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From Cather Studies Volume 13

"I'm Working, I'm Working":The Industrious Artist of Pittsburgh in Willa Cather's The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine Publications

Willa Cather’s move from Nebraska to Pittsburgh in June 1896 represents an important transition in her life from student to professional. Her early Pittsburgh letters to members of the Gere family in Lincoln, Nebraska, reflect bursts of excitement and energy as Cather assumes her working duties at a new periodical, The Home Monthly. In a 29 June 1896 letter to Ellen Gere, Cather explains that she “will be virtually managing editor,” and she delights in having “a nice desk etc. of my own.” Although she’s displeased by the magazine’s content—“great rot, home and fireside stuff”—Cather assumes a businesslike attitude, stating, “[T]he financial outlook is good, so I guess I’ll stay by it for a while anyway.” Her final signature,“Hurriedly Willa,” conveys the new pace of her professional life in Pittsburgh. Two weeks later, in a letter to Mariel Gere, Cather’s enthusiasm still shows, but is tempered by signs of isolation and overwork. Cather writes that the “entire responsibility of the first issue [of The Home Monthly] devolves on me,” and that “from days end to days end I see only the prim old maid who keeps my boarding house and my stenographer.” From her initial days at The Home Monthly, to her work at the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, to her independent articles and stories, Cather’s ten years in Pittsburgh exemplify her career pursuits. There, Cather would occupy the role of the “industrious artist,” one who works long, grueling hours to achieve mastery in her craft and financial success as well.

Many scholars in the last decade—such as contributors to Cather Studies 7: Willa Cather as Cultural Icon (edited by Guy Reynolds, 2007) and David Porter in On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather (2010)—have established Cather’s clear and sustained interest in marketing her work, and herself, to the public. This chapter seeks to build on these lines of inquiry by considering how Cather’s decade in Pittsburgh shaped her concepts of business and work, and more broadly, how her writing participates in social conversations that surrounded industrialization, labor, productivity, and leisure in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period, I suggest that Cather explored the concept of the “industrious artist,” and Pittsburgh provided Cather an excellent backdrop to consider practical questions about the pacing and ideal working conditions of artists, as well as the relationship between this work and measures of success. In order to explore this topic of the “industrious artist,” I first turn to three pieces of Cather’s journalism from her Pittsburgh period. These pieces—on the Homestead Strike, Stephen Crane, and Ethelbert Nevin—show Cather’s exploration of labor and productivity. Next, I examine how The Century Illustrated Magazine provided Cather with an avenue to experiment with stories and poetry that catered to popular tastes and trends as a means of increasing her chances at future artistic—and financial—success by experimenting with naturalistic themes.

Cather’s career from the 1890s through the 1910s had much in common with other writers we often situate within the school of naturalism. As editor Keith Newlin notes in The Oxford Handbook of American Literary Naturalism, “[M]any of the most prominent naturalists—Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser—began their craft as journalists” (105). Like Cather, many of these same writers would find support and success through their work with S. S. McClure. As Amy Ahearn establishes in “Full-Blooded Writing and Journalistic Fictions: Naturalism, the Female Artist, and Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark,” we have clear evidence of Cather “following the careers of these naturalist writers” and “incorporating their writing styles and their artistic philosophies into her own writings” (144). I propose that pieces from Cather’s early journalism career in Pittsburgh highlight her awareness of issues like industrialism, the literary marketplace, and immigration. These issues informed Cather’s writing of her short story “The Willing Muse” and other works published in Century, which provide us with an opportunity to examine Cather’s experimentations with, but ultimate abandonment of, a naturalistic approach to writing. While Cather’s Century stories exhibit unevenness in artistry, they show her judgment in determining what material was suited to market demands.

Several scholars have traced the impact of Cather’s work at McClure’s on her artistic development.[1] As well, pieces of her Pittsburgh journalism detail her understanding of publishing and contemporary issues that dovetail with magazine fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, pieces like “The Real Homestead” and “When I Knew Stephen Crane” highlight her understanding of industrialization as well as her awareness of naturalistic writing techniques infusing contemporary journalism and literary prose. Additionally, her essay on Pittsburgh composer Ethelbert Nevin, “The Man Who Wrote ‘Narcissus,’” provides insights into a model of the “industrious artist” that Cather might pursue herself.

