeping beauty, or perhaps a better analogue might be a poem by one of Cather's favorites, Keats, "The Eve of St. Agnes, " in which young Porphyro steals into the castle and elopes with the fair Madeline under the noses of her kinsmen.
And they are gone: aye, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.

In the epilogue, which probably is the section added to the story in Pittsburgh, she tries to bring the tale back to reality. Eric, Nils' younger brother, who is unhappy on the farm after Nils leaves, attempts to follow him but gets only as far as Iowa before the ties to home and mother prove too strong. Cather might better have left the story a fairy tale, as the final episode is a definite anticlimax.

She was wrestling with a problem, however. She was discovering with affection Nebraska as her flood subject, but neither of her main characters can live there. For Clara life as a member of the Ericson clan is slowly killing her. If she stays, she will become as emotionally starved and dull as any of them. For Nils the homecoming is a disillusionment. He has returned thinking he would like to settle down on a farm of his own, but the hard, money grubbing materialism of his brothers repels him. Thus the story ends with Eric returning quietly to the old homestead prepared to resume milking the cows and slopping the hogs for the rest of his life.

When Cather called this story real compared with Alexander's Bridge, she wasn't thinking about the plot, obviously, but the Nebraska setting. That part of the story is real, and in it Cather had ceased admiring and had begun to remember.

The sights that greet Nils and the feelings he has on his return are Cather's, and she speaks in her own voice in describing them. As Nils steps off the train and starts for the farm: "He gave the town, as he would have said, a wide berth, and cut through a great fenced pasture, emerging, when he rolled under the barbed wire at the farther corner, upon a white dusty road which ran straight up from the river valley to the high prairies, where the ripe wheat stood yellow and the tin roofs and weathercocks were twinkling in the fierce sunlight." Later he is picked up by a farmer who comes along in a wagon, and as they rattle along the farmer talks to him about the people and the land: "Just now he was experiencing something very much like homesickness, and he was wondering what had brought it about. The mention of a name or two, perhaps; the rattle of a wagon along a dusty road; the rank, resinous smell of sunflowers and ironweed, which the night damp brought up from the draws and low places; perhaps, more than all, the dancing lights of the motor that had plunged by." His mother, who owned one of the fourteen cars in the area, has just passed the wagon, but Nils had not wanted to confront her until he reached the old homestead.

There are some highly evocative scenes in the story, and when Cather was remembering the Bohemian community she was particularly good. Joe Vavrika's little garden between his saloon and house is a magical place. It was "enclosed by a high board fence as tight as a partition, and in summer Joe kept beer tables and wooden benches among the gooseberry bushes under his little cherry tree." Nils goes there to see Joe and relive the happy days when he and Clara were young and in love. Joe played the fiddle, Nils the flute, and Clara sang. Clara meets Nils there again on a Sunday afternoon, and Joe brings out from his cellar a rare bottle of Hungarian tokay that he has saved for years, a bottle worth its weight in gold. They drink the heavy yellow wine and once again sing and play. Cather was justified in being pleased with the Bohemian material when she went back to visit after writing the story.

Just as successful is the barn-raising party that Clara and Olaf give for all the neighbors. Again Cather uses yellow imagery of love and sexuality, as Clara decorates the barn with goldenrod and yellow pumpkins, and as Nils stands in a golden light from the late afternoon sun. What is most memorable in this scene is the description of the old farm women, whom Cather had admired as a child. They were women of all nationalities, Danes, Swedes, Germans, besides the Norwegian Ericsons. They are seen chattering around the stall where Clara's Bohemian aunt is displaying her platters heaped with fried chicken, roasts of beef, boiled tongues, and baked hams "with cloves stuck in the crisp brown fat and garnished with tansy and parsley." Then after the old women have added their provisions to the groaning board, they retire "to the corner behind the pile of watermelons, put on their white aprons, and [fall] to their knitting and fancy work." This scene is vintage Cather.

After this scene of bucolic revelry, which the author herself compares to a Dutch genre painting, the story moves to its romantic climax. We are back into the fairy-tale atmosphere, as moonlight floods the silent land and the reaped fields lie yellow beneath it. Clara, who first appeared in black now comes riding along the dusty road dressed in white. She joins Nils, who is leaning against a straw stack in Olaf's wheat field. After a momentary reluctance, she slides down into his arms, and he kisses her. The scene ends: "There was a start, a thud of hoofs along the moonlit road, two dark shadows going over the hill; and then the great, still land stretched untroubled under the azure night. Two shadows had passed."

There are a number of striking things about this story that foreshadow Cather's later fiction. The Nils-Clara relationship looks ahead to the Emil-Marie subplot in 0 Pioneers!, though the story ends tragically in the latter work. Nils' selfish, materialistic brothers return as Alexandra's brothers, objects of Cather's scorn, as are subsequent characters like Ivy Peters in A Lost Lady Nat Wheeler in One of Ours, and others who hold similar values. The one Ericson who comes off untarnished in Nils' indictment of his family is old Mrs. Ericson. Nils tells Clara: "You know, I'm so tickled to see mother ... I didn't know I was so proud of her." After her preacher-husband's death she has remained on the home place farming her land as successfully as any of her sons farm theirs. In O Pioneers! she drops thirty years, her widowhood, and becomes Alexandra Bergson, one of Cather's most memorable heroines. "The Bohemian Girl, " it seems in retrospect, was a practice piece for the book she really liked to consider her first novel.

After adding a scene to the story, Cather left for her journey to the Southwest and was gone from April until June. She spent five weeks in Red Cloud, then returned to Pittsburgh where she spent most of the remaining months of 1912. She was well, happy, and full of ideas, but she couldn't escape McClure's problems. He was being forced out of the editorship of the magazine, and he unloaded his troubles on his former managing editor. She couldn't believe the perfidy of his business associates. She couldn't believe there wasn't some way out of the situation. It made her not only sad but fighting Irish mad to have him tormented and bedeviled about money. It was so unjust. He had always been so generous with his employees. She thrashed about for a way to help him and offered her services free to write his autobiography. If she had money or influence, she wrote McClure, it would be his to command. Alas, she did not, but if her wits could help him, she would be pleased to put them at his service. She was not sure she could catch step with him in this enterprise, and she remembered there were some of the Christian Science articles she could not write the way he wanted them, but if as the old song said, "A Willing Heart Goes all the Way, " they would do very well, for she was never more willing about a piece of work.

CHAPTER 11

O Pioneers!

During the five weeks that Cather spent in Red Cloud in June and July, she again visited the Bohemian country and later watched the wheat harvest for the first time in years. On the edge of a wheat field, she told Sergeant, she had an idea for another story, one that she thought would terrify Mr. Greenslet. She was going to call it "The White Mulberry Tree." Two weeks later she was back in Pittsburgh happily secluded in her sewing-room study at the McClungs' home and eager to get to work. She began with the new story, the most tragic tale she yet had written, a Nebraska version of the old story from The Divine Comedy of Paolo and Francesca, which she had quoted from in "'A Death in the Desert."' In the story Frank Shabata, a Bohemian farmer, surprises and kills his wife and her lover Emil Bergson as they lie together in his orchard under a white mulberry tree.

When she finished this tale, she got out the manuscript of "Alexandra" and looked it over. She had read it to Lewis before starting west, but she had not been satisfied with it. It began, Lewis recalled, where O Pioneers! starts and continued almost unchanged through Part I ("The Wild Land"), some seventy pages into the novel in its book version. It ended with Alexandra's dream, which now appears in Part III. The story in that form seemed unfinished, but she did not know what to do next. So she put it away and left for Arizona. She knew it was good, however, in her best vein. In Pittsburgh she put "Alexandra" and "The White Mulberry Tree" side by side and suddenly realized that the two stories belonged together. Sergeant asked her later about this moment of illumination: "She said she could only describe this coming together of the two elements ... as a sudden inner explosion and enlightenment. She had experienced it before only in the conception of a poem. Now she would hope always for similar experience in creating a novel, for the explosion seemed to bring with it the inevitable shape that is not plotted but designs itself. " She became a strong believer in organic form, and henceforth let the material dictate the organization and structure of her novels.

She explained this principle in a striking analogy in The Song of the Lark. When Thea Kronborg goes to Arizona to rest and find herself, she spends her summer days among the ruins of the ancient cliff dwellings in Panther Canyon. Daily she climbs down to the stream at the bottom of the canyon to bathe. One morning she is struck by the significance of the shards of broken pottery she has been admiring among the ruins. She had wondered why the Indian women lavished such loving care on decorating the ordinary jars used in their daily lives to carry water from the floor of the canyon to their cliff dwellings. As she stands in the stream bathing, it comes to her. The world of the mesa Indians centered on water, the life-giving liquid that she was pouring over herself. "The stream and the broken pottery: what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself—life hurrying past us and running away too strong to stop, too sweet to lose? The Indian women had held it in their jars. In the sculpture she had seen in the Art Institute, it had been caught in a flash of arrested motion. In singing, one made a vessel of one's throat and nostrils and held it on one's breath, caught the stream in a one's scale of natural intervals." The same principle applied to literature. One made a sheath with words to capture the rushing flow of life. The structural principle of fiction must be organic; form must follow function.

In her 1922 preface to Alexander's Bridge she put it another way. When a writer begins to work with his own material, by which she meant for her, Nebraska farmers and their lives, "he has less and less power of choice about the moulding of it. It seems to be there of itself, already moulded.... In working with this material he finds that he need have little to do with literary devices; he comes to depend more and more on something else—the thing by which our feet find the road home on a dark night." She added that this is what Henri Bergson, whom she read carefully, "calls the wisdom of intuition as opposed to that of intellect." With this to shape his course "a writer contrives and connives only as regards mechanical details, and questions of effective presentation, always debatable. About the essential matter of his story he cannot argue."

She applied this organic principle when she found her "own material" and wrote O Pioneers! The presentation is loosely episodic, and the story paces itself. When she felt like digressing, as she did near the beginning in the chapter introducing old Ivar, she did not hesitate to do so. When she finished sketching in the background of the novel in the first section, "The Wild Land, " she did not worry about skipping ten years before resuming the story. After the tragedy in which Frank kills his wife and her lover in the orchard, she wrote another section, all anticlimactic, to finish off the novel. Yet she succeeds brilliantly in creating in about fifty-two thousand words a saga of Nebraska extending from pioneering days to about 1900. Birth, growth, love, death—it is all there.

It took her the next five months, however, to work this out. McClure's would not let her alone, and she had to make two trips to New York in late August and September 1912. During her first trip she planned what she thought was going to be her winter's work. She promised two stories to the magazine by December, which she never wrote, and agreed to spend five or six months in the office after the new year. The chief task she performed for McClure's, that fall was surgery on a serial, My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins, which began in December. She cut it in half and made a better novel out of it, she thought, than the full-length book version that appeared later. She hardly got out of the office during this trip and saw almost no one, though she did spend several evenings with the Arlisses, who were celebrating George's triumph as Disraeli. The magazine agreed to let her stay in Pittsburgh until the end of the year, for which she was grateful. She wrote Sergeant that this extension of her leave was due to the great success of "The Bohemian Girl." The business office had received a lot of mail praising the story, and the magazine finally had realized that she was more valuable as a writer than as an editor. During the second visit she combined magazine and private business, for Lewis had found them a new apartment on Bank Street in the Village. They leased the apartment and Lewis planned to move in right away. Cather would join her after the first of January. This would be her home for the next fifteen years.

Back in Pittsburgh she worked steadily through the rest of the fall. She increased the length of "Alexandra" by fifty percent and made the necessary splices and adjustments to incorporate "The White Mulberry Tree." She wrote Akins at the end of October that the new book would be three times as long as "The Bohemian Girl," and the country itself would be the hero—or heroine. She also thought the people, the Swedes and Bohemians were rather interesting. She had written a poem about the country, "Prairie Spring," which McClure's would publish in December:
Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.

This poem became the epigraph for the novel. She had not yet decided to take her title for the book from Whitman's "Pioneers! O Pioneers!, " but she anticipated the naming of the novel by trying for the first time some Whitmanesque free verse.

In December she wrote Sergeant that she was on the home stretch. The new story would be better than "The Bohemian Girl," but the writing had been difficult because it was so much more closely knit than anything she had done previously. When she left Pittsburgh to return to New York, she took the completed manuscript. Whether or not she offered the novel to McClure's for serialization is not known, but it was not published in any magazine before it appeared in book form. She sent the manuscript to Greenslet at Houghton Mifflin and professed to be very much surprised when he wanted to publish it. When he urged his colleagues to accept the manuscript, he reported that the novel "ought to ... definitely establish the author as a novelist of the first rank." She signed a contract in late March with more favorable terms than she got for Alexander's Bridge, and the book came out at the end of June 1913.

Once back in New York, she plunged again into magazine work and at the same time had to get settled in the new apartment. She had managed, however, to cut her duties at McClure's in half in order to have a continuous stretch of free time for writing. She was delighted with the new apartment, which was roomy, quiet and just what she wanted, and never had expected to find a place quite so desirable at a rent she could afford. The same maid, who had been with her for four years, still worked for her, and she never had been so comfortable or happy. She was perfectly well that winter, enough to enjoy everything, work and play alike. Getting the apartment fixed up, however, had been strenuous. During January the place was full of painters, paperers, and furniture dealers. She had had to write an article for McClure's while the painters were at work around her.

Number 5 Bank Street was a wide, five-story, brick house converted into apartments. A wide staircase ran up through the middle of the building, dividing it into two apartments on each floor. The one Cather and Lewis rented was on the second floor and had seven big rooms with high ceilings and large windows. The house had thick walls which shut out the cold in the winter and the beat in the summer. There was no central heating, however, and the sitting and dining rooms were heated by coal grates in open fire places. They had to carry coal and build their own fires, but they had so much more space and light than in their cramped quarters on Washington Place that they did not mind a few inconveniences, and they bought small gas stoves to heat the bedrooms. Cather even had a little study off the sitting room. She wrote her aunt that she was now the proud owner of four beautiful Persian rugs. They had very little furniture when they moved in but bought at auction mahogany chests and a dining room table. An Italian carpenter built them low open shelves to house their growing collection of books. Cather hung on the walls copies of Italian Renaissance paintings she had bought in Italy and placed over the mantle a large etching of George Sand by Thomas Couture. Later she added a bust of Keats that she inherited from Mrs. Fields.

Bank Street was a quiet corner of Greenwich Village just off Greenwich Avenue. Number 5 was three houses from the corner on the north side of the street, which gave the sitting room at the front of the house a sunny southern exposure. All the buildings on the street were four or five story brick houses built in the nineteenth century. They were set close to the street, but there were trees planted in the sidewalks. Bank Street was narrow, did not lead anywhere in particular, and traffic was minimal. The area still has escaped most of the change that has overtaken Manhattan through the years, and Cather could recognize Bank Street today. Her own house, however, was torn down about 1930, along with three others beside it to make room for an apartment house, but the rest of the block is intact. The location was convenient. Cather did her shopping at the nearby Jefferson Market. She liked to go out early to buy her meat and produce before starting her morning's work, and found the immigrant vendors of fruits and vegetables more interesting than most of the white collar people she came into contact with. The private Society Library, to which she belonged and used often, also was close to her apartment, and the Metropolitan Opera House, which Cather and Lewis went to constantly, was only ten minutes by bus up Seventh Avenue. Caruso, Garden, Fremstad, Farrar, Tetrazzini, and many other stars sang regularly, and Toscanini conducted two or three times a week. The area around Washington Square where they formerly lived was becoming very commercial with dance halls, theaters, restaurants, and cabarets; but Bank Street was a quiet backwater with a bit of Old World charm.

From her quiet corner Cather was an observer rather than a participant in the yeasty ferment in Greenwich Village in the years before World War I. The area swarmed with intellectual Bohemians, who published The Masses and embraced Marx, Freud, feminism, and worked for woman's suffrage. Cather had no interest in these matters, and there is no evidence that she knew any of the leaders such as Max Eastman, John Sloan, Louis Untermeyer, John Reed, or Margaret Sanger. She did come into contact with Floyd Dell, who wrote an enthusiastic review of O Pioneers!, and Carl Van Vechten became a friend. She may have attended Mabel Dodge's famous salon on occasion, as everyone in Greenwich Village seems to have gone there, but her friendship with Dodge came after she married Tony Luhan and was living in New Mexico. About the only thing Cather had in common with these neighbors was her tolerance for a variety of life styles.

The article Cather was writing when her apartment was being painted was one of a series she had promised McClure's. She still needed some income from the magazine, because the serial rights to Alexander's Bridge and the book royalties, though she said they came to a nice little sum, were not enough to live on for very long. In addition she had agreed to write McClure's autobiography for him, and that would take weeks out of the coming months. Thus it was back to the old grind of journalism, at least part time, for the next nine months. The article she produced first was more drama criticism, "Plays of Real Life," which McClure's ran in its March number.

