When the tenor Raymond d'Esquerré steps before his largely female
audiences in Willa Cather's short story "The Garden Lodge" from The Troll Garden (1905), unexpected things
"Stout matrons became slender girls again; worn spinsters felt their
cheeks flush with the tenderness of their lost youth" (53). D'Esquerré's
retinue consists of a host of women, from "sisters of charity and
overworked shop-girls" to "Amazons who dwelt afar from men in the stony
fastnesses of apartment houses," seeking not erotic fulfillment with him
but romance "as various as the hues of phantasy" (53). It is as if
d'Esquerré, whose marital status is never hinted at in Cather's story,
flees from the world of theaters filled with romance-hungry women when
he accepts the invitation of the cool-headed Caroline Noble, who offers
him the use of her garden lodge and acts as his rehearsal pianist.
Caroline has rejected the romanticism that spoiled her childhood and is
confident of her ability to withstand the magnetic pull of the great
tenor. Their rehearsals of Wagner's Die
Walküre are remarkable because of their efficiency and
dedication and not because of any threatened physical intimacy between
the two. Yet as Caroline plays through Wagner's score during a nocturnal
visit to the garden lodge after d'Esquerré's departure, she conjures a
difference image of the absent tenor:
Perhaps it was the still heat of the summer night, perhaps it was the
heavy odours from the garden that came in through the open windows;
but as she played there grew and grew the feeling that he was there,
beside her, standing in his accustomed place. In the duet at the end
of the first act she heard him clearly: "Thou art
the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold embraces"
[Cather's italics]. Once as he sang it, he had put his arm about
her, his one hand under her heart, while with the other he took her
right from the keyboard, holding her as he always held Sieglinde
when he drew her toward the window. She had been wonderfully the
mistress of herself at the time; neither repellent nor acquiescent.
She remembered that she had rather exulted, then, in her
self-control-which he had seemed to take for granted, though there
was perhaps the whisper of a question from the hand under her heart.
"Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in
Winter's cold embraces." Caroline lifted her hands quickly
from the keyboard, and she bowed her head in them, sobbing.
Perhaps it was the still heat of the summer night, perhaps it was the heavy odours from the garden that came in through the open windows; but as she played there grew and grew the feeling that he was there, beside her, standing in his accustomed place. In the duet at the end of the first act she heard him clearly: "Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold embraces" [Cather's italics]. Once as he sang it, he had put his arm about her, his one hand under her heart, while with the other he took her right from the keyboard, holding her as he always held Sieglinde when he drew her toward the window. She had been wonderfully the mistress of herself at the time; neither repellent nor acquiescent. She remembered that she had rather exulted, then, in her self-control-which he had seemed to take for granted, though there was perhaps the whisper of a question from the hand under her heart. "Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold embraces." Caroline lifted her hands quickly from the keyboard, and she bowed her head in them, sobbing. (54-55)
Caroline's deep appreciation of the power of music sets her apart from the absurd Flavia Hamilton of "Flavia and Her Artists" and other characters throughout Cather's early fiction who, according to Jeane Harris, exemplify "the foolishness, treachery, and meddlesome nature of women" (85). Harris in fact detects a strong note of misogyny in many of the early stories, an element that necessarily complicates discussions of Cather's sexuality (89). Caroline Noble, however, is another matter. Even though her surrender to the rush of emotions expressed in her piano playing and her final submission to a well-ordered life with her stockbroker husband smack strongly of the melodramatic, her breakdown and the music that triggers it are actually more complex than most critical treatments of the story have allowed.
Cather's choice of music seems hardly accidental, for she maintained a
lifelong interest in the operas of Wagner, and she would return to the
music of Die Walküre in her fiction,
most notably in The Song of the Lark (1915).