The notorious and violent strike at Homestead Steel Works in 1892, a Pittsburgh area plant owned by Andrew Carnegie and managed by Henry Clay Frick, brought the tensions between industrial laborers and capitalists into the public awareness through the works of journalists, including Cather. As Carnegie biographer David Nasaw notes, the life and philosophies of Pittsburgh’s most famous steel baron contain perplexing contradictions. Carnegie disavowed “hard work” as an indicator of or precursor to success. Nasaw writes that “later in life, when Carnegie was called upon to advise young men on how to succeed in business, he never suggested that unceasing hard work was a prerequisite for acquiring wealth” (82). With each career move in his life, Carnegie would end up earning more money, but working fewer hours; Nasaw relates a story that when Carnegie learned that Pennsylvania businessman A. B. Farquhar arrived at work at 7:00 a.m., he laughed and stated, “[Y]ou must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work” (184). As Nasaw writes, “[T]here is something charmingly subversive in Carnegie’s attempt to disrupt the American success narrative by preaching the virtues of idleness, leisure, and immediate gratification” (203). At his mills, however, “Carnegie’s hard-driving policies were legendary. Carnegie, [Henry] Phipps, Captain [William] Jones, [Henry Clay] Frick, and Charlie Schwab pitted department against department, mill against mill, superintendent against superintendent in an ongoing, never-ending race to increase productivity” (Nasaw 400).[2] In writing about Homestead, Cather joins the ranks of Arthur Burgoyne, Hamlin Garland, and Theodore Dreiser who reported on the original strike.[3] Cather’s 1901 article for the Lincoln Courier, “The Real Homestead,” was written amid another round of increasing tensions between labor and management during the U.S. Steel recognition strike of 1901, and provides us with insights into her understanding of industrial labor conditions and her opinions regarding these conditions and underlying social theories. Cather’s Homestead article focuses on the incongruity between the capitalists’ investments in libraries and performing arts spaces and the workers’ inability to use such facilities due to their bosses’ hard-driving labor practices. Cather explains to her readers that the mill workers endure exhausting, nonstop, twelve-hour shifts. She quips, “[T]welve-hour shifts are doubtless good economy, but they do not tend to make a literary or music-loving community.” “The [Homestead Carnegie] library,” she explains,“is full of good things that no one has the leisure to enjoy” (856). If a man “has been working all day in a most exhausting temperature and probably drinking heavily to combat the heat, he wants no music or books or athletics, but all the sleep he can get” before resuming his shift the next day (856). Cather’s article points to one of the deep differences in the lives of laborers and their capitalist employers: leisure time.

Artists, of course, are not subjected to the same brutal physical conditions as laborers in steel mills. Cather’s “When I Knew Stephen Crane,” a highly fictionalized account of meeting Stephen Crane in Lincoln that was published under the pseudonym Henry Nicklemann in a Pittsburgh magazine called The Library, dramatizes the hardships of literary labor and the pressures to produce commercialized work. One of the elements most important in Cather’s Crane essay is the way in which the demarcations between leisure and labor—so clear in the “Homestead” article—are impossibly blurred for writers.Cather writes, “Though [Crane] was seemingly entirely idle during the few days I knew him, his manner indicated that he was in the throes of work that told terribly on his nerves” (934). The blurring between labor and leisure is also apparent in Cather’s physical description of Crane, who appears “slovenly” in his dress and poor in health. When he removed his gloves, Cather “noticed that his hands were singularly fine; long, white, and delicately shaped with thin, nervous fingers” (932–33). Cather is fascinated with Crane’s “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” (936). One underlying question in this piece is whether such a “double life” as an artist can be successful, or if the artist must choose to be solely “leisurely” or “industrious” in his or her approach to work.