She reviewed half a dozen plays of the 1912—13 season, four of which she thought were first rate: "A dramatic season that presents four pieces so fresh and unhackneyed must be accounted a good one." The good ones that she noticed were The Mind the Paint Girl, one of Pinero's witty plays about the theater; Fanny's First Play, a vehicle that allowed Shaw plenty of scope for satiric humor at the expense of drama critics; Hindle Wakes by Stanley Houghton, a play that upset all the conventions; and Milestones by Arnold Bennett and Edward Knoblauch, the most original play of the year. She gave the largest amount of space to the last of these plays because it dealt in a very eloquent way with a theme that interested her very much: youth versus age. There were no big scenes, no brilliant dialogue; but nevertheless it was intensely dramatic. "All good plays begin with the author's power of creating character. If his people are real enough and interesting enough, anything that happens to them is interesting." One might make the same comment about the novel she had just finished. The major theme of this play was the conflict between youth and age, and Cather agreed with the playwright's view: "Youth is the only really valuable thing in the world ... because it is force, potency, a physiological fact.... The individual possesses this power for only a little while.... If he devotes these years to self-sacrifice, to caring for an aged parent or helping to support his brother's children, God may reward him, but Nature will not forgive him. . . . The world could get on without the old; without the young it can not." Nostalgia for youth is a perennial theme in Cather's work.

After Cather sent O Pioneers! to Houghton Mifflin, she began to have qualms about the book. To get an opinion from someone whose judgment she trusted, she mailed the manuscript to Sergeant, who then was living in Paris, and asked for an honest evaluation. She thought there was some careless writing in it, but on the whole it was either pretty good or an utter fizzle. It was all about crops and cows; yet it seemed interesting to her, and anyway she had done what she intended to do. She let the country be the hero and had taken the little themes that hide in the grass and worked them into the story the best she could, as she thought Dvorak had done in his New World Symphony after spending some weeks in pioneer Nebraska in the early eighties. The story was one, she added, that she always wanted to write.

She later said that she wrote the book for herself and "ignored all the situations and accents that were then generally thought to be necessary." The novel of the soil, she remembered, had not yet become fashionable, and she didn't expect people to see anything in such a slow-moving story, especially one set in Nebraska, which was "distinctly declasse as a literary background." She quoted a critic who had said: "I simply don't care a damn what happens in Nebraska, no matter who writes about it." This pose of fierce independence she adopted later, but in 1913 she was as eager as any new novelist to win recognition. She watched and clipped reviews, sent them to friends and relatives, and often wrote letters of thanks to reviewers who were especially sympathetic. But she was genuinely in doubt when she sent the manuscript to Sergeant.

The story that Sergeant read in Paris opens one January day in 1883 in the little prairie town of Hanover (Red Cloud). Alexandra Bergson, about twenty, and her very little brother Emil have come to town on errands with their German neighbor, Carl Lindstrum. The opening scene also introduces little Marie Tovesky from Omaha, who is visiting her Bohemian uncle. The story then moves to the Bergson farm on the Divide where Alexandra's father, a Swedish immigrant, is dying after eleven years of heroic effort to farm the land, which, as the novel opens, "seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes." He bequeaths to his daughter and sons a full section of unencumbered land, however, and as he dies charges Alexandra, the oldest child, to look after her brothers and mother and farm the land faithfully. John Bergson's death is followed by three fat years and three lean years, after which Lou and Oscar want to quit farming and leave the land. Alexandra says no; now is the time to mortgage their land and buy more. In ten years, she believes, they will be prosperous, independent landowners, and farmers with vision will be rewarded. The wild land is about to be tamed.

Alexandra is right, and when Part II opens a decade later the country is prosperous, Lou and Oscar have their own farms, and Alexandra is the proprietor of "one of the richest farms on the Divide." She lives a lonely life however; Carl, her closest friend, moved away during the hard times; her brothers, now selfish, dull, and mercenary, have grown away from her. She lives for her youngest brother, Emil, now twenty-one; her best friend is young Marie Tovesky, who has married a moody, volatile Bohemian farmer, Frank Shabata. Carl comes back but is driven away by Lou and Oscar, who think he only wants Alexandra's money; Marie and Emil fall in love, and the tragedy takes place under the white mulberry tree. Alexandra, shattered by the event, faces a bleak future, but Carl hears of the tragedy and returns. As the novel ends, Alexandra and Carl plan to marry.

Sergeant read the manuscript with excitement and tried it out on the French family she was living with."Tres original!" they thought. "No Frenchwoman for centuries had seen virgin soil. Alexandra's return from the river farms singing a Swedish song, sure of the future of the wheat on the Divide, was poetry and legend." Then Sergeant gave it to an American woman friend who reacted with equal enthusiasm. Though she was a proper Bostonian, she said it made her feel proud of her country to read of the struggle and triumph of the immigrant farmers on the prairie. By the time Cather received these reports in April she was reading proof on the novel and still having doubts about it. She agreed with Sergeant's one criticism that the book had no skeleton but defended it on grounds that the country she was writing about had no skeleton either. There were no rocks or ridges; its black soil ran through one's fingers. It was all soft, and somehow that influenced the mood and the very structure of the novel.

McClung came for a three weeks' visit in April, and at the end of the month Cather went up to Boston to see Mrs. Fields, then seventy-nine. It may have been on this visit that Cather went with Professor George Woodberry of Columbia, another of Mrs. Fields' guests, to call on Amy Lowell. It was an extraordinary experience that Cather couldn't later recount without getting mad. Because Woodberry was much interested in seeing Lowell's Keats manuscripts, Mrs. Fields arranged for Lowell to invite both her guests to her house. Lowell sent her chauffeur and limousine to pick them up and take them to her Victorian mansion in Brookline. When they arrived, Lowell was upstairs in bed dictating to her secretary. They waited and waited and waited; they were served tea and excuses by a houseguest. Finally the high priestess of imagism rushed in on them acting as if nothing were amiss. After a polite interval Woodberry asked to see the Keats materials. Lowell went to her safe, unlocked it, and spread the manuscripts out on the library table. When Woodberry reached to pick up one of the documents, Lowell snatched it up, held it under Woodberry's nose, and said no one but she could touch her precious manuscripts. Cather was outraged. Such discourtesy towards an eminent scholar, Cather wrote in 1942, still made her gorge rise after all those years. Mrs. Fields was greatly distressed, though Cather gave her only an edited version of the visit. One hopes that Cather remembered that three years before, she had turned down a poem Lowell had submitted to McClure's. From that time on Cather hated Amy Lowell with a passion, and when Greenslet urged her to write Lowell's biography after she died in 1925, Cather said she would be just as likely to write a history of the Chinese empire. She wouldn't do it for the whole amount of the Lowell estate.

Cather was unable to go west that summer and be on hand in Nebraska when her book came out. She waited eagerly for the reaction from the home folks and was delighted when reviewers from the prairie states were uniformly pleased with the novel. The reviews were so hearty and had such a note of personal enthusiasm about them, she wrote Sergeant. "What has pleased me the most," she told an interviewer, "is that the reviewers in all those Western States say the thing seems to them true to the country and the people." While she was writing the novel, she had told Akins that she wanted to shine a little for the home folks. In her youth she never was able to make much of an impression in Nebraska, because there was not much she could do then that people would admire, except excel in horseback riding. One cannot get a rise out of a cow with a sonnet, she said. She had gotten plenty of rises out of Nebraskans with her drama criticism when she was in college, but it was different now. She had done something she was proud of, as well as the people in Nebraska. She had at last found her subject in the memories of her youth. When she sent a presentation copy of the novel to Carrie Sherwood, she wrote in it: "This was the first time I walked off on my own feet—everything before was half real and half an imitation of writers whom I admired. In this one I hit the home pasture and found that I was Yance Sorgeson and not Henry James." Yance Sorgeson was a prosperous Norwegian farmer who died rich but had refused to give up the old ways and be impressed with his own success.

Nebraska reviewers no doubt were motivated partly by local pride, but also reviewers for eastern papers and national magazines were almost unanimously enthusiastic. Whether there really was a reviewer who didn't give a damn about Nebraska, this attitude does not appear in the notices. The reviewers recognized Cather as a new voice in American literature and her locale as a new country for American fiction. The Nation began its notice: "Few American novels of recent years have impressed us so strongly as this," and ended: "The sureness of feeling and touch, the power without strain.... lift it far above the ordinary product of contemporary novelists." The New York Herald welcomed the subject matter: "With a steady hand this author holds up the mirror of fiction to a people of our land little, if at all, seen therein before: the Scandinavian and Bohemian pioneers ... we see these Old World pioneers adapting themselves to new conditions, identifying themselves with the prairie soil and becoming a voice in our national life.... This is a novel of considerable substance."

Floyd Dell, who would later become an important novelist himself, gave O Pioneers! a long review in the Chicago Evening Post. "It is touched with genius," he wrote; "it is worthy of being recognized as the most vital, subtle and artistic piece of the year's fiction." Dell despaired of being able to explain in a review why the novel impressed him so strongly. It didn't deal with large ideas; it didn't stun or dazzle. It only told the story of a girl and her younger brothers who live on a Nebraska farm: the story of their struggle with a stubborn land which almost crushed them before it suddenly smiled. And it was "the story, moreover, of such a friendship and love as came, sometimes with wistful autumnal sweetness and again with tragic passion, into their lives. It is not an extraordinary story. Everyone knows a dozen like it."

When Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote praising the novel, Cather was greatly pleased and remembered the letter eight years later as the most helpful hand-up she had had. Her old friend knew better than anyone else the long way she had to go to get anywhere, and as she was a novelist herself, she knew the difficulties of the road. Cather wrote Fisher while she was working on One of Ours that it felt strange to come at last to the point of being able to write with calm enjoyment and certainness after such storms and struggles and shrieking off-key. Now she was able to keep the pitch, but what a lot of life one used up chasing "Bright Medusas."

After three quarters of a century critics have had plenty of time to figure out why this novel makes such a powerful impact. The dedication to Sarah Orne Jewett's memory provides one clue. Cather had followed her friend's precept that the thing which has teased the mind for years is the proper material for serious literature. Once she realized the truth of this she went on to create the best part of The Song of the Lark, My Ántonia, and A Lost Lady, from the flood of memories of her early years. In commenting on this principle, she explained: "The shapes and scenes that have 'teased' the mind for years . . . make a very much higher order of writing, and a much more costly, than the most vivid and vigorous transfer of immediate impressions." The Country of the Pointed Firs was a case in point. The sketches in that book were "living things caught in the open, with light and freedom and air-space about them. They melt into the land and the life of the land until they are not stories at all, but life itself." This is what Cather succeeded in doing in O Pioneers!

In continuing her discussion of Jewett's work, Cather went on to generalize on the artist's relation to his work: "If he achieves anything noble, anything enduring, it must be by giving himself absolutely to his material. And this gift of sympathy is his great gift; it is the fine thing in him that alone can make his work fine." The artist fades away into the land and people of his heart only to be born again. These lessons from Jewett could not have been learned quickly or at an early age, and it took Cather twenty years to absorb them. In the light of her attitudes and ideas at the age of forty when O Pioneers! came out, it is not surprising that she wanted to consign most of her early writing to oblivion. But in those apprentice years she was learning technique.

No one sensitive to style can fail to be impressed with Cather's ability to use language to create images that linger in the mind. There are myriad passages that leave indelible impressions in this novel. The opening page reveals the little town of Hanover "anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland" and "trying not to be blown away." "A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them." The first glimpse of little Marie Tovesky is arresting: "She was a dark child, with brown curly hair, like a brunette doll's, a coaxing little red mouth, and round, yellow-brown eyes. Every one noticed her eyes; the brown iris had golden glints that made them look like gold-stone, or, in softer lights, like that Colorado mineral called tiger-eye."

The passage that impressed Sergeant's French family is truly poetry and legend. After the three lean years Alexandra goes to visit the farms along the river. She realizes that her destiny lies on the high land of the Divide, and she turns the wagon and starts for home humming an old Swedish hymn. Her companion, little Emil, "wondered why his sister looked so happy. Her face was so radiant that he felt shy about asking her. For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or woman." And at the end of the chapter: "Under the long shaggy ridges, she felt the future stirring." This is superior prose poetry. But equally poetic is Carl's memory of Alexandra as she came out in the morning to do her milking: "He used to feel, when he saw her coming with her free step, her upright head and calm shoulders, that she looked as if she had walked straight out of the morning itself."

Cather's fiction used to be called realistic, but her work is very much different from realism as defined by Howells and other writers of his school. The term realistic could only be applied to the verisimilitude of Cather's settings, the authenticity of her characters, the reality of the events that take place in her stories. She is no more a realist than Homer or Cervantes, though she shares with these writers the kind of reality that Auerbach calls mimesis. His discussion of the two styles in the Odyssey also characterizes Cather: "on the one hand fully externalized descriptions, uniform illustration, uninterrupted connection"; on the other hand "certain parts brought into high relief, others left obscure, abruptness, suggestive influence of the unexpressed." Cather is no nineteenth-century positivist; her world view derives, as does Jewett's, from Emerson: "Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." And her method, once she reached O Pioneers!, is best described in terms of Wordsworth's definition of poetry as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings ... recollected in tranquility."

This philosophical position is clearly seen in the ending of the novel when Carl returns to Alexandra after the murder of Marie and Emil. Although Emil has been cut off in the full promise of young manhood, Alexandra and the earth remain. Cather gives her human heroine the promise of a serene, untroubled old age, as she and Carl make plans to marry, but the earth is the ultimate heroine. Cather closes her story: "They went into the house together, leaving the Divide behind them, under the evening star. Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth!" Cather belongs in the tradition of American Romanticism, and it is appropriate that her title should have come from Whitman's poem. The echoes of Emersonian transcendentalism in "Song of Myself" reverberate here in the theme of life everlasting:
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are live and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death.

The transcendental theme in O Pioneers! is a wistful companion to the elegiac tone that characterizes much of Cather's best fiction. She is a backward-looking author, but the nostalgic note of the Arcadian theme that she struck in April Twilights and continued to strike has universal appeal. Everyone longs for the lost innocence of the Garden of Eden, and the older the reader, the greater the appeal. Cather's mourning for the glories of our pioneer past is part of the American mythology of the westward movement. She and Frederick Jackson Turner shared a common view of the poetry of American history. The story of the struggle to tame the wild land captures the imagination.

In contrast to the heroic pioneer days are the years of prosperity that follow. Cather depicts well the difference between the unbroken prairie of Part I and the land ten years later: "a vast checker-board, marked off in squares of wheat and corn; light and dark, dark and light. Telephone wires hum along the white roads, which always run at right angles. From the graveyard gate one can count a dozen gaily painted farmhouses; the gilded weather-vanes on the big red barns wink at each other across the green and brown and yellow fields." On the other hand, this material well-being is juxtaposed with Alexandra's loneliness and the smug, selfish, bigoted men her brothers have become. The new era has brought prosperity and comfort, but something fine has been lost; and in this new age that worships false gods tragedy strikes.

Contrast is an important part of Cather's literary technique. Besides the diversity between the wild land and the settled countryside, the early striving and the later materialism, other differences are sharply delineated. In temperament and personality Alexandra and her brothers are unlike; she is generous, humane, the brothers are mean-spirited, grasping. One sees the three in vivid scenes of confrontation, first over the brothers' desire to commit Ivar to the state insane asylum and second over their fear that Carl will marry Alexandra and get some of her property. The clash between the old values of simple faith, individuality, and integrity and the new gods of money and conformity is sharply focused in these scenes.

Other contrasts occur in events in the novel. Cather reenforces her theme of life everlasting in the death of Amedee Emil's best friend in the French-Canadian community to the north. Amedee and Angelique, newly married and parents of a baby boy, are deliriously happy, and Amedee works like a devil for his family. He refuses to leave the wheat harvest when he feels sharp pains in his side, and three days later dies of a ruptured appendix. Cather follows this death with the annual confirmation of young communicants in the village. As Amedee is being laid out for burial, the youth are being taken into the church. Death occurs, but life goes on. And soon thereafter occurs the very different death by murder of Emil and Marie. Contrasts in character and within character also occur. The differences between Marie and her dour, excitable husband provide motivation for the tragedy in the orchard, and after Frank kills his wife and her lover, the man we see when Alexandra visits Frank in prison is broken in spirit and body. All of these juxtapositions add drama and tension to the narrative.

There are a number of elements in the novel that derive as much from Cather's own personality and viewpoint as from the logic of the story. Her views on marriage and love are reflected in the lives of various characters. The destructive nature of romantic love is exemplified in the tragic story of Emil and Marie, and her skepticism about marriage kills off Amedee. Alexandra's own plans to marry at the end of the novel illustrate the kind of marriage Cather thought safe. Alexandra says to Carl: "I think we shall be very happy. I haven't any fears. I think when friends marry, they are safe. We don't suffer like—those young ones." This is to be a calm union of middle-aged people after the passions of youth are spent. Cather gives her opera singer Thea Kronborg the same kind of marriage in her next novel. Cather's own suppression or sublimation of sex perhaps is revealed in Alexandra's recurring dream of being carried away by a strong man whose face she could never see. This dream, which sounds like a sexual fantasy, is followed by Alexandra, angry with herself, rushing down to the bathhouse off the kitchen to pour buckets of cold water over her body. The sense of let-down that Alexandra experiences after her struggles are over is also characteristic of Cather. If Alexandra had been a scholar, she might have quoted her creator's favorite line from Michelet: "Le but n 'est rien; le chemin, c'est tout." Cather did not know it yet, but Alexandra's feeling anticipates her own depression after she became a Pulitzer Prize winner, rich, and famous.

