Spring 2003

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Willa Cather and World War I:
A Symposium in Review

By Josh Dolezal

Friday's first paper session kicked off with a collaborative presentation on the George Cather Ray Collection by Mary Ellen Ducey and Carmella Orosco of Archives and Special Collections at UNL. Margaret Anne O'Connor's "Cather Family Letters and the 'Splendid Little War'" followed. Andy Jewell capped the session with his paper "The Nebraska of the Cather Family Imagination," examining "the conception of Nebraska that can be drawn from the correspondence of George and Francis Cather."

A simultaneous panel began with Janet Sharistanian's look at "European Culture, Peace-Loving Musicians, and the War Books of Willa Cather and Vera Brittain." Next, Evelyn Haller's paper "Named Quilts as Structural Metaphors in Willa Cather's One of Ours" touted Cather's metaphorical quilts as "one of her major achievements." Kari Ronning concluded the session with her historical study "The Lieut.: Nebraska's John J. Pershing."


Image of Katherine Walter of the UNL Archives; Steven Trout, Richard Haris, and Mary Weddle at the WWI SymposiumKatherine Walter of the UNL Archives; Steven Trout, Richard Haris, and Mary Weddle at the WWI Symposium

Two afternoon sessions also convened simultaneously. Mary Ryder led the first session with her paper "'As Green as Their Money': The Doughboy Naifs of One of Ours." Next, Sarah Cheney Watson presented her portrait of Claude Wheeler as "Willa Cather's aesthetic martyr." Michael Schueth brought the session home with his study of Cather's celebrity in "The Thing Always Named: Willa Cather and the Pulitzer Prize."

Peter Gunn led the second group with "Overcoming Alienation through Warfare," a look at political economy in One of Ours. Next, Tim Dayton explored the relocation of values "from one ideological register to another" in his discussion of an ideological matrix in One of Ours. Jennifer Haytock capped the session with "Becoming the Father of Himself," a Freudian reading of Claude Wheeler's immersion in the ideology of war.

The afternoon sessions began with Ann Tschetter's historical study "One of the Family: The Virginia Boyhood of Claude Wheeler." Patrick Dooley followed with his examination of "tools, work, and machines" in the novel, positing Claude Wheeler as a "displaced pioneer homesteader." Mark Robison brought the panel home with his paper "Recreation During Wartime," looking closely at the "practice of play" in One of Ours.

Jennifer Bradley led a simultaneous session with a juxtaposition of Marian Forrester and Myra Henshawe under the title "Great Aspirations for Marriage." Pearl James followed with "'The Enid Problem': Dangerous Modernity and Women Drivers." Terry Keoppel concluded the session with her paper "Willa Cather's Feminine Misogyny," specifically discussing Myra Henshawe, Marian Forrester, and Enid Wheeler as examples of "unlikable women."

Rebecca Faber chaired a panel of teacher-scholars discussing "Teaching One of Ours." Janet Sharistanian, Mary Ryder, and Steve Shively shared thier experiences teaching the novel. Shively related how he uses WWI propaganda posters in the classroom as a useful method of building historical context into Cather's novel.

Michael Gorman led the late afternoon panel with his paper "Somewhere Between the 'Splendid Little War' and Claude's Search for 'Something Splendid': Pastoral Ideology, The Spanish-American War, and Cather's Framing of World War I." Next, Naomi Stapleton discussed the role of catharsis as a healing agent in One of Ours. J. Arthur Bond capped the session with his study of plot in One of Ours as "a system of energy motivated by desire."