Similar themes on the “double literary life” appear in Cather’s profile of Ethelbert Nevin, “The Man Who Wrote ‘Narcissus,’” published in November 1900 in The Ladies’ Home Journal.[4] Nevin was a prominent composer born near Pittsburgh whom Cather met two years prior. Although Nevin died unexpectedly in 1901 at the age of thirty-eight, Cather found warm friendship and hospitality in the Nevins’ household. Her description of Nevin in The Ladies’ Home Journal emphasizes similar physical traits to her portrait of Stephen Crane. Cather writes that Nevin is a “slight, delicately constructed man, all nerves, with a sort of tenseness in every line of his figure, and the mobile, boyish face of the immortally young.” Her description of Nevin’s hands—“unmistakably those of a musician, small of palm, with long, supple fingers, and a strong, well-developed thumb”—recalls her description of Crane’s hands. In terms of Nevin’s composing process, Cather writes that, despite frequent illnesses, he “works almost incessantly, having a dozen or more compositions on hand at once, correcting the proofs of one the same day that he writes the first sketch of another.” She also reports that he sleeps very little, and instead, he wanders the house or reads French poetry. “Indeed,” Cather notes, “when one considers that in the last ten years he has given nearly six hundred compositions to the world, one wonders that he has found time to sleep at all.” In this way, Nevin could be considered Cather’s idealized “industrious artist”: one who works tirelessly, but one who also produces art that is meaningful and beautiful. This may be tempered, however, by Nevin’s financial situation: financial pressure forced Nevin to relocate his family to Vineacre, his family home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, in 1898.[5] As Cather sought to balance writing for artistic satisfaction and commercial profit, it was natural for her to consider what sorts of pieces would sell well to magazines and periodicals. Although Cather did not hold The Ladies’ Home Journal in high regard, her portrait of Nevin fit well with the periodical’s scope of culture and its readership. Like The Ladies’ Home Journal, The Century aimed at a “cultivated upper middle class” readership (John xi).


While Cather may not be associated with the classic forms of naturalism that students of American literary history now recognize in the works of Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, the magazine scene of the early twentieth century catered to a wide array of readers. Periodicals like The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine sought to capitalize on new literary trends, but in a way that would not alienate their readership or violate the artistic expectations of editors. As Cather attempted to live the life of the “industrious artist,” she turned to The Century several times for the publication of both short stories and poetry. I propose that viewing Cather’s pieces in The Century itself provides a different context, one that situates the stories within Cather’s connections to Pittsburgh and broader social conversations involving labor, leisure, and productivity in the early twentieth century.

The Century may seem an odd place to take up an examination of how Cather’s work abuts the school of naturalism; after all, Century editor Richard Watson Gilder famously rejected Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets in 1892 or 1893 for serialization on moral grounds. Yet The Century did play an important role in exposing readers to works by individuals like Jack London, Edith Wharton, Hamlin Garland, and Jacob Riis. The Century’s serialization of Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf in 1904 provides an excellent example, perhaps, of the path that Cather sought. Charles Johanningsmeier explains, “The case of Jack London, who complained mightily about being a beset proletarian worker while simultaneously becoming America’s first millionaire author, is a curiously contradictory one” (365). The Century played an important role in shaping that success. Carol S. Loranger notes, “At the end of 1903, The Century paid $4,000 for serial rights to London’s next novel [The Sea-Wolf], when the second half was still in outline form. When Macmillan released the novel in 1904, the publisher was able to pre-sell 40,000 copies” (377). London’s expanded version of “To Build a Fire” would also appear in The Century in 1908. Andrew Carnegie, too, saw The Century as a potential avenue for increasing his own status and spreading his philosophies. Gilder, while editor at The Century, developed a close friendship with Andrew Carnegie; the two men held annual literary dinners at Carnegie’s New York residence, and The Century company released Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth essay collection in book form (see Nasaw 617, 631).