Because so many of Cather's characters were suggested by real people, one would like to know who, if anyone, sat for the portrait of Alexandra. There are no clues in any of her letters, and she always maintained that her characters were composites. Sergeant, who was more intimately associated with the writing of this novel than anyone else, had no inkling: "How 'close to life' the characters in O Pioneers! were I was never to know with exactitude from herself, in spite of our many conversations and talks about the book." Cather was not home frequently or long enough during her McClure's years to have had much recent contact with the immigrant women on the Divide; hence it is likely the character is mostly drawn from her imagination. She may have been projecting the image of herself as she might have been in the pioneer days of Nebraska. Alexandra resembles Cather in her energy, determination to succeed, and strong masculine personality. A possible candidate for Alexandra's prototype was Hilda Kron, who emigrated from her native Sweden at the age of sixteen in 1881. Unlike Alexandra, she married and raised a family, but she was a strong, vibrant character and with her husband's help developed one of the richest farms in Webster County.

The creation of a strong female protagonist in O Pioneers! has given feminist critics a novel to admire. Rosowski sees Cather as avoiding sexist roles in her pioneer women, for Alexandra combines the attributes of both sexes on the frontier. She has the vision and energy to tame the wild land, a role usually assigned to male pioneers, and the stabilizing, nurturing traits traditionally belonging to pioneer women. To O'Brien, Alexandra is neither the female figure of male fantasy nor a doomed heroine like Chopin's Edna Pontellier or Wharton's Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, neither of whom can "achieve self-definition in an oppressive society." Alexandra is the supreme artist. Her selfless passion for the land contrasts sharply with the men's antagonism. Her success in creating order and beauty in the natural world takes place against the failure and defeat of the men. And Alexandra's pale suitor Carl is only half an artist; he can merely copy as an engraver the pictures created by others.

The structure of O Pioneers! has troubled a good many readers. Its loose organization, gaps, and digressions have made it seem a flawed work of art. Despite Cather's insistence that the material dictated the form, and the story told itself, art is not nature, and any artist must select and arrange incident and character. Like any other novelist, Cather brings order out of chaos in creating a literary work. She gets away with loose organization, however, because plot is probably the least important part of a novel. Readers want a book to stir their emotions, stimulate their imagination; they want characters who live and breathe; images that linger in the memory after the book is closed. All of these things Cather does well.

Cather has a remarkable ability to create memorable characters, both major and minor. Although Alexandra is bigger than life early in the novel, a monumental figure of myth, by the end she is an ordinary woman who has achieved much, though at the expense of friendships and happiness. Marie, the warm-hearted, vivacious wife of the surly Frank Shabata, is someone people could not help loving, and when she dies in the orchard with her head resting on the shoulder of her slain lover, the tragedy is overwhelming. Her husband, a man of violent passions, always feeling put upon, arouses no sympathy from the reader until Alexandra visits him in prison. Then he is a figure of infinite pity, almost as much a victim of the tragedy as the lovers. Old Ivar functions symbolically as a sort of nature god at the outset and a one-man Greek chorus at the end, but as Alexandra's old-age pensioner, amateur veterinarian, and mender of harness he is also a character of flesh and blood. Emil, the younger brother for whom Alexandra has high hopes, is restless, discontented, and in love with Marie. He is a complex personality who becomes three-dimensional as the reader observes him in his relations with both Marie and Alexandra. Even bit players like Mrs. Lee, Lou Bergson's mother-in-law, spring to life, and Signa, one of the Swedish girls Alexandra imports to help with the housework, is real.

Equally impressive is Cather's skill at creating incident. Scenes remain stamped on the brain long after the book is closed, making concern over weak structure irrelevant. There are many of these: Marie at the age of five entertaining the Bohemian farmers in a Hanover store; Carl climbing a telegraph pole to retrieve Emil's kitten; the visit to old Ivar, the nature god in his cave, like Silenus in Virgil's Eclogues; the scene between Marie and Frank in their kitchen when Frank comes in irate because the neighbor's hogs have gotten into his wheat. This last scene epitomizes in two pages the disastrous marital relationship between the two. Other memorable scenes: Carl's meeting Emil and Marie at the duck pond; the fair at the Church of Sainte-Agnes where Emil and Marie exchange a fatal kiss when the lights go out; the young men on horseback escorting the bishop's carriage across the prairie prior to the confirmation service; the confrontations between Alexandra and her brothers; the death in the orchard; the prison scene; Mrs. Lee's visit to Alexandra's where she can escape from Lou's Americanized establishment, hear Swedish spoken, listen to Ivar read the Bible, wear her nightcap, and sleep with the windows closed, and the tea party Alexandra and Mrs. Lee have at Marie's. All these scenes reverberate in the mind and make the novel worth reading more than once.

Cather never worried much about plot. Melding the two stories of Alexandra and the land and the tragic love of Emil and Marie was a bold experiment. David Daiches's study of Cather in 1951 argues that the novel seems to be composed of disparate elements that are never wholly resolved into a unity. If he had known that the novel began as two stories, he might have understood why he came to this conclusion. More recent critics have seen a more unified whole: John Randall notes that the epigraph poem, which describes both the land and youth, announces the two main themes of the novel; David Stouck believes the two stories "stretch back to Genesis. Alexandra's is the story of creation ... Emil and Marie's is the story of lovers cast from the earth's garden through sin." >Bruce Baker argues that the inclusion of the Emil-Marie story is necessary to make a human being out of Alexandra instead of leaving her a totally mythic figure. Rosowski finds unity through analysis of the novel in terms of the two-part pastoralthat Cather said it was.

Comparisons with the Bible, myth, the pastoral tradition provide keys to the significance of O Pioneers! Cather always wrote with an awareness of her literary predecessors from the Greeks to the major authors of the twentieth century. The reverberations from the past abound in her work and give the experiences of her Nebraska farmers universality. Rosowski has found an astonishing number of parallels with a classic text Cather knew well, the Eclogues, which also deal with farmers and poets, the land and love. Stouck in addition to seeing connections with the Bible places the novel in the epic tradition. Alexandra is an idealized epic heroine who is engaged in the creation of public myth. The most likely subject for an American epic is without doubt the conquest of the wild land as it was steadily tamed from Jamestown to the official end of the frontier in 1890. Most sophisticated readers see Alexandra as a mythic figure, but the charm of Cather's mature fiction is the subtlety of her use of myth, symbol, and allusion. The unsophisticated freshman is thrilled by her novels without knowing quite why. Cather's reputation in the academy grew slowly because her novels at first glance seemed so simple and artless that there was little for a teacher to explicate.

More examples of this sort of subtlety exist in O Pioneers! than one has time to cite, and a few will have to suffice. At the first meeting between Emil and Marie, Emil is singing the "Jewel" song. There is no further detail, but anyone familiar with Gounod's Faust will realize after finishing the book that Cather has introduced it very appropriately. There are similarities between its use as Faust begins his seduction of Marguerite and Emil begins to fall in love with Marie, and both romances have tragic ends. When the murder takes place in the orchard under the white mulberry tree, however, a classicist may remember from Ovid's Metamorphoses the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, who die under a white mulberry tree. Again Cather doesn't belabor the connection. At two points in the novel there is a reference to a wild duck that Emil and Alexandra see while on a picnic together. Without any elaboration this symbol from Ibsen's play reinforces meaning and foreshadows the deaths in the orchard. Finally, after the tragedy takes place, Old Ivar, Alexandra's pensioner, sits in the barn mending harness and repeating to himself the one hundred and first psalm. There is no hint of the subject of this psalm, but it begins, "I will sing of mercy and judgment, " and is consciously placed at the beginning of the final part of the novel.

Cather's gift of sympathy lifts the novel into that small group of works truly able to engage a reader's emotions. One finishes it touched by his experience. The tragedy in the orchard hits the reader hard, and when old Ivar discovers the bodies under the white mulberry tree and cries out to Alexandra, "Sin and death for the young ones! God have mercy upon us!" no one can fail to be moved. This scene is followed by Alexandra's utter devastation over the deaths of the brother for whom she had hoped so much and her only woman friend. When Ivar finds Alexandra alone in the graveyard drenched from the rain, the most hardened reader suffers with her in her bereavement. Then Carl returns posthaste to join Alexandra in her grief, and one marvels at the author's understanding of humanity, sorrow, and the need for community and closes the book feeling that he has lived through a drama of struggle, achievement, love, death, and anguish against the background of the enduring earth.

By the time O Pioneers! was issued Cather was at work on McClure's autobiography. McClure came to her apartment on Bank Street once a week and talked for several hours about his antecedents, his early life in Ireland, his years on an Indiana farm, his struggle for a college education, his career after graduating. Cather, who did not know shorthand, listened carefully. Because she had almost total recall, she had no trouble the next day writing out in longhand McClure's reminiscences. Then she turned over her handwritten manuscript to Sarah Bloom, who did her typing. There are no records of how long this process took, but the Autobiography runs to sixty thousand words, more than the total of O Pioneers!, and it is reasonable to guess that each of the eight chapters was one week's stint. Thus Cather probably devoted June and July to this project.

She later told Will Owen Jones that she enjoyed writing McClure's autobiography because he was so honest about it and didn't want to dress up the truth. If he had wanted it ornamented or softened or had wished to put all the emphasis on the pleasant side of farm life in Indiana, the story would have been dull to write and dull to read. He told her the facts exactly as he remembered them and wanted them put down that way. She also said that this work was very severe training for her because she tried hard to give his exact impressions in his most characteristic language and with his nicest feeling. She added that she succeeded so well that Mrs. McClure and Mr. Phillips, his former partner and schoolmate, wrote her that the work seemed to them a perfectly convincing presentation of him as a boy and young man. They thought the sentences themselves had the abruptness and suddenness characteristic of him.

My Autobiography began running in McClure's in October. The only hint of Cather's part in producing it was a headnote: "I wish to express my indebtedness to Miss Willa Sibert Cather for her invaluable assistance in the preparation of these memoirs." The story that readers of the magazine followed for the next eight months recounted McClure's life to approximately the age of forty. Although the final chapter deals with the muckraking movement and the magazine during the first five years of this century, the life concentrates on McClure's early struggles and leaves him when his magazine achieves a great success. The character and personality of the subject come through clearly, and one feels a great deal of empathy for McClure, just as one does for Cather's fictional characters who struggle and succeed. Cather and McClure understood each other very well; both had a sense of destiny. The account of McClure's arrival at Knox College in 1874 with no money but an overwhelming desire for an education is particularly poignant.

One can see Cather's hand in shaping the material when it comes to literary matters. Cather and McClure had similar literary tastes, and the autobiography stresses the writers they both admired, such as Kipling, Stevenson, Meredith, the first two of whom McClure had discovered for American magazine readers. He also had discovered Booth Tarkington, but Cather never thought much of him and he never is mentioned. Nor does the life ever suggest that McClure had a close association with Hamlin Garland. There also are a number of arresting comments that Cather could have subscribed to: McClure is quoted as saying that Stevenson would let him edit his copy; only inferior writers thought their words couldn't be touched. And at another point: "He [Stevenson] often lamented that Balzac did not have somebody to edit and condense his novels for him."

McClure began receiving fan mail as soon as the autobiography appeared. The Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, wrote: "Your opening chapter ... is charming in its simplicity and beauty. I can almost see the route you took to school and hear the voices of the children. The only good history is autobiography, and I am hungry for your next chapter." In writing this book Cather was applying one of her principles, that the essence of art is to simplify. Howells wrote: "I have been readingthe very touching and beautiful story of your life. I cannot remember anything of more peculiar interest. As a self-study, temperamental and social, it must stand with the great autobiographies." From Booth Tarkington: "Nothing I have ever read was more touching than these early passages in your memoirs; nor more perfectly and beautifully written. What you tell is very wonderful, and the way you tell it is just plain noble. . . . It's as simple as a country church—or a Greek statue." Both Mr. and Mrs. McClure were properly grateful to Cather for writing the life, and Hattie McClure wrote her appreciatively in the late fall. Cather, who had become very fond of Mrs. McClure during her years on the magazine, replied that the pleasure she had given Mrs. McClure gave her more satisfaction than anything else connected with the work. People not only seemed to like the autobiography but to love it.

During August Cather had to stay in the city and work on another article she had promised McClure's. "Training for the Ballet," which appeared in October with the first installment of McClure's autobiography. It is a competent piece of professional writing occasioned by the prospect of a full American corps de ballet for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera for the next season. Previously the Met had imported its dancers from Europe, but several years before, the Metropolitan School of Ballet Dancing had opened, and at the time of Cather's writing, enough Americans had been trained to supply the Opera. Magazine readers in 1913 knew very little about ballet, and the article presented a very lucid discussion of what it took to become a dancer, the physical equipment required, the rigorous training, the program of study, and all the intricacies of the pirouette, the entrechat, the arabesques. American girls, she learned, made better dancers than European women, because they were stronger, better nourished, had better figures, and were not afraid to make mistakes as they learned.

Since she could not get back to Red Cloud that summer, Cather made a two weeks' trip to her birthplace in Virginia, where she had not been since first going to Pittsburgh. She took McClung with her and went to Winchester in early September. She found the place dull and wrote Sergeant that she no longer cared about the holy and sacred peculiarities of the people she knew when she was little. They were about to start driving through the mountains, however, and that would be better, except for the food. She was sure that even in the provinces of Russia they served better food. She wasn't going to do any visiting because all the people she really loved were dead, but she returned to Back Creek Valley, which had changed its name to Gore in honor of her great aunt, its leading citizen for half a century. The mountains did turn out to be great, and while she stayed at the Valley Home Inn, which her aunt once operated, she walked six miles every day. When she got back to Pittsburgh on the twenty-fifth, she was in high spirits. The trip had been a success despite its sticky beginning. She was full of ideas for her next novel and ready to start writing.

CHAPTER 12

The Song of the Lark

The novel that follows O Pioneers! is The Song of the Lark, the story of a Swedish immigrant girl who becomes a famous singer. It is what the Germans call a Künstlerroman, a novel depicting the growth of an artist. A more apt category for the story of a woman's development, however, might be the "novel of awakening." Cather had wanted to write such a novel before she wrote the story of Alexandra Bergson but had put it aside. Telling Cameron Mackenzie about her idea at the time she sold him "The Bohemian Girl" was a mistake. Apparently the concept was not very clear in her mind, and she did not know quite what she wanted to do with it. But her strong interest in opera and singers and her experience as a music critic were powerful incentives. She wasn't yet fully committed to the use of her Nebraska memories as literary material. While she was reading proof on O Pioneers!, she no doubt was pondering the next novel. At that point, however, she had to take time off to fulfill her commitment to McClure's for a series of articles. One topic she chose was "Three American Singers," which appeared in the magazine for December 1913. The subjects were Louise Homer from Pittsburgh, Geraldine Farrar from Melrose, Massachusetts, and Olive Fremstad, Swedish-born immigrant, who had grown up in Minnesota. Fremstad then was the reigning Wagnerian soprano at the Metropolitan Opera.

One day in early March Cather made an appointment to interview Fremstad. She went to the singer's apartment on Eighty-sixth Street and found that Fremstad's chauffeur had taken her for a drive. While she waited, she collected from the singer's secretary, Mary Watkins, pertinent biographical and professional data for her article. Fremstad finally arrived, delayed by some mishap that had occurred along the way. She apologized for the delay, but she seemed terribly upset and could hardly speak. Her voice was just a whisper; she was pale and drawn. Cather quickly excused herself and said she would return another day. After she got back from the aborted interview, she told Lewis about the experience. Fremstad looked like an old woman, Cather thought.

That night, March 12, Cather, Edith Lewis, and their houseguest, Isabelle McClung, had tickets for Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann at the Met. Before the curtain went up, William Guard, publicity director of the house, came out to make an announcement. Everyone knew what that meant. There was going to be a change in the cast, and so there was. Mme Duchene, who was to sing the role of Giulietta in the Venetian scene, was indisposed and could not appear. Amid gasps of disappointment Guard went on to say that Mme Fremstad had kindly consented to take over. The audience broke into applause at the prospect of hearing the prima donna assoluta instead of Mme Duchene, who wasn't one of the Met's stars. When the curtain went up for the second act, the woman Cather had seen that afternoon looking drawn and haggard was "a vision of dazzling youth and beauty. She sang that night as if she were dreaming the music, not singing it."

"But it's impossible," Cather kept saying, "it's impossible."

The New York Times carried a story the next morning headlined "Fremstad Saves an Opera." A few minutes before the opera was to begin the general manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, had received a phone call: Mme Duchene had fainted just as she was about to leave her home for the opera house. There was no time to change the opera; people already were entering the theater. They had a little time, however, because Mme Duchene was not due to appear until the second act. Gatti-Casazza called Fremstad and asked if she would sing the part. She had sung Giulietta when Tales of Hoffmann opened in January. "Certainly," replied Fremstad, "I'm on my way." She called for her car while her maid packed her costume, and in twenty minutes she was at the opera house. Cather was so impressed by this performance that she used it in her novel much the way it happened.