While The Century certainly wasn’t publishing the edgy pieces that would appear in periodicals such as McClure’s, authors like Jack London and Edith Wharton explicitly engaged with social Darwinist ideas in stories that appeared in The Century just prior to Cather’s first publication with the magazine,“The Willing Muse,” in 1907.[6] In London’s The Sea-Wolf, narrator Humphry van Weyden, “a literary critic and a man of leisure,” is forced into serving as cabin boy to Captain “Wolf” Larsen, a position Humphry finds demeaning and physically painful (Century February 1904, 585). Although Humphry describes Wolf as “primitive” and objects to his Herbert Spencerian approach to life—the captain insists that just as two particles of yeast cannot “wrong each other by striving to devour each other,” so “man cannot wrong another man. He can only wrong himself” (1904, 695, 696)—Humphry emerges at the end of the story stronger and more responsible as a result of his physical ordeal as captive. Ultimately, London’s story as published in The Century blends classic elements of romance (adventure, unbelievable coincidences, and romantic tension between two characters) with his “survival of the fittest” message. In the end, readers see Humphry transformed from a literary man of leisure into a thriving, able-bodied, and competent specimen.

Edith Wharton’s short story “Afterward” (Century, January 1910) also engages directly with Darwinist philosophies, but through mixing with a different genre: the ghost story. In this riveting but somewhat predictable supernatural tale, midwestern engineer Ned Boyne and his wife, Mary, retire to a life of leisure in Southwest England after he strikes it rich in the Blue Star Mine. After her husband disappears, however, Mary learns that Ned’s business deal was completed shrewdly to his own advantage; in speaking of Bob Elwell, a man disadvantaged by the deal, Ned’s associate Mr. Parvis says that “Elwell wasn’t smart enough, that’s all. . . . It’s the kind of thing that happens every day in business. I guess it’s what the scientists call the survival of the fittest” (336). In the end, Bob Elwell has his revenge. The trajectory of Ned Boyne’s career from engineer to man of wealth evokes the life of a Carnegie or Rockefeller; as the mystery unfolds and Ned’s corruption is exposed, readers are ultimately satisfied when his past deeds come back—literally—to haunt him.

Making any generalizations about the tone and direction of The Century during Cather’s years of publication there (1907–19) is challenging; during that same period, the magazine had five different editors, each of whom attempted to address the magazine’s loss of subscribers in the face of competition from “an influx of new, less expensive, and livelier competitors” like The Ladies’ Home Journal and McClure’s (John 233).[7] What is notable about these pieces by London and Wharton is that both incorporate direct references to Spencerian “survival of the fittest” philosophies while blending other genres of writing, including romance or ghost stories.

While Cather’s publications with The Century aren’t as explicit as these examples by London and Wharton in their evocation of social Darwinism or “survival of the fittest” philosophies, Cather does use her Century pieces to explore the economic forces and social conditions that limit the choices of her characters and shape their outlook on life. Cather’s short story “The Willing Muse” was published in The Century magazine in August 1907, one year after Cather moved to New York from Pittsburgh. Although sustained critical discussion is slight, this story does pop up frequently as an exemplar of Cather’s awkward Jamesian attempts at fiction and is often situated in relationship to the stories she published in The Troll Garden and her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge. In Willa Cather’s Imagination, David Stouck summarizes the story thus: “In this story an impractical and unworldly novelist [Kenneth Gray] marries a woman [Bertha Torrance] who is also a writer, but her ambition far exceeds his and he is eventually reduced to being her secretary and publicity agent. In the end he saves himself by leaving her and disappearing altogether” (183). The Jamesian elements include Kenneth’s occupation as a writer, the narrative voice (which is conveyed through one of Kenneth’s friends), and the story’s opening, which examines the upcoming marriage of Kenneth and Bertha. While there is significant merit and value in these Jamesian readings, a study of the story’s echoes of Pittsburgh reveals Cather’s keen interest in exploring the dynamics of the life of the industrious artist through Kenneth’s and Bertha’s careers.

Cather paints a bleak portrait of industry through brief but strategic descriptions concerning Kenneth’s longtime residence, the fictional Olympia, Ohio. Once a bucolic village, home to a college and many literary people, Kenneth explains that Olympia has been “ruined completely” due to invading industrialization, and that “the place is black with smoke and thick with noise from sunrise to sunset.” Seen in the light of Cather’s Pittsburgh journalism, this portrait of Olympia first invokes Vineacre, Ethelbert Nevin’s home on the Ohio River, and the encroaching industrialization recalls Cather’s portrait of how steel mills transformed Homestead. Early discussions of “The Willing Muse” by Edward and Lillian Bloom (Willa Cather’s Gift of Sympathy, published in 1962) and David Stouck (Willa Cather’s Imagination, published in 1975) find links between the destruction of Olympia and Kenneth’s romantic—but ultimately unsuccessful—approach to his literary career.

Cather’s descriptions of Kenneth’s nervousness and slow pace of composition echo her descriptions of Stephen Crane and Ethelbert Nevin. In “When I Knew Stephen Crane” Cather focuses her attention on Crane’s hands, which “were singularly fine; long, white, and delicately shaped with thin, nervous fingers” (933), and in The Ladies’ Home Journal article, Nevin’s fingers appear “long [and] supple.” Of Nevin, Cather writes that his hands “are never still when he is talking.” In “The Willing Muse,” Cather also focuses on Kenneth’s hands; while holding an anxious conversation with the narrator, Kenneth is described as “rapidly twirling a paper-cutter between his long fingers.” While these descriptions of Kenneth link him to Cather’s portraits of “industrious artists,” Kenneth’s lack of productivity stands in stark relief. Prior to his marriage, Kenneth produced his first book, “Charles de Montpensier.” The book appears to his friends to be “overworked”: Kenneth “spent years in developing” it over “several laborious summers in France and Italy.” The final product, however, was “reduced to a shadowy atmosphere.” His second work, by contrast—“an exquisite prose idyll” titled “The Wood of Ronsard”—brought his admirers relief. After his marriage, however, Kenneth’s work grinds to a halt. His friends chide him that he should learn to be more “industrious” from his wife, Bertha Torrance. His reply, “I’m working, I’m working,” captures the stress of the industrious artist Cather highlighted in her essays on Crane and Nevin—but for Kenneth, this comes without product.

Kenneth’s wife, the popular writer Bertha, likewise, plays a complex role in the story. Bertha is a prolific writer whose work achieves commercial and popular success. As demands for her work grow, Kenneth accepts more and more of the business responsibilities to lighten her load. He responds not only to her piles of correspondence, but also reads and replies to manuscripts sent to Bertha for feedback by aspiring writers.[8] Stouck describes Bertha as “vampirelike” because she becomes more radiant and energetic as Kenneth takes on the additional business duties. However, Kenneth’s friends seem more disturbed by his inability to produce work than by Bertha’s success. Kenneth and his friends do not disparage Bertha for the literary material that she produces—historical romances, which fall into the “cheap” category that Kenneth seeks desperately to avoid. Instead, Bertha is admired and respected for her productivity. As Janis Stout points out, there may be gendered factors at work here: “In ‘The Willing Muse,’ the one story that undermines gender expectations, with a wife whose writing flourishes after her marriage while her husband’s declines from even his earlier halting pace, this situation is regarded as deplorable, as if the wife should take the traditional role of muse.” Stout also presents an intriguing alternative hypothesis: that Bertha is typing up material by Kenneth, and publishing it under her own name, because he is “too proud to be sullied by hasty work” (Stout 98). In either case, Bertha is hardly a sinister succubus who exploits her husband. While Bertha has adapted herself better to the labor conditions under which writing must occur, she doesn’t seem to have the unlimited leisure time that was enjoyed by the industrial capitalists like Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan. At the end of the day, Bertha is still a laborer, one judged solely by her literary output.

In her Homestead article, Cather critiqued the “survival of the fittest” philosophies put forth by Herbert Spencer and embraced by the industrial capitalists. She acknowledges that “an ideal democracy, that is, a complete and consistent democracy, would completely disapprove all of Herbert Spencer’s system of philosophy” (858). In the end of “The Willing Muse” Kenneth’s disappearance from the world—his permanent strike—seems to be an attempt to remove himself from this “survival of the fittest” literary marketplace. This ending suggests that while individuals may not be able to shape the market forces surrounding them, individuals can decide to “opt out” and leave that system entirely. The story ends, however, without our knowing if his removal from society and market forces allows him to write or increases his happiness.