The interview with Fremstad came off several days later, and the singer in person made a great impact on Cather. She wrote Sergeant a week later that ever since she went to see Fremstad she had been choked up by things unutterable. If one could write all this battered Swede made one know, it would be a project well worthwhile. She was just like the immigrant women on the Divide—with suspicious, defiant, far-seeing pioneer eyes. In fact, she reminded Cather of the fictional Swede she had just created in O Pioneers! What was more, Fremstad's apartment was furnished just like Alexandra's house, full of impossible "mission" furniture, gold legs, rocking chairs. The poor woman's ideas of comfort had never had a chance to develop, Cather concluded. She might have been describing Fremstad's apartment when she wrote in O Pioneers!: "Alexandra had put herself into the hands of the Hanover furniture dealer, and he had conscientiously done his best to make her dining room look like his display window... she was willing to be governed by the general conviction that the more useless and utterly unusable objects were, the greater their virtue as ornament." What Cather did not know, however, was that the apartment had been furnished by young Mary Watkins, a parson's daughter from Vermont, who had bought the furniture at Wanamakers when Fremstad was ill. Fremstad had better taste, but she was used to living in hotels, was oblivious to her surroundings, and never made any changes.

Several days after the interview Cather attended a Good Friday performance of Parsifal , in which Fremstad sang the part of Kundry. After the final curtain Cather ran into Fremstad outside the stage door as she was getting into her car to be driven home. Cather felt like shouting to her something like, "Pretty good for you, Mrs. Ericson!" But she simply bowed to the charming Miss Watkins. Fremstad's eyes were empty glass; she had spent her charge. Cather used this glimpse of her singer drained by a performance in The Song of the Lark. After Thea Kronborg sings Elsa in Lohengrin, Doctor Archie waits for her in the lobby of her apartment house. "She gave him a piercing, defiant glance through the white scarf that covered her face. Then she lifted her hand and brushed the scarf back from her head. There was still black on her eyebrows and lashes. She was very pale and her face was drawn and deeply lined. She looked, the doctor told himself with a sinking heart, forty years old."

These three glimpses of Fremstad a few days apart had a catalytic effect on Cather's ideas for her new novel. Seeing her pinch-hitting on a moment's notice, talking like Alexandra amidst her tasteless furniture, leaving the theater completely spent after a great performance produced another inner explosion. It was like the moment of illumination that joined the two stories, "Alexandra" and "The White Mulberry Tree," to produce O Pioneers! Here was Alexandra Bergson with a voice. Cather always believed that the pioneer women on the Divide possessed many of the traits of the artist—the drive, the perception, the energy, the creative force. They had created a new country out of an idea, just as Fremstad had created the roles of Elsa, Sieglinde, Brunhilde, or Kundry out of her mind and throat. A Swedish immigrant from Minnesota who had fought her way to the pinnacle of artistic success was a character to get excited over. Cather could combine her deep interest in art and artists with her memories of growing up in Nebraska.

Her new novel would be the story of an artist's struggle for recognition and would fuse the careers of both Fremstad and herself. Cather's letters to Sergeant in April are full of Fremstad, and at the end of the month she wrote that finding a new type of human being and getting inside a new skin was the finest sport she knew. She also must have realized that a novel with an opera singer as heroine offered special rewards for a woman writer. In no other field could a woman of genius with obscure origins better achieve international acclaim than she could on the musical stage. It would be surprising, in addition, if she had not remembered that George Sand, whose picture she kept on her mantel, had in her novel Consuelo created a fictional portrait of Pauline Garcia, a famous nineteenth century soprano.

Cather was not able to start working on the novel, however, until fall. Articles for McClure's on the three singers and the ballet had to be written, and the trip to Virginia further postponed the writing. Meanwhile, a growing friendship with Fremstad also marked time while the singer spent the summer in Europe. But on her return she invited Cather to visit at her summer place at Bridgton, Maine. Cather found this such a terrifying proposition that she didn't even consider it. She said that in the paths of civilization she was not afraid of Fremstad, but she did not want to risk her uncertain temper in the wilds or to bore her: she was only interested in music. The relationship grew steadily, however, and a year later Cather screwed up her nerve and did go to Maine for a visit. During a four-week period in October and the first half of November 1913, she managed to get down to work and produced twenty-eight thousand words. She was back in her old sewing-room study at the McClungs', the place she most liked to write. She was pleased with her progress, for not only had she written twenty-eight thousand words, but also she had rewritten them. There were interruptions in October, however. The marriage of Edith McClung, Isabelle's sister, was a distraction, and Cather had to make a trip to New York on business—presumably for the magazine.

In mid-November she returned to New York to stay. Although the novel was going well despite everything, she was frustrated by the constant interruptions. She had her phone disconnected, but the only result of that, she wrote Sergeant, was Fremstad's wearing down her two thousand dollar vocal chords trying to get 2036 Chelsea and always getting a brewery. She also said she would like to nail up her front door and have done with it. December too was a month of interruptions, as she had to write her next-to-last McClure's article, "New Types of Acting: The Character Actor Displaces the Star," which the magazine ran in February.

The article on acting was really a round-up of five plays currently appearing in New York, but it developed the thesis that the old-style actor who got by on charm and a beautiful voice and little intellection had given way to the character actor. Her chief exhibit was her friend George Arliss, whose impersonation of Disraeli had been captivating New York audiences for four seasons. His performance was "unquestionably the mostnotable piece of character-acting now before the American public." He had prepared for the part by studying Disraeli's novels and letters and through his intelligence and histrionic skill had created Lord Beaconsfield himself. Then summing up Arliss's entire career and many roles, she repeated perhaps her favorite figure; "We certainly have no other actor who can get into the skins of so many different kinds of people." Although she devoted half of the article to Arliss, she also gave a considerable amount of space to Potash and Perlmutter, a play about two New York Jewish businessmen that she thought quite marvelous. After Arliss's play left for the road, this one was the best thing on Broadway, a play with scarcely a plot but one "made by the actors ... a wonderful pair."

By the time she was at work on this article, "Three American Singers" appeared. She gave Louise Homer, the leading contralto at the Met, only six paragraphs, though she was a very good singer and her performance in a revival of Gluck's Orfeo was "a noble rendering" long to be remembered. But Homer was as much devoted to her husband and five children as to her career, and while she never sang badly, she also never swept one away with her art. Cather just couldn't get very excited about her. Geraldine Farrar, on the other hand, was a dedicated artist, beautiful, vivacious, uninhibited, and her performances in Verdi and Puccini roles were thrilling. She and Cather agreed that "conjugal and maternal duties" were not easily compatible with artistic development and that for an artist nothing "can be very real or important except art." Cather predicted even greater things in store for Farrar, who then was only thirty-one, and the two women became friends. Farrar, however, never aspired to climb the frozen heights reached by her teacher, the great Lilli Lehmann.

The article then went on to devote more than half its space to Olive Fremstad, "the singer who is now aspiring and attaining those frozen heights." In the ten years since her debut at the Met she had climbed to the artistic summit to be reached in later generations by her fellow Scandinavians Kirsten Flagstad and Birgit Nilsson. Cather found in her exactly the kind of artist she herself aspired to be. She had learned to work hard as a child, had painstakingly cultivated her natural gifts. She had left Minnesota with no money, gone to New York, supported herself by singing at St. Patrick's Cathedral. After working with a voice teacher in New York for three years, living frugally, she had saved enough to go to Germany for further study. She also studied under Lehmann and then remained in Germany a decade before returning to America. It had taken her a long time to reach the top, as it had taken Cather many years to produce O Pioneers! Everything she did came from within herself; her art was a blend of heart, mind, soul, and body.

Fremstad told Cather: "We are born alone, we make our way alone, we die alone." The artist's quest is pursued alone and the greatest rewards are enjoyed alone. "My work is only for serious people. If you ever really find anything in art, it is so subtle and so beautiful that—well, you need never be afraid anyone will take it away from you, for the chances are nobody will ever know you've got it." Cather concluded her profile of Fremstad: "She grew up in a new, crude country where there was neither artistic stimulus nor discriminating taste. She was poor, and always had to earn her own living and pay for her music lessons out of her earnings. She fought her own way toward the intellectual centers of the world. She wrung from fortune the one profit which adversity sometimes leaves with strong natures—the power to conquer." This is a synopsis of The Song of the Lark, which melds the lives of Cather and Fremstad. It is no wonder that Fremstad after reading the novel said she couldn't tell where Cather left off and she began.

Although Cather was intimidated by Fremstad at first, the two women were congenial, and the relationship flourished. On Christmas Eve before going to the Met to hear Fremstad sing Isolde, Cather arranged for her florist to deliver a little orange tree with five tiny oranges on it to Fremstad's apartment after the singer left for the opera. Fremstad was so pleased with the gift that she sat down and wrote a note of thanks immediately after she got home from the theater. She had picked up the tree and carried it to her bedroom as soon as she saw it. Cather had thought she would like it, she wrote her sister, while her Isolde mood was still on her. Dwarf orange trees were somehow like the poem that inspired the libretto of Tristan und Isolde, a bit magical. All those queens and princesses of northern and stormy countries must have had them, she thought.

Christmas Day 1913, however, was frustrating. Cather had had her books shipped from Pittsburgh, and she and Lewis spent the day unpacking them. They worked all day and by nightfall were exhausted, like soldiers at the end of a losing battle. They put on their oldest clothes, sneaked out to a restaurant in a pouring rain and hoped no one would recognize them. After dinner they gave up the unpacking and went to bed early. For New Year's they went to Boston, Lewis to see her family, Cather to visit Mrs. Fields and Mrs. Deland. She expected Boston to be pleasant but exhausting and was eager to get on with the novel. After she returned, she said, everything had to give way to the book. She wanted the whole world to let her alone for a while. Apparently it did for a month, but there was another sort of interruption awaiting her.

About the middle of February she got a nasty pinprick on the back of her head from a hat pin. She didn't pay much attention to it, and the scratch got infected. The infection led to blood poisoning, an operation on her scalp, three weeks in Roosevelt Hospital, and a bandaged head for five more weeks. Cather, who always hated herself when she was sick, fell into a state of depression. She wrote Sergeant from the hospital that people who have grotesque accidents are clowns, and she felt towards them exactly as the people who used to go from London to Bedlam felt about the sport they meant to behold. At that low moment Fremstad became her therapist, visited her in the hospital, brought baskets of flowers, and after she got back to Bank Street at the beginning of March showed her how to do her hair to cover her partly shaved scalp and bandages. Fremstad, she said, showed so much interest and so little horror of her ugly, shaved head that she lost her own horror of it. After that she snapped out of her depression and her recovery came fast. By the nineteenth McClung had come to visit for a month and the world seemed a good place once more. She was still pretty lethargic and spent a lot of time sitting in the park, but she was beginning to work again. By the end of the month she was out of her bandages and in April spent a few days recuperating in Atlantic City and visiting Mrs. Davidge-Taylor (Clara Davidge) on Staten Island.

In May she got tired of New York and went to Pittsburgh to work again in her sewing-room study. The story had bogged down, and during her last couple of weeks in New York she had spent her time observing singing teachers, singers, Fremstad's performances, and the petty politics of opera singers. The last she found disgusting but interesting because it was something brand new. She had been doing this, she wrote Sergeant, because she had not been able to figure out her next move. She then worked in Pittsburgh but only for a month before accepting the second invitation from Fremstad to visit her in Maine. This was an experience to remember. She spent a week or more, busy every minute. Fremstad fished as though she had no other means of making a living, cleaned her own fish, swam like a walrus, rowed, tramped, cooked, and watered her garden. Cather said she was only an audience for all this activity and felt as though she were living with the wife of the dying gladiator in her prime in deep German forests.

Later that summer she again went west, postponing once more work on the novel, and was in Red Cloud when the "guns of August" announced the start of World War I. She spent two weeks in the French and Bohemian country watching the wheat harvest, visited her Uncle George and Aunt Franc on their farm, and for the first time as an adult got to know her cousin Grosvenor as they rode the wagons hauling wheat to the grain elevators. The temperature hit one hundred and ten and never dropped below ninety, she wrote Sergeant, but she was seeing old friends and enjoying herself. The heat finally drove her away, and she spent September in the Southwest. She was much upset over the outbreak of war in Europe, and even in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico the alarms of war broke in on things. One couldn't get away from the war, she wrote, as everything one most cared about seemed in danger. By the twenty-fifth she was back in Pittsburgh and ready to work again. She brought her brother Jack with her from Nebraska and put him in Carnegie Tech, and when she wanted a break from writing, she spent her time rubbing the rough edges off her brother and giving him enough English grammar to get by on. Nebraska farm speech, she said, was a slightly inflected grunt.

Except for a two weeks trip back to New York on business she spent the next five and one-half months in Pittsburgh, and finally the novel began to move quickly. By December she wrote Sergeant that the story was writing itself and a few days later told Greenslet that the novel would be done by mid-summer at the latest, perhaps even by April. It would be twice as long as O Pioneers! (a huge underestimate), and she had already decided to call it The Song of the Lark. She had seen in the Chicago Art Institute Jules Breton's painting of a peasant girl stopping on her way to work to listen to the bird. The title was intended to "suggest a young girl's awakening to something beautiful." When she wrote a preface for the novel in 1932, however, she realized that the title had been a mistake, because readers thought the lark song referred "to the vocal accomplishments of the heroine," who was anything but a sky lark, and she also had to admit that the painting was second rate. By December 21 she was pulling off the novel at a record rate and promised Greenslet it was going to be good. This progress continued, and she stayed in Pittsburgh until early February. By then the manuscript was virtually finished, and she carried it back to New York with her.

By the time she returned to her Bank Street apartment her last article for McClure's had appeared, "The Sweated Drama," the writing of which was the business that had taken her to New York in October. She still wasn't earning an adequate income from her book royalties and had to take on outside assignments, but this article completed her commitment to the magazine and except for two later stories McClure's bought it was her last appearance there. Her final piece was a lively discussion of seven plays of the 1914-15 season in which she saw a trend towards more originality and more use of contemporary materials on the New York stage. New Yorkers, she wrote, were flocking to dramas about themselves and shunning hackneyed, warmed-over plots that had been their staple diet for many years. She gave Shaw much credit for this development because of his contempt for the old conventions and "the willful eccentricity of his plays." She thought that people had more interest in good plays than in good actors. "No actor, to-day, could repeat Richard Mansfield's successes with plays adapted and translated from hither-and-yon. In New York, at least, there is now such a thing as a play sense."

Drama criticism, however, no longer interested her very much, and it seemed a frivolous activity in view of events taking place in Europe. During those early months of World War I, she wrote her Aunt Franc, she was talking and thinking of little except the war. She had a Belgian friend who had eluded the German occupation of her country and had managed to get to New York. This friend reported that her brothers and sisters in Brussels were starving. Cather also had heard the wife of a Belgian cabinet minister speak in a drive to raise money to feed her countrymen, and she had received a letter from the Belgian Relief Committee in London urging Americans to send food. The United States was the only country the Germans would allow to ship provisions into the occupied country. Cather gave no Christmas presents that year but contributed all she could to Belgian relief. The United States was the only country not suffering, she told her aunt, and she thought history would be ashamed of America if it acted niggardly.

At the end of March 1914 Cather sent Greenslet the greater part of her manuscript.Her cover letter expressed the hope that Houghton Mifflin would push this novel harder than it did O Pioneers! She was not dissatisfied with the advertising of the previous novel, but she wanted The Song of the Lark to sell at least thirty thousand copies so that she could take her time in writing the next book. She was pleased with her manuscript and told Greenslet he couldn't possibly know how much of the West she had put into it. When she grew old and couldn't run around the desert anymore, she would have the West in her book and she could recapture it merely by lifting the lid.

Greenslet, however, was not entirely enthusiastic about the manuscript. He had a lot of suggestions for revisions. He thought the early parts disproportionately long and found a lack of coherence between the first and last parts. The first parts, he said, were closely documented realism, but toward the end of part three the story became romantic. He wanted cuts in the early books and objected to Dr. Archie's becoming governor while Thea Kronborg is in Germany studying and launching her career. This is what happens to most heroes in novels, he argued. Greenslet went down to New York to talk to her about the book, and Cather agreed to make change in Dr. Archie. She later thanked Greenslet for being stern and strong-minded on this point, but she did not alter the novel or cut it in any significant way. At the end of April when she sent the epilogue, she wrote that she didn't think Greenslet really liked the novel. She felt that he found it eccentric and unsatisfactory, and she offered to take it off his hands. She would do almost anything to please him, she said, except change the story. She had no doubts about it herself.

Later when the book was in press, she wrote Sergeant that the best music critic she knew, Glendinning Keeble of the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times , was reading the novel in proof. He told her that she had gotten everything just right. A critic could tell from the account of Thea's early singing lessons just what characteristics her voice would have later; yet nowhere was it described. Cather felt proud of herself. She apparently also had consulted Keeble at an earlier stage of the novel, for there are two extant letters to him about the composition of the book. The first accompanied a revision in the minor character Jessie Darcy that Keeble must have asked for. The second thanked him for his help and comfort and quick return of proofs. He had furnished exactly the information she needed, and until he had given her the names to call things by, she had been unable to state the points she wanted to make in Part V.