While Kenneth attempts to escape the literary marketplace, Cather’s publication of “The Willing Muse” represents an opposing approach as she “opts in” to producing periodical pieces of varying quality in order to enhance her financial success and authorial status. While “The Willing Muse” offers Cather’s most detailed portrait of the “industrious artist,” she continues to explore themes of work and art within her subsequent Century pieces. These pieces, to a varying extent, echo themes of naturalism as characters attempt to navigate desperate situations in which they have little control. In “The Joy of Nelly Deane” (Century, October 1911) and “Scandal” (August 1919), Cather presents stories of female musicians. In the former, the title character Nelly Deane has prodigious musical talent, but the fallout from a jilted lover leaves her stuck in a small Nebraska town in a less-than-ideal marriage. In “Scandal,” Cather returns to the character of Kitty Ayreshire, who also appeared in her Pittsburgh story “A Gold Slipper” (Harper’s Monthly Magazine, January 1917). In “Scandal,” Siegmund Stein, a Jewish “department store millionaire,” attempts to fool the public by hiring a girl (Ruby Mohr) to impersonate the legendary singer Connie Ayrshire. Connie’s reaction to the gossipy story of Stein emphasizes a naturalistic surrender, as Connie states that both she and Ruby are “the victims of circumstance” who must adapt to the whims of the wealthy and powerful. In “The Bookkeeper’s Wife” (Century, May 1916) and “Ardessa” (Century, May 1918) Cather explores the dynamics of the modern workplace through the Remsen Paper Company and The Outcry office (a muckraking periodical that resembles McClure’s). In both stories, the characters struggle to move up or maintain their current positions, to dire consequences. In “The Bookkeeper’s Wife,” Percy Bixby’s lack of an appropriate salary to support his wife leads him to steal money from the company. Ultimately, he loses his job and marriage in the fallout when his accounting crimes are revealed. In “Ardessa,” Ardessa Devine holds a comfortable, powerful job as the main secretary to The Outcry chief, O’Mally. Ardessa loses her job after outsourcing elements of her work to the aspiring, hardworking Becky Tietelba. And finally, in her poem “Street in Packingtown” (Century, May 1915), Cather paints a desperate portrait of urban immigrant life. The poem centers on the narrator’s descriptions of a child—labeled “a Polack’s brat”—torturing a feral cat in an alley. The most pressing element is the boy’s demeanor: his torture of the animal is described as “joyless,” and he persists despite the cat’s aggressiveness (the boy’s arms are covered in scratches) and the presence of the narrator.[9]

It is clear that both Cather and periodical publishers were not entirely satisfied with many of these pieces. Of the Century stories, only “Scandal” was republished in Cather’s short-story collection, Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920).[10] As Lisa Marcus notes, drawing on James Woodress’s Willa Cather: A Literary Life, “Scandal” was written in 1916, but “took years for her agent to place. When it finally appeared in The Century in 1919, it had been rejected fifteen times” (78). Clearly, many editors did not feel that “Scandal” met the interests of their readers nor the scope of their publications. Both “Scandal” and “Ardessa” contain uncomfortable stereotypes of Jewish characters.11 And the portrait of immigrants in “Street in Packingtown” is startling given Cather’s sympathetic portraits of immigrants in O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. Although Cather would continue to experiment with poetry sporadically and republish an expanded version of April Twilights in 1923, “Street in Packingtown” was not selected for republication.