Greenslet backpedaled, insisted that she had misinterpreted his criticism, that he was enthusiastic about the book. Cather calmed down, and plans for production went ahead. By May she was reading proof on the early parts of the book while still working on the agreed-upon revisions in Dr. Archie in the latter part. By the end of June production was far enough along that she had seen the book dummy and the jacket. The latter pleased her, but she heartily disliked the book's cover and complained that Greenslet never had given her a cover she liked. He listened to her and by September when she received an advance copy of the novel, she was thoroughly satisfied with all the technical details of cover, jacket, typography. The novel was scheduled for publication at the beginning of October.

In the middle of July Cather went to Pittsburgh where she finished her proofreading and simultaneously made plans for what seems in retrospect a crazy scheme to go to Germany. Sam McClure, who then had become editor of the New York Evening Mail, a pro-German paper, was behind this hare-brained notion. His hold on Cather was still strong enough to pesuade her to accompany him to wartime Germany for the purpose of interviewing, as he put it grandiosely, the leaders of German thought and makers of German policy. They were to sail to Bergen, Norway, then make their way through Scandinavia to Germany, avoiding the British blockade. The trip was to include Poland, Austria, and Serbia as well as Germany. Because Cather would be traveling with McClure, there obviously had to be a third person in the party. She decided that Isabelle McClung should be the one, especially since the expedition required a person with exquisite social grace, which Cather admitted she did not have. She put the proposition to McClung, who agreed to go, and they began to get ready. Then old judge McClung woke up in the middle of the night, called Isabelle into his bedroom, and said he considered it a very chancy trip, and he didn't feel strong enough to bear the strain. He enumerated all the things he thought might happen, and the next morning Cather called the trip off. The plan probably did not seem as wild an undertaking in the summer of 1915 as it does now, for the war was less than a year old and anti-German feeling in the United States had not yet reached fever pitch. But Germany already had begun unrestricted submarine warfare, and the Lusitania had been sunk in May with a large loss of life, including many Americans.

In explaining this project in great detail to Greenslet, Cather said she did not think the risks were very great, except for the discomforts of wartime travel, and the financial rewards promised to be considerable—far greater than her expectations from The Song of the Lark. She also said that she had insisted that she would write nothing pro-German, but then she realized that this might have gotten her into a real impasse with the pro-German owners of McClure's paper, and that would have been disastrous for McClure. All in all, she summed up, the tapping of Judge McClung's cane on the floor in the middle of the night was a fate motif; but she added with a sigh that the trip would have been a tall adventure.

After this trip was aborted, Cather and Lewis made their first trip west together. Apparently Isabelle could not leave her father. Her mother had died two years before, and her father, as it turned out, had only four more months to live. Lewis was able to take a leave of absence from her job as assistant editor of Every Week magazine, and the two women headed for Colorado. They took the Burlington Railroad to Denver, then the narrow gauge Denver and Rio Grande over the mountains. They left the Colorado capital at night and by daybreak the little wooden train was crawling over La Veta Pass. All day they spent "swinging back and forth between Colorado and New Mexico, with the Sangre de Cristo and Culebra ranges always in sight." Then they crossed the Continental Divide at Cumbres and began "the wild scurry down the westward slope." They spent most of the day on the open back platform of the little train. This particular part of the route was called the whiplash, Cather wrote, "and most of the way you can signal to the engineer from the rear car." They got to Durango at night and the next morning took another train to Mancos, the nearest town to Mesa Verde National Park, their ultimate destination.

They only expected to stay overnight in Mancos and then go on to the park, but the town charmed them and they remained six days. The town lay at the foot of the La Plata Mountains in a fertile, irrigated valley. The Mancos River, "clear as glass and bordered with poplars [ran] through the middle of the town. The streets [were] lined with trees, the yards [were] a riot of giant sage and Indian paintbrush, shaded with cedars." Then outside of town were golden wheat fields and the whole town was buried in sweet clover. "Not once while I was in Mancos, indoors or out, was there a moment when I could not smell the sweet clover." And from the streets of Mancos "one can always see the green mesa—not green at that distance but a darkish purple, a rather grim mass bulking up in the West."

Cather long had wanted to visit Mesa Verde, which has the largest collection of cliff dwellings in the United States. Her previous visits to Walnut Canyon and other ruins had whetted her appetite for more. Mesa Verde had been a national park since 1906, and the huge Cliff Palace with its 223 rooms had been excavated and opened to visitors a few years before. By the time Cather and Lewis arrived the government had built a road into the park, and they were able to hire a wagon and driver to take them in. There was a comfortable tent camp at Spruce Tree House, and the wife of the forest ringer in charge of the park provided meals. They spent an exciting week climbing about the ruins and an entire day in the Cliff Palace. Cather was storing up impressions which would go into one of her most memorable pieces of short fiction, "Tom Outland's Story," the middle section of The Professor's House.

Before they left Mancos, Cather looked up the brother of Richard Wetherill, one of the two cowboys who discovered the ruins at Mesa Verde in 1888. He was still living in the town and told her the story of his brother's riding into the Mesa one December day to chase strayed cattle. He and one of his cowboys forded the Mancos River, entered the mesa by a deep canyon that they followed to its heart. They tied their horses and went on foot up a wide canyon. After a long stretch of hard climbing "Wetherill happened to glance up at the great cliffs above him, and there, through a veil of lightly falling snow, he saw, practically as it stands today, and as it had stood for eight hundred years before, the Cliff Palace ... It stood as if it had been deserted yesterday; undisturbed and undesecrated, preserved by the dry atmosphere and by its great inaccessibility." This scene, as Wetherill's brother told it, is one of the great moments in "Tom Outland's Story."

On the day before Cather and Lewis were to return to Mancos, they had an adventure that even made the New York Times under the headline, "Lost in Colorado Canyon." They had planned to visit an unexcavated cliff dwelling called the Tower House, but their experienced guide was unable to take them and they had to go with a substitute, who thought he knew the way. He got them to the Tower House all right, but they had to descend to the bottom of Soda Canyon by a trail so steep they could not have returned without ropes. Tower House was on the other side of the canyon and a ways beyond. The guide said he would take them back by another trail further down the canyon, but by evening after they had walked a good many miles, the guide had to admit that he was lost. They had come to the junction of Soda Canyon and Cliff Canyon, and the guide thought there was an archeologist's camp about four miles up Cliff Canyon. The two women were exhausted, and Cather said she and Lewis would stay where they were, while the guide hiked up the canyon to see if there really was a camp.

Lewis remembered this scene vividly: "The four or five hours we spent waiting there were, I think, for Willa Cather the most rewarding of our whole trip to Mesa Verde. There was a large flat rock at the mouth of Cliff Canyon, and we settled ourselves comfortably on this rock.... We were tired and rather thirsty, but not worried, for we knew we should eventually be found. We did not talk, but watched the long summer twilight come on, and the full moon rise up over the rim of the canyon. The place was very beautiful."

Eventually there were shouts from up the canyon, and men from the camp appeared. Their guide had been so exhausted that he could not come back himself. Cliff Canyon was a mass of broken rocks all the way, and they were pulled and pushed and led by their rescuers for four miles until they came to a place where they could climb out of the canyon by scaling the lopped off branches of a huge pine that had been felled against the cliff like a ladder. They got to the camp of Dr. Walter Fewkes, a Smithsonian archaeologist, at two in the morning. Horses were hitched to a wagon, and they were taken back to park headquarters. When she wrote Sergeant about this adventure, Cather said she still was bruised and sore but happy and ready to go back and be mauled again by the big brutality of Cliff Canyon. She never had learned so much as in the twenty-four hours of that experience. That country, she said, drives one crazy with delight.

After returning to Mancos, Cather and Lewis visited Taos, New Mexico, for the first time. Although there were already a few artists there, it had not yet been discovered as an artist's colony, and the town was remote and hard to get to. They had to travel a long way by horse and wagon over a rough road, and the accommodations they found were primitive. The only place to stay was the Columbian Hotel, an adobe building operated by a Mexican woman on the town plaza. It was furnished with great brass double beds with sagging springs and thin mattresses, huge dark cupboards and wash stands and lighted by coal oil. The price was right, however—a dollar and a half per day including meals. They stayed there a week riding about the country on horseback or hiring a team and wagon, which they drove themselves. It was a glorious week, Cather wrote Sergeant, and she was very happy. Lewis remembered that Cather "was intensely alive to the country—as a musician might be alive to an orchestral composition he was hearing for the first time. She did not talk about it much—but one felt that she was deeply engaged with it always, was continually receiving strong impressions from the things she saw and experienced." She was, of course, storing up the material that eventually would go into Death Comes for the Archbishop twelve years later.

Before the middle of September they left New Mexico and started east. Lewis returned to New York, while Cather went to Red Cloud for a visit. She stayed in Nebraska well into October and was there on the publication day, October 2, of The Song of the Lark. She had enjoyed her summer travels, but she felt let down after completing the novel. She wrote Sergeant that she missed Thea now that the book was out and she wished she could still feel her character stretching herself inside her skin.

Cather dedicated her novel to Isabelle McClung, under whose loving and watchful eye most of the book was written. It was her second dedication to McClung, and this time she included a verse:
On uplands,
At morning,
The world was young, the winds were free;
A garden fair,
In that blue desert air,
Its guest invited me to be.

The story begins in Moonstone, Colorado, in the 1880s when Thea Kronborg is eleven. In the opening scene the family physician, Howard Archie, attends the child during a serious case of pneumonia, following which a close relationship grows between the doctor and Thea. The doctor, another of Cather's unhappily married characters, becomes the girl's mentor and guardian angel, seeing in her the daughter he never had. Thea has a number of adult friends who play a significant role in helping her grow up: A. Wunsch, the derelict musician who teaches her to play the piano; Spanish Johnny and Mrs. Tellamantez, residents of the Mexican community of Moonstone; Mr. and Mrs. Kohler, the German tailor and his wife, who live on the outskirts of town; and Ray Kennedy, a brakeman who works on the freight trains between Moonstone and Denver. Part I, "Friends of Childhood," which occupies more than one-third of the novel, comes to a conclusion when Thea at the age of seventeen leaves home to study music in Chicago.

There is no formal plot structure in Part 1, as Thea grows from childhood to adolescence, but there are a good many episodes that mark the girl's growth. A. Wunsch discovers Thea's natural musical talent and nurtures it to the best of his ability. By the time he drifts off to another town, Thea is able to take over his piano students. She drops out of high school and becomes self-supporting. She also sings in the church choir and plays the organ for services. She learns about the world beyond Moonstone from the German Kohlers, her music teacher, Spanish Johnny, and Ray Kennedy. When a tramp drowns himself in the town water tank, she discusses life, death, and God with Dr. Archie. She also learns about human nature from her encounters with the mean-spirited Mrs. Archie and the envious Mrs. Livery Johnson, whose untalented protege Lilly Fisher upstages her in a Christmas talent show. She visits Denver with her mother when Ray Kennedy invites them to ride with him in his caboose. Ray is an honest, simple fellow who loves Thea and watches and waits for her to grow up so that he can ask her to marry him. In the penultimate episode of Part I, however, Ray is killed in a railroad accident; but he leaves a six-hundred-dollar insurance policy to Thea with the stipulation that it be used for her musical education in Chicago.

"The Friends of Childhood" ranks high in the corpus of Cather's work. As the most autobiographical fiction she ever wrote, it draws on early memories of people, places, and incidents of her years between ten and sixteen in Red Cloud. This is material that had teased her mind for years, and it evokes vividly the life of a small town on the prairie in the late nineteenth century. There are scenes that linger in the mind: Dr. Archie ministering to the sick child, Thea with her music teacher, the picnic in the sand hills outside of Moonstone, the trip to Denver in the caboose. There is sentiment without sentimentality: Thea's feelings about Dr. Archie, her distress when Wunsch leaves town, her affection for Ray Kennedy. These aspects of the novel accompany a remarkable characterization of the development of a young girl.

Many of the characters of Part I were suggested by real people. The music teacher had his prototype in Herr Schindelmeisser, Cather's piano teacher. Spanish Johnny was a guitar-playing Mexican who lived in Red Cloud. Cather remembered that she never had heard him when he wasn't either singing or swearing. Dr. Archie was drawn from Dr. McKeeby, the doctor Cather accompanied on his country calls and who looked after her when she was seriously ill with what may have been polio. There was a real, though now unidentifiable Lily Fisher, who performed at an amateur hour Cather attended when she was in college. Ray Kennedy has some of the traits of the brakeman Tooker, whom Cather met in Arizona in 1912, but there was another brakeman, also unidentifiable, whom Cather knew in Red Cloud. She wrote Greenslet when she sent him her manuscript that the death of the noble brakeman was the original germ of the story. The event had happened when she was thirteen. Thea's Aunt Tilly has some of the traits of Cather's cousin Bess Seymour, who lived with the Cathers. Mrs. Kronborg's iron discipline of her seven children, her rawhide whip to enforce it, and her caring about people are characteristics belonging to Jennie Cather. Mrs. Kronborg also looks after the bodies of her children but leaves their minds alone, as Mrs. Cather did hers.

Beyond this use of real people in the novel is the use of real setting and incident. Moonstone, Colorado, is once again Red Cloud, Nebraska, with its railroad depot south of town, the Kronborgs' house, as was the Cathers', located west of the main street, Dr. Archie's home to the north, and the opera house placed where it really was. The railroading ambience is a natural part of a town that was a division point on the Burlington's main line from Chicago to Denver. The room that Thea occupies in the unfinished second story of the Kronborg house still exists as Cather describes it, and Thea's reading of Byron's poems and Anna Karenina are Cather's own memories of books she read while growing up. Thea takes care of her younger brother Thor just as Cather entertained her younger siblings.

While Cather's memories of her youth supply character, incident, and setting, Fremstad's childhood in Minnesota also went into the novel. Thea's serious study of the piano, her singing, her playing the organ in church are facts from Fremstad's life, not Cather's. There is nothing of Charles Cather in Thea's father, who is a minister like Fremstad's father. Thea's piano teaching when she is still a young girl also comes from Fremstad's experience. The serious nature of the child, the questions about life, the ability to work hard, the intense desire to make something of herself, however, are traits common to both the author and the opera singer.

Part II, "The Song of the Lark," begins in Chicago. Thea has been escorted to the city by Dr. Archie, who helps her find a piano teacher, a place to live, and a job singing in a church choir. Dr. Archie insists that she go to the best teacher in Chicago, who is Andor Harsanyi, Hungarian-born pianist, the first real artist Thea has known. Wunsch had once been a good musician, but by the time Thea's talent engaged his interest, he had little left to give her. "Harsanyi found in Thea a pupil with sure, strong hands, one who read rapidly and intelligently, who had, he felt, a richly gifted nature. But she had been given no direction, and her ardour was unawakened. She had never heard a symphony orchestra. The literature of the piano was an undiscovered world to her. He wondered how she had been able to work so hard when she knew so little of what she was working toward."

Thea works like a demon, supports herself by singing but never tells Harsanyi about this side of her life until one day she has to change her lesson time because of her church commitments. Harsanyi asks her to sing for him, and he realizes at once that her true vocation is singing. By this time he has become deeply interested in his pupil, but he knows that he must turn her over to a voice teacher. He sends her to Madison Bowers, the best voice coach in Chicago, and when the summer comes and Thea returns to Moonstone, she has begun the long road towards her operatic career. At the end of Part II, however, Thea finds during the summer that one can't go home again. She has grown away from her family, the people in her little prairie town, and from now on she must be on her own.

Cather handles the awakening of her young artist with great skill in this section of the novel. Only a few of the plot details are autobiographical, such as Thea's hearing Dvorak's New World Symphony and her discovery of the Chicago Art Institute, but the emotions, perceptions, and aspirations of the young artist are those Cather understood very well. After Thea admits to Harsanyi that she wants more than anything else to be an artist, she realizes that within her there always has been a second self. "It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere." A. Wunsch, Dr. Archie, and Spanish Johnny all had seen this other self within her, and that was why they cared for her. Cather too believed in the two selves in every person, the private self that belongs to family and friends, and the public self. In Alexandra Bergson this public self was developed in the taming of the wild land. In Thea Kronborg, as in Willa Cather, it took the form of an artistic career. For women in the nineteenth century cultural pressures made it hard to cultivate this other self. Society wanted women to be wives and mothers, not writers and opera singers. To achieve her goal, Thea realizes, is as difficult as being born again. Cather, through Harsanyi, describes this process of the emerging second self in a female metaphor when he tells Thea: "Every artist makes himself born." Her mother did not bring her into the world to be a musician, he says; she had to do that for herself. The doing, however, is difficult, and even before Thea knows what her destiny is to be and is being drawn ahead irresistibly, she feels "as if she were being pulled in two, between the desire to go away forever and the desire to stay forever."

One of the great moments in the novel occurs in this part when Thea is given a ticket to the Chicago Symphony. As she listens to Theodore Thomas's musicians play The New World Symphony, she undergoes an intense emotional experience, an awakening to life, to art, to vocation. "When the first movement ended, Thea's hands and feet were cold as ice. She was too excited to know anything except that she wanted something desperately." Then as the horns give out the theme of the largo, she loses herself in memories of home: "Here were the sand hills, the grasshoppers and locusts, all the things that wakened and chirped in the early morning; the reaching and reaching of high plains ... first memories, first mornings long ago; the amazement of a new soul in a new world; a soul new and yet old, that had dreamed something despairing, something glorious, in the dark before it was born; a soul obsessed by what it did not know, under the cloud of a past it could not recall."

In Part III, "Stupid Faces," which is relatively short, Thea returns to Chicago and spends the year studying under Bowers, a competent teacher but a cold, avaricious man. She supports herself by singing in church and playing accompaniments for Bowers' other pupils. Fred Ottenburg, wealthy brewer and amateur musician, enters her life; she sings at a private musicale for an attractive jewish banker and his wife, the Nathanmeyers; gets sick; and by the end of the year is tired, discouraged, and badly in need of a rest and change of scenery. Fred offers her the use of a ranch his father owns in Arizona. In Part IV "The Ancient People, " Thea goes to Panther Canyon, as we have already seen, and spends the summer resting and pondering her future. Her symbolic rebirth as an artist occurs in that huge fissure in the earth, which one critic has called "the most thoroughly elaborated female landscape in literature." Thea plans to go to Germany to study, but then Fred joins her and she falls in love. Thinking he is going to marry her, she accepts his offer to visit Mexico City with him. He finally has to tell her that he is already married to a woman he detests and who will not give him a divorce.

Part V "Doctor Archie's Venture, " takes place in New York. Because Fred can't marry her, Thea breaks off the relationship, wires Dr. Archie to come to New York and asks him to lend her money to go to Germany. At the end of the section she is about to sail for Europe. The novel then skips ten years, and Part VI, "Kronborg," opens in Denver, where Dr. Archie now lives, with a meeting between Fred and the doctor, who discuss Thea's career in Germany. The scene then moves to New York where Thea has become one of the leading sopranos at the Met. Now the heroine's prototype is Olive Fremstad, no longer Willa Cather. Thea has returned, as Fremstad did, after singing in Germany for a decade.

The novel ends, except for a brief epilogue, with Thea's triumphal performance as Sieglinde in Die Walkure with Dr. Archie, Fred Ottenburg, and Andor Harsanyi in the audience. During the second-act intermission a discussion takes place between Thea's admirers about the secret of her success. "What's her secret?" Fred asks Harsanyi. "He rumpled his hair irritably and shrugged his shoulders. 'Her secret? It is every artist's secret'—he waved his hand—'passion. That is all. It is an open secret, and perfectly safe. Like heroism, it is inimitable in cheap materials.'"

The artist who achieves greatly, however, does so at a sacrifice. Alexandra Bergson at the end of O Pioneers!, a lonely, middle-aged woman, tries to obtain a balance in her two selves by seeking companionship in marriage to Carl Lindstrum. Thea Kronborg, one finds in the epilogue, has married her old friend Fred Ottenburg, but the artist's life is a lonely one nevertheless. When Dr. Archie visits Thea in New York where she is a prima donna at the Met, he expresses his concern that she does not have enough personal life outside her work. She looks at him and smiles: "My dear doctor, I don't have any. Your work becomes your personal life. You are not much good until it does. It's like being woven into a big web. You can't pull away, because all your little tendrils are woven into the picture. It takes you up, and uses you, and spins you out; and that is your life. Not much else can happen to you."

Cather, as she often does in her fiction, uses myth to reinforce meaning in The Song of the Lark. Early in the novel A. Wunsch (whose name means desire) introduces his pupil to Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, the score of which in German translation is his most prized possession. He plays and sings for Thea the haunting aria, "Ach, ich habe Sie verloren [Oh, I have lost you]," which Orfeus sings after the fatal backward look which cost him his beloved. Thea knows the myth of Orfeus, whose beautiful music induced the gods to let him lead his dead wife Euridice back to earth from Hades provided he did not look back, but she does not know there is an opera about it. Thea's introduction to opera with this particular work provides a motif for the novel. As Euridice symbolizes art, man's desire for self-expression, Orfeus stands for the striving artist. Wunsch is a loser and mourns the loss of his Euridice before he drifts away to an alcoholic oblivion somewhere in the depths of Kansas. In the myth Orfeus after losing his Euridice is torn by the Thracian women and thrown into the River Hebrus. Wunsch bequeaths his score of the opera to Thea, and she carries it with her as she scales the icy heights. Cather ends her novel with her singer at the peak of her career, but the use of the myth haunts the ending. One knows that Thea one day will lose her Euridice and some other singer will replace her, as Thea replaces an ailing Sieglinde at the end of the story.

The Song of the Lark is an impressive study of an artist's growth from childhood to maturity. To anyone interested in music, especially opera, the novel cannot fail to be engrossing. Fremstad herself gave the novel an enthusiastic endorsement. Cather wrote Sergeant that she had met the singer in Lincoln just after she had read the book. She was carrying a dirty, rumpled copy that she said had not been just read but eaten. Cather had been afraid that Fremstad would be furious, but she was glowing with excitement. She especially liked "Friends of Childhood" and the chapters dealing with Panther Canyon. But she also approved of the last part in which she is the protagonist. It had just the right stimmung [tone], she said. One might have thought, she told Cather, that the final part was old stuff to her, but she knew what Thea was up against and she wanted her to pull it off. The novel was the only one she ever had read about an artist in which there was something doing in the character. Cather felt as if she had been given a decoration.

She also was much pleased when the people in Red Cloud liked the novel, because, as she explained to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, she had written the book from the Moonstone point of view in Moonstone language. To make this clear, she brings the reader back to Thea's home town in the epilogue, in which the heroine's addlepated Aunt Tilly basks in the triumphant career of her niece. Although Thea has seversed all her bonds with the place of her birth, she never denies her origin. Her strength comes from the soil of Moonstone, as she acknowledges when she tells Dr. Archie: "I began the world on six hundred dollars [Ray Kennedy's insurance policy] and it was the price of a man's life.... I always measure things by that six hundred dollars, just as I measure high buildings by the Moonstone standpipe. There are standards we can't get away from."

Most reviewers of the novel were enthusiastic. They generally agreed with the Boston Evening Transcript , which declared that "Miss Cather has created a flesh and blood woman ... The Song of the Lark is an extremely able piece of writing ... [and] sorry indeed must be the condition of one in whom Thea Kronborg's struggle would not stir some answering pulse." The authenticity of the characterizations was noted by most of the reviewers, not just the reality of the protagonist, but also of the minor characters: Thea's mother, who realizes early that her daughter is extraordinary and sacrifices a great deal for her; Dr. Archie, Ray Kennedy, and Fred Ottenburg, all of whom contribute selflessly to her success. H. W. Boyton, whose comments on the novel particularly pleased Cather, wrote in the Nation that she had succeeded in "that most dangerous of feats—to trace the genesis of genius."

H. L. Mencken, who had been following Cather's career ever since she published Alexander's Bridge, welcomed Cather into "the small class ofAmerican novelists who are seriously to be reckoned with." Her first novel was full of promise, he wrote; the second showed the beginnings of fulfillment. "In The Song of the Lark, she is already happily at ease, a competent journeyman. I have read no late novel, in fact, with a greater sense of intellectual stimulation." Mencken was especially taken with "Friends of Childhood," which was live, full of sharp bits of observation, sly touches of humor, gestures of that gentle pity which is the fruit of understanding. "Miss Cather not only has a desire to write; she also has something to say... From her book comes the notion that she has thought things out, that she is never at a loss, that her mind is plentifully stored."

While The Song of the Lark is an enormously interesting and attractive novel, it is not without flaws. Some of the reviewers complained that the novel was overwritten, though they agreed that the excessive detail was far overshadowed by the quality of the characterization. But the novel does go on and on for 490 pages in the original edition, and the total length is about 146,000 words, not much short of three times the length of O Pioneers! Cather originally had written two hundred thousand words, a length more like a Dreiser novel than one of hers. She had not yet formulated the principles she proclaims in her later essay, "The Novel Demeuble " in which she says the "higher processes of art are all processes of simplification." She did cut from the manuscript before sending it off a long section which chronicled Thea Kronborg's ten years in Germany, realizing that the tone of that material clashed with the Moonstone point of view of the rest of the novel. But even with these cuts the book still is full of detail that might better have been omitted. On rereading the novel, one is constantly wanting to use the blue pencil to strike out long passages going into great detail about Dr. Archie's wife and his unhappy marriage, the life story of the Rev. Lars Larson of Chicago, Thea's first choir director, Fred Ottenburg's personal history and disastrous marital relationship, and a good bit about reform politics in Colorado. Cather simply enjoyed writing this novel so much that she let herself be carried away. The quality of the novel derives from the intense interest she had in the material, what she called, the gift of sympathy, but she failed to exercise proper control over the material.

She began to realize this when her British publisher Heinemann turned down the novel. He had been pleased to bring out O Pioneers!, a novel he admired, but he wrote her that she had taken the wrong turn in writing a novel in which she "told everything about everybody." She remembered his letter saying: "I always find the friendly, confidential tone of writing of this sort distressingly familiar, even when the subject matter is very fine." When Cather wrote a preface for the novel in 1932, she found another flaw: "The chief fault of the book is that it describes a descending curve; the life of a successful artist in the full tide of achievement is not so interesting as the life of a talented young girl 'fighting her way,' as we say. Success is never so interesting as struggle—not even to the successful."

She went on to explain: "The interesting and important fact that, in an artist of the type I chose, personal life becomes paler as the imaginative life becomes richer, does not, however, excuse my story for becoming paler. The story set out to tell of an artist's awakening and struggle; her floundering escape from a smug, domestic, self-satisfied provincial world of utter ignorance. It should have been content to do that. I should have disregarded conventional design and stopped where my first conception stopped, telling the latter part of the story by suggestion merely." This statement made long after the fact ignores the fascination that Fremstad had for Cather. She also had convinced herself that Fremstad had had little to do with the characterization of Thea Kronborg. She wrote Greenslet in 1932 not to encourage the rumors that Thea was done from Fremstad. Not one incident had any likeness to the incidents in Fremstad's life, she claimed. Knowing her had some indirect influence, but that was mainly in making her aware of the routine of an opera singer's life. Cather here, as she often did, was rewriting the story of her own life.

When she worked over The Song of the Lark for a new edition published in 1932, she cut out about seven thousand words. These were not major cuts, though she trimmed some of the excesses from the latter parts of the novel; but she must have decided on looking over the book more than two decades after writing it that major surgery was inadvisable and it was best to let the novel stand pretty much as it was. Thus she deleted some dated references, some opinions she no longer held, pruned away some indiscretions and lapses of taste, polished up syntax and style here and there, but that was all. She was at work on her last novel by that time and unwilling to revise her early work the way James did his youthful novels for his collected works.

The most negative notice the book received was in an unsigned review in the New Republic by Randolph Bourne, who thought The Song of the Lark much inferior to O Pioneers! His criticism of the title Cather agreed with, but his strictures went a good deal farther. He thought the early parts of the novel, which were written out of the author's own experiences, were excellent, but the story should have ended when Thea goes off to Mexico with Fred Ottenburg. "Cather would perhaps be shocked," he wrote, "to know how sharp were the contrasts between those parts of her book which are built out of her own experience and those which are imagined. Her defects are almost wholly those of unassimilated experience. The musical life of this opera singer who has so fascinated her she has admired, but she has not made it imaginatively her own." This is valid criticism, for Cather was not in the final parts using material that in her own words had "tease[d] the mind over and over for years." She was admiring rather than remembering.

Red Cloud may have been pleased with The Song of the Lark, but some of Cather's old friends in Lincoln were not. She wrote Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who by this time had written three novels herself, that Dorothy's public outnumbered hers twenty to one. Dorothy's public was saying insulting things about Willa's public, and vice versa. Dorothy's supporters objected to the immorality in Willa's novels, the illicit relations of Bartley Alexander, Emil and Marie in O Pioneers!, and Thea Kronborg's affair with Fred Ottenburg. The Geres, the Westermanns, and Will Owen Jones all had gone over to Dorothy's camp, while she had five German brewers, Sarah Harris, and Dr. Tyndale. The defection of her old friends, she said, hurt at first, but she was getting used to it.

While she was watching reviews and hearing from friends about the book, she also was taking a great interest in the marketing of the novel. She supplied a biographical sketch and an article on Mesa Verde for a promotional booklet that Houghton Mifflin sent out to reviewers and book stores. When the firm sent her an advance proof of an ad for the book, she rewrote the copy to put some excitement into it. One ounce of enthusiasm, she said, was worth a pound of approbation, and she insisted on seeing the revised copy before the ad was placed. She also wanted the book advertised in the women's colleges because, as she said, girls all wanted that combative, defiant sort of career. It was in the air.

Cather's dissatisfaction with Houghton Mifflin, which eventually led her to switch to Alfred Knopf, began with the publication of The Song of the Lark. The book sold about eight thousand copies in its first six months, which she thought very satisfactory, but when Houghton Mifflin sent her a bill of $166.73 for excess corrections in the proof, she complained. It was three times what she expected and fourteen percent of her first royalty check. The same thing happened with her next novel, and she began to be increasingly critical of the company's treatment of her and the promotion of her books. The book only sold another thirteen hundred copies in the second six months, and later she complained to Greenslet that people couldn't get copies of the novel in book stores. If it had not been for her long friendship with Greenslet, she probably would have left Houghton Mifflin long before she did. Her relations with her publisher were no doubt colored by personal problems that were overtaking her in the months following the book's publication. This was the winter of her discontent.

Appropriately enough, this disturbing period was ushered in by the publication in November of the penultimate story she ever wrote for McClure's, "Consequences," a somber tale of apparitions and suicide. It is another ghost story that deals with the dark underside of life, things beyond the ken of rational discourse. Readers of the tale have been reminded of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel Cather knew and thought well of, also perhaps Poe's "William Wilson." Both authors create a double whose influence on the principal character is both terrifying and disastrous. Cather in using this idea has divided her notion of the double self into two persons, an attractive young man and a repulsive old one. The story is seen from the perspective of a matter-of-fact New York lawyer whose neighbor is a rich, dissolute young man who lives for pleasure. The young man, as he tells his lawyer friend, is being pursued by a sinister old fellow who appears from time to time dressed in shabby evening clothes and knows intimate details of his life. After a number of these encounters, the young man begins to realize his pursuer is himself projected into the future. The pragmatic lawyer urges his young friend to go West, live on a ranch, work out of doors, and shake off the old fellow following him. But the night before the young man is to leave for Montana, his double visits him, and the next morning the young man is found shot to death by his own hand. This chilling tale is not told baldly, as the summary here suggests, but by inference and indirection. It produces the effect of horror in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Poe. It also reminds readers of Cather that under her calm, well-organized exterior there were doubts and uncertainties.

CHAPTER 13

My Ántonia

While Cather was enjoying the chorus of praise that greeted The Song of the Lark, with only an occasional sour note, events in her personal life were soon to strike a discord. She was still in Pittsburgh on November 12, 1915, when old Judge McClung died, the first of three distressing events to come in quick succession. In order to be present for the funeral, she canceled with regret plans to accompany Fremstad to Chicago where she was to sing Isolde, and after the judge was buried she returned to New York. But she soon went back to Pittsburgh to spend her last Christmas there. She wrote her Aunt Franc sadly on Christmas Day that the McClung house, which had been a kind and hospitable home to her for fifteen years, would probably be sold, as Isabelle and her brother Alfred thought it too big and expensive to keep up alone. It was hard to see dear friends and familiar things pass out of her life. She thought she never would feel so safe and happy in any other house. Her own apartment on Bank Street had never seemed like home in the same sense, though she liked it very much. The house was indeed sold early the next year, and Cather's two decades of association with Pittsburgh came to an end.

An even harder blow fell sometime later in the winter when Isabelle McClung announced that she was going to be married to Jan Hambourg, a concert violinist. There is no evidence that Cather had any foreknowledge of this impending event. The New York Times reported later that McClung had met Hambourg in London when he was playing there several years before, and Cather must have known that. She also must have heard him play in Pittsburgh in a trio with his brother Mark and her old friend Ethel Litchfield three days after Judge McClung died. But the announcement came as a considerable shock. She wrote Dorothy Canfield Fisher in mid-March that the marriage would bring about an amazing change in her life, and on the best terms she could figure out, it would be a devastating loss. Isabelle expected to be in New York a good deal after her marriage, but things couldn't, of course, be as they were. Cather added ruefully that the pursuit of happiness was not the reality it was supposed to be; the pursuit of pain seemed to be just as irradicable a human instinct. Losses never seemed to come singly; her old friend Mrs. Fields had died in Boston the previous winter, ending another era that had provided her with great happiness and closing another house that she had found great pleasure in visiting.