These stories, particularly “The Willing Muse,” reveal Cather’s negotiation process as she attempted to navigate the “double literary life” that she met in Pittsburgh, writing for pleasure and artistic satisfaction on the one hand, and for commercial success on the other. In Willa Cather: A Memoir, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant reflects back on the summer of 1914, writing, “It used to surprise me that with all her talk of Pittsburgh and for all her connections with McClure’s, Willa never once mentioned to me those Pittsburgh steel mills which, during the age of reform, came in for so much social criticism” (126). While Cather, even at this stage of her career, made explicit statements against the sort of realistic fiction that seemed to contain a didactic or social message, Cather’s life in Pittsburgh was influential in shaping her awareness of industry and labor. Like Kenneth’s refrain “I’m working, I’m working,” Cather’s letters from Pittsburgh back to family and friends in Nebraska contained messages of pride about her increasing professionalization, but also exhaustion at the pace of her work and her duties. Her early journalism—pieces like “The Real Homestead” and “When I Knew Stephen Crane”—can be useful in documenting Cather’s exposure to and opinions on issues of labor, and, while she did not take up the path of a muckraking journalist or brutal naturalist writer, stories like “The Willing Muse” highlight her ability to incorporate reflections on industry and industriousness into her fiction in an allusive way. Although Cather’s Century stories may not be her best, her completion of these stories showcases her engagement with the tastes of the market, her development as a writer, and ultimately, her ability to use “good economy.”


 1. See, for example,“Willa Cather’s Political Apprenticeship at McClure’s Magazine” by Joseph R. Urgo in Willa Cather’s New York: New Essays on Cather in the City; “The Standard Oil Treatment: Willa Cather,‘The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy,’ and Early Twentieth Century Collaborative Authorship” by Ashley Squires; “‘It’s Through Myself That I Knew and Felt Her’:S.S. McClure’s ‘My Autobiography’ and the Development of Willa Cather’s Autobiographical Realism” by Robert Thacker; Ellen Gruber Garvey’s “Important, Responsible Work: Willa Cather’s Office Stories and Her Necessary Editorial Career”; and Donal Harris’s On Company Time: American Modernism in the Big Magazines. (Go back.)
 2. All of the men included here were notable figures in the Pennsylvania steel industry during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Henry Phipps was a partner at the Carnegie Steel Company. Captain William Jones took his title from his service in the Civil War; he worked in many capacities for Carnegie’s Edgar Thompson Steel Works in both supervising roles and as the inventor of numerous mechanical devices for the plant (see Nasaw 147–48). Henry Clay Frick began his career in coke manufacturing; in the 1880s, Frick and Carnegie formed formal relationships between their coke and steel businesses—a partnership that helped to keep Carnegie’s production costs low. Nasaw describes Charlie Schwab as Carnegie’s protégé (374); he served as the general superintendent at Edgar Thompson and Homestead in the 1880s before rising to the position of president of the Carnegie Steel Corporation. (Go back.)
 3. Arthur Burgoyne, a Pittsburgh journalist, published The Homestead Strike of 1892, in 1893. Cather and Burgoyne worked together at the Pittsburgh Leader in 1897–98, and may have discussed political issues of the day. Hamlin Garland, according to Nasaw,“snuck into the works through a hole in the fence” with an illustrator (461); Garland published “Homestead and Its Perilous Trades—Impressions of a Visit” in McClure’s in 1884 (June, vol. 3, no. 1). Theodore Dreiser worked for the Pittsburgh Dispatch in the early 1890s and wrote numerous articles critical of Carnegie and his business practices (see Nasaw 373–74). (Go back.)
 4. Prior to “The Man Who Wrote ‘Narcissus,’” Cather placed “Ethelbert Nevin: Return of Narcissus” in the Lincoln Courier, February 5, 1898. Much of the information in The Ladies’ Home Journal piece was published in the Courier previously, on July 15, 1899. For more, see Curtin, pages 532–38 and 627–37. (Go back.)
 5. See the note for “Ethelbert Nevin” in Cather’s letter to Mariel Gere (#0055). (Go back.)
 6. In The Best Years of “The Century,” Arthur John details the differences between the two publications. He writes: “[M]ore striking than any difference in subject matter was the livelier tone of McClure’s, achieved in part by a liberal use of photographs, but perhaps even more by a journalistic approach to nearly all subjects. Whether an article was about a famous musician, a foreign statesman, or an American writer, McClure’s usually dwelt on the personality of the subject. The Century tried to match this emphasis on occasion, but essentially the personal note was out of keeping with Gilder’s stress on dignity and ideal standards” (236). (Go back.)
 7. See especially “Postscript” in Arthur John’s The Best Years of “The Century,” pp. 270–71. During Cather’s years of publication with the magazine, these editors included the following:
  • Richard Watson Gilder: 1881–1909 (died 1909)
  • Robert Underwood Johnson: 1909–13
  • Robert S. Yard: 1913–14
  • Douglas Z. Doty: 1915–18
  • Thomas H. Smith: 1919
(Go back.)
 8. The relationship between Kenneth and Bertha seems to reverse the relationship that Cather outlines between Nevin and his wife, Anne, in “The Man Who Wrote ‘Narcissus.’” Cather opined, “[I]t is almost impossible to write of Mr. Nevin without writing of his wife, so closely are they associated in everything. She is practically his business manager, is thoroughly posted in all her husband’s work, and is his most constant if not his most impartial critic.” The dynamics between Kenneth and Bertha also evoke the relationship between another Nevin prototype, Valentine Ramsey, and his ex-wife, Janet Oglethorpe, in “Uncle Valentine.” (Go back.)
 9. The tenor of this poem recalls another of Cather’s Henry Nicklemann pieces,“Pittsburgh’s Mulberry Street.” Writing as Nicklemann, Cather provides detailed descriptions of immigrant lives and living conditions, much in the manner of Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives (1890). (Go back.)
 10. Mark J. Madigan provides a complete publishing history for “Scandal” in his historical notes for the Cather Scholarly Edition of Youth and the Bright Medusa. (Go back.)