Elizabeth Sergeant heard of McClung's coming marriage as she and Cather walked together in Central Park one icy day in late winter. As she heard the news, Sergeant remembered, Cather's face was bleak; her eyes were vacant: "All her natural exuberance had drained away." Sergeant's memory probably overdramatizes the impact of the approaching marriage, for Cather's letter to Fisher is restrained. In explaining that the bridegroom was to be Jan Hambourg, she went on to say that Jan was much nicer than his brother. She was glad of this because Isabelle was very happy. The letter continues to talk calmly of plans for the wedding, which was to take place in New York on April 3, to be followed by a small reception at Sherry's. Her friend May Willard was coming on from Pittsburgh to stay with her for the reception. The wedding subsequently took place at the Church of the Messiah with the Reverend John Holmes officiating. Whether Cather found the minister to perform this Protestant-Jewish marriage is not known, but she may well have done so and also arranged for the reception. She admitted that she and Jan were not very congenial, but the letter reveals no hostility. It divides rather equally between regret for the closing of the Pittsburgh chapter of her career and regret over the opening of Isabelle's new life. Both of these events combined to give her a rotten winter, she wrote Greenslet, and to keep her from getting practically any work done. She wrote Fisher that she hadn't been able to start a new novel, though she had an idea in mind. She felt indifferent towards the material, and when her interest was out of commission she had very little wit to work with.

About the same time she received a letter from W. H. Boynton, whom she knew only as an admiring reviewer of her books, asking what she was working on. She replied that nothing much interested her deeply at the moment, only "something rather hard and dry." Perhaps "I'm doing it for the same reasons that violinists play Bach after they have been working hard on very romantic modern things." Her next novel was planned pretty well, she added, but "the winter has been full of changes and troubles, the loss of old friends by death and even by marriage, until I feel [quoting from Poe's "The Raven"] like the man 'whom merciful disaster followed fast and followed faster.' The milk has been too much disturbed for the cream to rise," but "I am beginning to keep engagements with my desk again, and I hope, if you come into town this spring, that I may have some progress to report to you."

She did manage to write two stories during this stressful period, "The Bookkeeper's Wife," which she sold to the Century, and "The Diamond Mine," which her agent placed in McClure's, her last appearance in the magazine she once had edited. The former story is a competent piece of professional writing but not a very attractive tale. It must have been the hard and dry thing she referred to in her letter to Boynton. Its chief characters, Percy Bixby and Stella Brown, add another unhappy marriage to the growing list of disastrous romances in Cather's fiction. But neither character is one to arouse a reader's sympathy. Percy is a methodical, meticulous, unimaginative bookkeeper for a New York paper company, and Stella is the beautiful, selfish, much-courted daughter of a very ambitious woman. Percy wants desperately to marry Stella, overstates his salary as he woos this mercenary maiden, and in order to get married embezzles money from his employer by cooking the books. He intends to pay back the money, but, of course, his wife's extravagance makes this impossible. Percy for five years sits on his stool in the accounting office, refusing to take a vacation so that no one else ever will get a look at his books. The crisis comes, however, when the owner of the firm plans a general audit. Percy confesses to the boss, who generously lends him money to reimburse the company, but when Percy has to tell his wife about the embezzlement and the necessity of reducing their standard of living, she spews out all her accumulated resentments against Percy's life style and personality and leaves him to go to work for the other man she was dating when Percy won the prize. Percy is a weak character, a hollow man; Stella is a man-eating monster, and the story is a parable of the corrupting power of money. In this theme it anticipates one of Cather's major preoccupations in her fiction of the twenties.

"The Diamond Mine" is a story of considerably more interest and importance. In the first place, it began her relationship with Paul Reynolds, who acted as her agent in selling her stories and the serial rights to her novels for the next decade. This turned out to be a profitable arrangement for her. She wrote Harry Dwight that she took the greatest satisfaction in Reynolds's conduct of her affairs. She said she never would have tried to sell "The Diamond Mine" to a magazine. Its length (fifteen thousand words), subject matter, method of narration—all were absolutely opposed to magazine requirements. Reynolds got her six hundred dollars for the story when she would have accepted five hundred gladly. She told Greenslet in June that Reynolds could sell anything and in December that he would make her so rich she could afford to bone down on her long story, My Ántonia, which she already had begun to write.

Because the royalties from The Song of the Lark were modest, she had to continue writing stories when she much preferred to work on novels. Reynolds worked very effectively to supplement her income in this period, and though he never became a close friend, he and Cather got along well. They lunched together a few times and occasionally went for a walk in Washington Square. Reynolds was the soul of tact, never negotiating with a magazine without consulting her, never presuming too much. Later when Cather moved from Houghton Mifflin to Knopf, she gradually turned over all her business to Knopf's firm and drifted away from Reynolds. But after she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923, Reynolds began to get many requests for her work from magazines willing to pay a thousand dollars a story, and his correspondence with her, often unanswered, is filled with wistful urging that she write more stories for him to sell. But by that time her book royalties more than supported her, and she almost stopped writing short fiction altogether.

Although "The Diamond Mine" is a fine story, Reynolds had a little trouble selling it. After the Century turned it down, he offered it to The Smart Set, edited by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan.Mencken was interested but feared the story was potentially libelous. It is based on the life of Lillian Nordica, whose last husband, George Young, is very thinly disguised in the story as the unscrupulous, mercenary character Jerome Brown. Cather answered Mencken's concern by admitting that Nordica was the singer who had inspired the tale; yet she said there was no incident that resembled anything in her life except the shipwreck and the will contest. She added that the will contest in reality had been much nastier than she had made it in the story. She didn't see how George Young could object. He did, however, but he only threatened suit and never followed through. Cather was sure he wouldn't, she wrote Greenslet, but she was probably lucky that she was living in a less litigious age than the present. That the story was a fictionalized life of Nordica was apparent to everyone, and a few days after the October issue of McClure's appeared, the Musical Courier carried an article commenting on the tale. "[It] reveals the identity of its heroine, with unrelenting frankness, from the very opening paragraph. Her fine, opulent, generous nature and withal showily plate-glass character is drawn with some minuteness."

The story no doubt took shape in Cather's mind as she finished The Song of the Lark. It reflects her continuing fascination with opera singers and their bigger-than-life styles. Long before she ever discovered Fremstad, she had been interested in Nordica, having heard her in Cavalleria Rusticana in Lincoln and in Les Huguenots in Chicago while she was still in college. She even had written one of her "Player Letters" to Nordica and on two other occasions had devoted columns to the singer during her career in journalism. Nordica was indeed an interesting figure. She had been born Lillian Norton in Maine, had grown up in Iowa, and was the granddaughter of a well-known evangelist. She had studied in Europe, attracted the attention of Cosima Wagner, who made her a star at Bayreuth, and returned to America to become one of the workhorses at the Met. She died in 1913 after a shipwreck in the East Indies while on a world tour. She had a great voice, almost no temperament, and several husbands.

Cather's story creates such a singer, Cressida Garnet, who for twenty years has been supporting her accompanist, brothers, sisters, husbands, and son with the hard-earned proceeds of her glorious voice. All of these leeches regard her as a diamond mine, a role she plays without complaining until finally she marries her fourth husband, Jerome Brown, "the most rapacious of the men with whom she had to do." Brown's unsuccessful business ventures almost bankrupt her, but the story ends mercifully when Cressida Garnet goes down with the Titanic. The final scene is grim: her accompanist, her oldest brother, and Brown, all sitting in Cressida's sleek limousine anxiously scanning the list of survivors outside the New York office of the steamship company. To end the tale the battle over the will disposing of the singer's greatly reduced wealth is briefly recounted by the narrator.

Cather thought well enough of this story to reprint it in Youth and the Bright Medusa four years later. It is an excellent work, narrated by a woman friend of the protagonist, who grew up with the singer in Columbus, Ohio. The use of a female narrator, unusual for Cather, is entirely appropriate here to provide a feminine perspective on the predators, mostly male, who live off Cressida Garnet. The corrupting influence of money is again a dominant theme. Cressida asks Carrie, the narrator: "Why is it? I have never cared about money, except to make people happy with it, and it has been the curse of my life. It has spoiled all my relations with people." Because the story is based on Nordica's life, which was filled with unsuccessful marriages, Cather is again able to make it clear that marriage and art do not mix. The central part of the story is a detailed account of Cressida's middle-aged romance with a Bohemian violinist-composer, her third husband, which ends with the singer returning unexpectedly from a tour and finding her husband in bed with the cook. Ruth St. Denis wrote Cather a fan letter after the story came out and said she knew all about Cressida Garnet's problems; she herself had been a silver mine.

After the McClung-Hambourg wedding Cather immediately began compensating for the loss of Isabelle by stepping up her social activities. She started holding open house at the Bank Street apartment on Friday afternoons for friends to whom she sent formal cards of invitation. There were Alice and Henry Hoyt, his sister Elinor Wylie, Marian and Henry Canby, George Arliss, all of whom were Greenwich Village neighbors; also other New Yorkers like Elizabeth Sergeant, Ida Tarbell, and Viola Roseboro' and out-of-towners such as Zoe Akins, Harry Dwight, Ferris Greenslet, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher came when they were in the city; later there were Blanche and Alfred Knopf, Irita and Carl Van Doren; Pittsburgh friends visiting New York also dropped in. These Fridays went on for a number of years until Cather's growing reputation began attracting more people than she wanted to see.

Lewis remembered: "These Friday afternoons became very popular—so popular, in fact, that eventually she had to give them up; instead of half-a-dozen or so of her friends dropping in for tea, more and more people came, sometimes bringing strangers with them; and it became at last too much of a responsibility. But those informal gatherings around the coal fire in the living-room at 5 Bank Street, with the late winter sunshine slowly changing into dusk, and the melodious sound of the tugboat whistles coming up from the river nearby, were very pleasant while they lasted. Everyone talked as if there was not nearly enough time for all they had to say. Often a small group of Willa Cather's more intimate friends would stay on after the others had drifted away, lingering until eight o'clock or later."

The Friday afternoons, however, went only so far in filling the void, and by mid-June 1916 Cather was fed up with New York and society. She cut away suddenly, taking a train west, and didn't stop until she got to Denver. By early July she was back at the Columbian Hotel in Taos where she had stayed a week the summer before. She wrote Dwight apologizing for leaving so abruptly and reneging on a tentative date she had made to meet some of his friends. There were times, she explained, when she got physically sick of New York—homesick like children at school-so that she couldn't eat or sleep. This year she had been engulfed by such an attack and was just beginning to come to the sunny surface of life again. She loved Taos, which was forty miles from the railroad and up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, an adobe town of three thousand without a frame house in it. There were in addition lovely little villages lying about everywhere, and she could visit five or six of them every morning on her daily horseback ride.

She stayed in Taos three weeks, then headed north for Lander, Wyoming, to see her brother Ross. She wrote Sergeant from Wyoming that she'd had a heavenly time in Taos and was having a great visit with her brother and his family. There were two rivers flowing through the backyard, one of which was full of trout, and they were taking long horseback rides into the sand hills to the east and the Wind River Mountains to the west. Isabelle's marriage was still hard to take and always would be, but the rest of the world looked much as it used to and was not overcast. By the end of August she was in Red Cloud where she planned to settle down and write until Thanksgiving. She was in good spirits again and wrote Greenslet she had left the dismal memory of the past winter above timberline in the Rockies. She expected to have another book ready by the next year, probably a story of the Southwest to be called "The Blue Mesa." This apparently was the beginning of "Tom Outland's Story," which she didn't manage to finish for another six years. She was then thinking of it as a novel which would be full of love and hate, as she told Greenslet. She also was thinking of writing a book of nonfiction about the Southwest.

Before settling down to a new novel, however, she had to get opera singers out of her system. She had exorcised Fremstad with The Song of the Lark and Nordica with "The Diamond Mine," but she still had two more stories of opera singers to write. While she was stopping briefly in Denver in June, she wrote "Scandal," and after reaching Red Cloud added "The Gold Slipper," both of which are about the same singer, Kitty Ayrshire. Kitty's name and biographical facts suggest Mary Garden, the Scottish-born soprano for whom Debussy wrote Pelleas et Melisande, but her personality is more like Geraldine Ferrar. "Scandal" is an inferior, unpleasant story that Paul Reynolds had a great deal of trouble selling. Fifteen magazines turned it down before he placed it in the Century, where it did not appear until August 1919. The story recounts an episode in the career of Kitty Ayrshire in which the unscrupulous millionaire Sigmund Stein perpetrates a fraud at the expense of the singer. He has such a grotesque ambition to be seen with celebrities that he hires Kitty's double (one of his employees) to go about with him in public places to give the impression that he is on intimate terms with her.

Cather must have had doubts about this story because she waited until after Reynolds had sold the second one to Harper's before sending "Scandal" to him. "The Gold Slipper" is actually a very good tale, though Cather called it a trifling little story and tried too late to pull it back for revision. She was frank to admit that she needed money and the four hundred and fifty dollars she got for "The Gold Slipper" helped offset the inflation that was accompanying the war. Her expenses, she explained, were about one-third more in 1916 than they had been the year before. It took twenty cents worth of apples to make one pie and beef was thirty-six cents a pound.

"The Gold Slipper" is about Kitty Ayrshire at the peak of her career when she goes to Pittsburgh to give a recital. After the concert she finds herself on the same Pullman car with Marshall McKann, a coal merchant whose wife had dragged him to the performance. Kitty had noticed McKann in the audience, observed his looks of hostility and yawns, and when she gets him alone on the train asks him what he has against artists and singers. His answers are all stereotypes born of prejudice, and Kitty's lively repartee cuts away his pomposity like a scalpel, leaving him exposed as the Philistine he is. Before she goes into her state room, however, she promises to haunt him a little. The next morning when the porter wakes him he finds one of Kitty's gold slippers among his clothes in his berth. "The Gold Slipper" is an entertaining tale that scores some neat points for open-mindedness, risk-taking and willingness to try things new.

"Scandal," however, besides being a poor story, contains a savage portrait of the Jewish millionaire Stein. He is an ogre, a caricature of the social-climbing, department-store-owning Jewish businessman. Stein is described as "one of the most hideous men in New York"with a "long nose, flattened as if it had been tied down; a scornful chin, long, white teeth; flat cheeks, yellow as a Mongolian's; tiny, black eyes, with puffy lids and no lashes; dingy, dead-looking hair—looks as if it were glued on." This description following hard similar one in "The Diamond Mine" of Cressida Garnet's accompanist, Miletus Poppas, comes as something of a shock to Cather readers. Poppas, who has been with Garnet for many years, is thoroughly disagreeable, has a "thin, lupine face," and yellowish green eyes, "always gleaming with something like defeated fury." "He was a vulture of the vulture race, and he had the beak of one," and at the end of the story "he look[s] as old as Jewry" as he waits to read the list of survivors of the Titanic.

Characters like Stein and Poppas have led some critics to charge that Cather was anti-Semitic. They cite also other unflattering Jewish figures in her work: the Jewish baby described in one of her earliest newspaper columns, the despicable art dealer in "The Marriage of Phaedra," the villain in "The Affair at Grover Station," who looks Jewish but turns out to be oriental. And in addition Louis Marcellus in The Professor's House has been seen as a character created out of an anti-Semitic bias. Marcellus, however, is for most readers a sympathetic figure, despite his brashness and aggressive behavior, and Jews in Cather's fiction represent a miniscule fraction of the totality. There are a good many villians in her works who are white, Anglo-Saxon protestants: Wick Cutter, Ivy Peters, Jerome Brown, and Buck Scales, to name some; and others, who if not villians, are figures who reap the author's scorn: Alexandra's brothers, Nat Wheeler and his son Bayliss, the bad priests in Death Comes for the Archbishop, and so forth. Then there are the good Jews in her fiction such as the Rosens and the Nathanmeyers, the former being modeled after Cather's old friends and neighbors in Red Cloud, the Wieners; and later in her life there was her much beloved Menuhin family—all of them, Yehudi, his sisters, and the parents. She had what one might call a typical Midwestern bias against Jews in the aggregate, the result of growing up in a culture almost devoid of Jews; but to call her anti-Semitic is to exaggerate considerably. She had many loves and many hates, and among each were a few Jews.

It is likely that the creation of Stein and Poppas in the first half of 1916 owes something to Cather's subconscious resentment of Jan Hambourg, who carried off her beloved Isabelle McClung. Both stories in which these unattractive Jewish characters appear were written about the time Hambourg entered Cather's life. It did not take her many months to accept him, and she gradually became fond of him, but at the start she was devastated at the change in her life that his intrusion caused.

Nebraska that summer was blisteringly hot. The amorous lovers of Dante were no more scourged by fire than were the dwellers of the corn country, she wrote Sergeant; but corn took a terrific amount of heat, she added, and they all panted resignedly under the magnificent fire as the crops matured. Sometime in September or October Cather must have driven out into the Bohemian country, as she usually did, to visit her old friend Annie Pavelka. This may have been the trip that Jim Burden takes in the final book of My Ántonia when he sees Ántonia, now middle-aged, married, and surrounded by her large brood of children. The idea of her novel had not yet come to her, however, and she spent the fall working on "The Blue Mesa." Two months after getting to Red Cloud she was still making notes for it, but the materials seemed intractable. The experience was too recent for use and needed to remain a few years in the deep well of her unconscious. Her mother also was sick during the three months she spent in Red Cloud, and she had to be cook and housekeeper. On the whole she enjoyed it, she wrote Sergeant, even though there were eight in the family all the time. She had gotten the secret of good pastry at last and thought she never would be intimidated by a kitchen range again. She told another friend that she was now no mean cook. She returned to her Bank Street apartment on Thanksgiving Day with little to show for the first eleven months of 1916 except a few stories.