Ahearn, Amy.“Full-Blooded Writing and Journalistic Fictions: Naturalism, the Female Artist and Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark.” American Literary Realism, vol. 33, no. 2, 2001, pp. 143–56.
Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian D. Bloom. Willa Cather’s Gift of Sympathy. Southern Illinois UP, 1962.
Cather, Willa. #0025: Willa Cather to Ellen Gere [29 June 1898]. The Complete Letters of Willa Cather, edited by the Willa Cather Archive Team, the Willa Cather Archive, 2018,
—. #0026: Willa Cather to Mariel E. Clapham Gere, 13 July [1896]. The Complete Letters of Willa Cather, edited by the Willa Cather Archive Team, the Willa Cather Archive, 2018,
—. #0055: Willa Cather to Mariel Gere [Dec. 1898]. The Complete Letters of Willa Cather, edited by the Willa Cather Archive Team, the Willa Cather Archive, 2018,
—.“Ardessa.”The Willa Cather Archive,
—. “The Bookkeeper’s Wife.” The Willa Cather Archive, www.cather
—.“The Joy of Nelly Deane.” The Willa Cather Archive, www.cather
—.“The Man Who Wrote ‘Narcissus.’” The Willa Cather Archive, www
—. “Pittsburgh’s Mulberry Street.” The World and the Parish: Willa Cather’s Articles and Reviews, 1893–1902, edited by William M. Curtin, U of Nebraska P, 1970, pp. 2: 869–74.
—.“The Real Homestead.” The World and the Parish: Willa Cather’s Articles and Reviews, 1893–1902, edited by William M. Curtin, U of Nebraska P, 1970, pp. 2: 854–59.
—.“Scandal.”The Willa Cather Archive,
—.“Street in Packingtown.” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, vol. 90, no. 1, May 1915, p. 23.
—.“When I Knew Stephen Crane.” Willa Cather: Stories, Poems, and Other Writings, Library of America, Viking Press, 1992, pp. 932–38.
—. “The Willing Muse.” The Willa Cather Archive, www.cather.unl .edu/ss016.html.
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London, Jack.“The Sea-Wolf.” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, vol. 67, no. 4, February 1904, pp. 585–97.
—.“The Sea-Wolf.” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, vol. 67, no. 5, March 1904, pp. 693–708.
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