She arrived in New York, however, with the idea for My Ántonia. She wrote R. L. Scaife at Houghton Mifflin the following March that as soon as she had returned from the West, she had put aside "The Blue Mesa" to take up work on a new novel, a western story about the same length as O Pioneers! and with a somewhat similar background. In three months she had gotten half way through the first draft, and she thought she might be ready to send the manuscript to Boston by mid-June. She wanted to know the latest date possible to make fall publication, and by April she was already writing about the illustrations for the new novel. But she was too optimistic by far, and it was another fourteen months before she completed the book.

The winter of 1916-17, however, was a happy, productive period. She was riotously well after six months in the West, and the Hambourgs were then living in the city and making a great effort to reconcile her to their marriage. Before Christmas she invited them and S. S. McClure to dinner, and they returned the invitation on Christmas Eve. The next week she lunched at their house with Harold Bauer, the pianist, and his wife and Fritz Kreisler, and she thought Isabelle made a charming hostess for artists and celebrities. Then she went to a concert with the Hambourgs. In between the social occasions she dined with Boston friends and had thirty people in for one of her Friday afternoons. There seems no doubt that she was accepting Isabelle's marriage and beginning to like Jan.

It might have been this winter that Cather went to Elizabeth Sergeant's apartment in the East Sixties for tea. She arrived "flushed and alert from one of her swift wintry walks" in Central Park. While they were having tea, Sergeant remembered: "She then suddenly leaned over . . . and set an old Sicilian apothecary jar of mine, filled with orange-brown flowers of scented stock, in the middle of a bare, round antique table.

"'I want my new heroine to be like this—like a rare object in the middle of a table, which one may examine from all sides.'

"She moved the lamp so that light streamed brightly down on my Taormina jar, with its glazed orange and blue design.

"'I want her to stand out—like this—like this-because she is the story.'"

The writing was still going well in April when she interrupted it for a round of musical parties with the Hambourgs. Then in May she went down to Washington to visit her cousin Howard Gore and in June went west to receive her first honorary degree from her alma mater, the first such the University of Nebraska ever had given a woman. She continued on to Red Cloud for a visit, but the heat was unbearable and drove her farther west to Wyoming. When she got back to New York late in the summer, she immediately left for Jaffrey, New Hampshire, to recuperate from the rigors of the Midwest in July and August. She spent three weeks in Jaffrey with the Hambourgs and settled down to finish My Ántonia.

Jaffrey was a happy discovery. She rented two rooms on the top floor of the Shattuck Inn and was able to look out over woods and pastures towards Mount Monadnock in the distance. She was so pleased with the accommodations and the setting that she returned to Jaffrey again and again for several weeks in the autumn. She found it a congenial place to work. "The fresh, pine-scented woods and pastures,"Edith Lewis remembered, "with their multitudinous wild flowers, the gentle skies, the little enclosed fields, had in them nothing of the disturbing, exalting impelling memories and associations of the past—her own past. Each day there was like an empty canvas, a clean sheet of paper to be filled. She lived with a simple sense of physical well-being, of weather, and of country solitude."

Two of her Pittsburgh friends, who rented a place about a mile from the Shattuck Inn, put up a tent for her in their meadow, and every morning after an early breakfast she crossed the Stony Brook Farm Road and cut through a hedge to the clearing where her tent was pitched. She carried her pens and paper with her but left her ink bottles, table, and camp chair in the tent. At midday she knocked off work, climbed a stone wall, and returned to the inn through the woods. There she wrote Book II ("The Hired Girls"). In the afternoons she took long walks through the countryside and up Mount Mondanock, carrying with her a favorite book, F. Schuyler Matthews's Field Book of American Wild Flowers. She stayed at Jaffrey about two months, but when she left the novel still was not finished. She had signed a contract for it already, was pleased with the terms, and hoped she could make Greenslet's deadline for spring publication. She missed by six months.

The problem of money kept nagging her, and she again had to turn to writing short fiction. She sent the editor of the Century, by way of Reynolds, a letter proposing a series of stories under the general title "Office Wives." Two of the stories, "Ardessa" and "Little Annie," which later became "Her Boss,"accompanied the letter. The magazine liked the first story, which is the one about a magazine editor like McClure and his secretary, but thought the second was too sad to run in wartime. The editor, Douglas Doty, liked the idea of the series and was willing to publish the stories first in the magazine and later in book form. Cather then sent Reynolds a rough draft of another story to be called "Explosives," which never found its way into print, and promised more.

"Her Boss" is indeed a sad story and did not appear until the Smart Set published it in October 1919. The protagonist, Paul Warming, is an elderly lawyer whose doctor has told him he has only a few months to live. His spoiled family, who live expensively in the suburbs, and his law partners show little sympathy. The only person who treats him with understanding is Annie Wooley, a young overworked and underpaid stenographer in his office. He hires her to take from dictation the autobiography he decides to write and she works late, gives up her weekends to help him carry out this project. She gets only censure from the law partners and staff for this act of kindness, and after the protagonist dies she is fired from her job. Wanning's family refuses to honor a codicil in his will providing compensation for poor little Annie, and no one can believe there wasn't hanky panky going on. The story is a melancholy commentary on what Mark Twain would have called "the damned human race."

Nothing came of "Office Wives," presumably because Cather had to spend all her time and energy finishing My Ántonia in order to make fall publication. She began sending copy to Greenslet in driblets in November, but he did not get it all until the twentieth of June. By that time she was reading proof on the early chapters, and had completed complicated negotiations over the Benda illustrations. She was depressed during the winter that she couldn't seem to get the book finished for spring publication. She said she had pushed it along as fast as she could, but writing was a slow business. There was no good reason why My Ántonia had taken two winters and she felt rather humble about the matter.

One of the obstacles to finishing the book was an attack of bronchitis that laid her low for two weeks in February. Also her French cook, Josephine Bourda, was ill. Fortunately, at this juncture Fremstad came to the rescue. She had plenty of spare time this winter because she was not singing at the Met, and every night she sent her car and chauffeur to take Cather to her apartment for dinner and music. Wartime shortages also made the winter difficult, for coal was in short supply and Cather was unable to heat her study. Yet there were some pleasant Friday afternoons with interesting people in for tea, and she saw a great deal of the Hambourgs. She wrote Carrie Sherwood in March that she was getting on well with Jan and had really learned to like him.

In late June Cather went to Jaffrey intending to stay three weeks and finish reading proof there. She had to insist that the proofreaders at Houghton Mifflin allow her to use an occasional subjunctive, and she worried a good bit about the placement of the illustrations. She wanted them printed on the book paper and placed within the text as she had indicated, not printed separately and placed at the ends of the gatherings. The stark black-and-white drawings by Benda, who was familiar with the Midwest farm setting, provide a realistic balance for Jim Burden's romantic memoir and contribute to the understanding of the novel. Again Houghton Mifflin gave her what she wanted, and when she received advance copies of the book, she was pleased. Her three weeks in Jaffrey stretched to six weeks, after which she returned to New York to visit the Hambourgs, who had taken a cottage in Scarsdale for the summer.

She spent a week totally immersed in music in Scarsdale. The Hambourgs had musicians visiting and still others were living across the street. They had Beethoven and Mozart quartets every night. The gods on Olympus do not have such music, she wrote Greenslet after an evening of Beethoven's tenth quartet and Schubert's Death and the Maiden. Her right to these riches, she explained, resulted from her lending Josephine for the summer. The Hambourgs and their friends were so enamored of Josephine's French cooking and so afraid Cather might take her away, or so she said, that they would even play request programs for her. Josephine, who spoke no English, commented on this orgy of music: "Les sonates, les quatuors à deux heures le matin, ce n'est pas raisonnable, vous savez, mademoiselle " ("Sonatas, quartets at two in the morning, it's not tolerable, you know, mademoiselle"). Cather, who was heading for Nebraska after this week in Scarsdale, agreed that the silence of the cornfields would be welcome.

About the middle of August she took the train west and spent a couple of weeks in the Southwest and six weeks in Red Cloud. Again her mother was sick and she took over the cooking. This year she felt so much at home on the range that she wrote Greenslet she wished she were as good a writer as she was a cook. While her mother was convalescing, she visited her Aunt Franc in the country and read the letters of her cousin who had been killed in France in May. She also began thinking about another book and proposed to Greenslet a collection of stories about musicians and singers for the following spring. She would begin with "The Diamond Mine," add "The Gold Slipper" and three or four others not yet written. The volume would be light and breezy. Houghton Mifflin was interested, but by the time she returned to New York at the end of October, traveling by way of Toronto to visit the Hambourgs for ten days, she already was planning a novel inspired by her cousin's letters and had lost interest in the story collection. My Ántonia was in the bookstores by this time, and she must have hoped the sales would pay her bills until she could finish another novel.

In one sense Cather had been preparing to write My Ántonia for a third of a century. She had known the model for its fictional heroine, Annie Sadilek, later Pavelka, ever since she was a child in Red Cloud, and, as we have seen, the story of Annie's father's suicide was one of the first stories she had heard in Nebraska. As he looked back in her old age, she felt that the character of Ántonia was the embodiment of all her feelings about the early immigrants in the prairie country, and it seemed then that she must have been destined to this novel if she ever wrote anything. When Margaret Lawrence's School of Femininity appeared in 1936 with a perceptive chapter on Cather, she agreed with its thesis: she could only write successfully when she wrote about people or places she loved. The characters she created could be cranky or queer or foolhardy or rash, but they had to have something to them that thrilled her and warmed her heart.

Annie Sadilek Pavelka was such a person. Cather told an interviewer in 1921 that one of the people who had interested her most when she was a child was the Bohemian hired girl who worked for one of their neighbors. "She was one of the truest artists I ever knew in the keenness and sensitiveness of her enjoyment, in her love of people and in her willingness to take pains." After Cather left journalism and began writing novels, she visited the Bohemian country during her summer visits to Red Cloud and saw Annie and her family on their farm. The lives of the Pavelkas and their neighbors seemed to her like stories out of a book that went on and on year after year like War and Peace . Whenever she went back to Nebraska, her friends filled her in on the details of the narrative that had taken place in her absence.

Once she decided to make Annie the central figure in her novel, she had to work out the narrative technique to present her. She chose a first-person point of view because she believed that novels of feeling, such as My Ántonia, were best narrated by a character in the story. Novels of action, on the other hand, should be told in the third person, using the omniscient author as narrator. But who should the first-person teller of the tale be? She told an interviewer that she rejected Annie's lover as narrator because "My Ántonia deserved something better than the Saturday Evening Post sort of stuff." But she wanted a male narrator because, as she explained, most of what she knew about Annie came from talks with young men: "She had a fascination for them, and they used to be with her whenever they could. They had to manage it on the sly because she was only a hired girl." Thus Cather created as narrator Jim Burden, whose age, experience, and personal history closely parallel her own. He tells the story as an adult reminiscence. Of course, Cather had been using male narrators in her short fiction for a long time, and there was no novelty for her in this invention.

She felt obliged, however, to defend her use of a male narrator. When her old friend and editor Will Owen Jones asked her why she had done it, she repeated her explanation that she had gotten her material from young men, then added further rationalization by reminding Jones of her experience in writing McClure's autobiography. She had been so successful in masquerading as McClure then that she felt confident in doing an entire novel from a male perspective. When she first began writing the autobiography, she found it awfully hampering to be McClure all the time, but in the end it became fascinating to work within the limits and color of the personality she knew so well. Even Mrs. McClure and John Phillips, McClure's college classmate and former business partner, found the presentation completely convincing.

Once she had decided on her narrative voice and the first-person method, she further planned to avoid any formal structuring of the novel. Jim Burden's memories, which, of course, were her memories, would shape the narrative. She would avoid the opportunities for melodrama that the materials certainly contained and dwell lightly on the incidents that most novelists would ordinarily emphasize. The story would be made up of little, everyday happenings for the most part, for such events made up the bulk of most people's lives. It would be the other side of the rug, the pattern that is supposed not to count. There would be 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." The result was the creation of a novel that gives the impression of real autobiography rather than fiction. Since the invented narrator is not a professional writer, the apparent artlessness of his memories seems perfectly logical, and the reader is willing to suspend his belief that he is in the presence of a perfectly controlled art.

The loosely episodic plot in My Ántonia follows fairly closely the actual lives of Annie Pavelka and Willa Cather. The novel opens with an introduction in which the author meets Jim Burden on a train going west. Both the author and Jim, who is legal counsel for the railroad, live in New York, and both knew Ántonia when they were growing up in Black Hawk, Nebraska. Jim has been writing down from time to time what he remembers of Ántonia and promises to let her see his manuscript when he finishes it. When he later does so, the narrative begins.

It opens with the arrival of Jim, orphaned at the age of ten, and the hired man Jake in Nebraska about 1883. Jim has come to live with his grandparents, who have a farm on the Divide. Ántonia Shimerda is a neighbor, the daughter of Bohemian immigrants newly arrived in Nebraska. She becomes Jim's playmate and companion, even though she is four years older. The events of Book I take place on the farm and describe the lives of both the Burdens and the Shimerdas, the idyllic autumn in which Jim and Ántonia explore the countryside, and the bitter winter which ends with the suicide of Ántonia's father.

Book II ("The Hired Girls") takes place in town after Jim and his grandparents leave the farm and move into Black Hawk. Ántonia comes to town to work for the Harlings, who live around the block from the Burdens. Cather presents in this section of the novel a full gallery of immigrant women besides Ántonia: Lena Lingard, Tiny Soderball, and Anna Hansen, Norwegians; the Bohemian Marys; the Danish laundry girls; and Selma Kronn, the first Swedish girl to get a job teaching in the high school. All of them have come in from the farm to work. Ántonia is dismissed by the Harlings because she refuses to stop going to dances and goes to work for Wick Cutter, satyr and moneylender, who plans to rape Ántonia but is foiled by Jim. Book II also includes a memorable picnic by the river before Jim goes off to college.

Book III (which takes place in Lincoln) deals with Jim's education and brief romance with Lena, who has come to the state capital to become a dressmaker. Ántonia is absent from this part of the novel, and we next see her in Book IV, in which her story is told to Jim by the Widow Steavens during a summer back home from college. Jim has now transferred to Harvard to finish his education and has lost touch with Ántonia. He learns that Ántonia has been seduced and abandoned by a railroad conductor named Larry Donovan, whom she expected to marry, and has returned to the farm to bear an illegitimate child. The final book of the novel, "Cuzak's Boys," takes place twenty years later when Jim returns from the East and drives out to visit Ántonia. He finds her middle-aged, "battered but not diminished," full of vitality and zest for living, surrounded by her children and married to an easygoing, good-natured Bohemian farmer.

More than most writers, Cather presents readers with the chance to compare biographical data with its transmutation into art. There is a great deal more factual basis in My Ántonia than the bare story outline of the title character and the narrator. The town of Black Hawk is again Red cloud, and the Nebraska farmlands again provide the locale. Ántonia's farm house still stands in the country north of Red Cloud with the fruit cave a few yards from the back door. Jim's grandparents, as we have seen, are drawn from life, the entire Miner family play roles in the story, and Herbert Bates appears as Gaston Cleric, Jim college teacher. In addition to the main characters and incidents, minor figures and events also are rooted in actuality. The black pianist, Blind d'Arnault, who plays in Black Hawk, was drawn from a real Blind Tom, whom Cather heard in Lincoln, and a Blind Boone, whom she probably heard in Red Cloud. The visitor to the town today can see the home of Wick Cutter, who in actuality was a loan-shark named Bentley and apparently as evil and unsavory as Cather makes him. The hotel-keeping Mrs. Gardener in the novel was a real Mrs. Holland, and the man who fathered Ántonia's first child out of wedlock was James William Murphy.

After the novel appeared, Cather was pestered by literal-minded readers wanting to know where she got this and where she got that. The people in Red Cloud were continually playing guessing games with her characters and incidents. It exasperated her, but she should have expected her drama of memory to provoke this kind of a response. Sometimes she was patient and discussed her sources with friends—sometimes she even answered letters from students—but usually her reaction was annoyance. Often she did not know where she got things, and after My Ántonia was published, her father pointed out half a dozen different incidents that were based on things she had done, seen, or heard of with him, all of which she thought she had invented.

One such episode was the story within a story of the two Russians, Pavel and Peter, and the wolves. It illustrates the way Cather's creative imagination worked, as she fashioned her fictional materials from her memories. The wolf story probably came both from herself and from hearing the tale in her father's presence. It is a gruesome account of a wedding party in Russia traveling from one village to another in the dead of winter. Six sledges are attacked by wolves, and one by one they are overturned and the occupants killed by the beasts. Finally the only sledge left is the one carrying Pavel, Peter, and the bride and groom. Just before the sledge reaches the safety of the village, Pavel throws the bride and groom to the wolves. For this inhuman act Pavel and Peter are ostracized and forced to leave Russia for America. This story is a folk tale that folklorists have collected from the oral tradition of Nebraska immigrants in the identical version that Cather uses. She no doubt heard the story from the farm people she knew. At the same time, her idea that she made up the story perhaps comes from having seen a well-known painting by Paul Powis depicting wolves attacking a sledge or from a poem by Browning, "Ivan Ivanovitch," which tells a similar tale. Since Cather took a year-long course in Browning at the University of Nebraska, it seems reasonable to conclude that she remembered the poem.