While preparing for her first Sieglinde, Thea Kronborg angrily stops
Fred Ottenburg as he is playing on the piano the same passage from Die Walküre that had brought about
Caroline's emotional collapse:
"Fred, can't you be serious? A thousand things may happen between
this and Friday to put me out. Something will happen. If that part
were sung well, as well as it ought to be, it would be one of the
most beautiful things in the world. That's why it never is sung
right, and never will be." She clenched her hands and opened them
despairingly, looking out of the open window. "It's inaccessibly
beautiful!" she brought out sharply. (453)
"Fred, can't you be serious? A thousand things may happen between this and Friday to put me out. Something will happen. If that part were sung well, as well as it ought to be, it would be one of the most beautiful things in the world. That's why it never is sung right, and never will be." She clenched her hands and opened them despairingly, looking out of the open window. "It's inaccessibly beautiful!" she brought out sharply. (453)
On the surface, Cather's two treatments of Sieglinde's portion of the love duet share a great deal. Both performances are interrupted by a realization that the music is somehow "too beautiful" to be played with anything but the greatest concentration, and in both settings the music carries a heavy emotional weight because it speaks of the past struggles of Caroline and Thea to come to terms with their personal lives and professional careers. There is, however, an inconsistency in Cather's employment of the Wagnerian quotation. Sieglinde's words, "Du bist der Lenz, / nach dem ich verlangte / in frostigen Winters Frist" ("You are the Spring / that Spring I have yearned for / in frost and in winter's ice"), from Act I, scene iii, of Die Walküre are suggested by Fred Ottenburg's playing of the music that accompanies them, and Thea is quite properly reminded of the artistic challenge that the passage signifies. But why, during her storm-tossed night in the garden lodge, should Caroline hear the tenor d'Esquerré sing words meant for the soprano ("She heard him clearly: "Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold embraces")? Is Cather misremembering her Wagner and confusing Sieglinde's words with Siegmund's? Or is Caroline's hearing playing tricks on her, inverting the roles of the love duet and, in following Cather's lead, "italicizing" words whose context does not require it, thus adding to the phantasmagoria of her dream? And what is significant about this confusion of voices in developing the reputation of d'Esquerré as the intensely virile bringer of dreams?
Caroline's experience is not an example of an unusual Catherian lapse of memory about opera; rather, it is actually evidence of one of several strange reversals of gender in "The Garden Lodge." From Caroline's father, Auguste, to d'Esquerré to Caroline herself, characters in this story deviate from the gender roles assigned to them, almost as if to emphasize a susceptibility to unthinkable temptations, temptations that if carried to their logical conclusion would subvert a well-ordered domestic existence. Thus Auguste nearly bankrupts his household by pursuing impossibly romantic goals, only to be rescued by the hard-headed Caroline, who abandons a promising musical career to become the family's breadwinner. D'Esquerré shines in performance, but offstage he cannot shake the trappings of the Wagnerian world where he earns his living; in his dealings with Caroline, he seems doomed to play not the part of heroic Parsifal but of Kundry, a weary woman imprisoned in the "barren sands" (55) of Klingsor's garden with the other sexually frustrated characters of Wagner's Parsifal. Like a male Kundry, d'Esquerré tempts Caroline to embrace a life of sensual excess-but not, it seems, with d'Esquerré as her male partner. Perhaps Cather suggests Caroline's willingness to commit the "sins with no name" that entice forest children into the troll garden of Charles Kingsley's parable quoted on the title page of her volume of stories, a description that Cather may have associated with homosexuality. We know, for example, that Cather was already aware of the dangers of flouting the conventions governing relationships between women. Sharon O'Brien has examined Cather's relationships with women such as Louise Pound and concludes from Cather's letters to Pound that she was well aware of "the effects that the public categorization of female friendship as lesbian, deviant, and unnatural had on her private experience" (Emerging Voice 133). Similarly Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has noted the interdependence of gender and sexuality in Cather's "Paul's Case," a companion story to "The Garden Lodge" in The Troll Garden, suggesting that Cather's realization of her own sexual identity as a lesbian provides a clue to her sympathetic treatment of the sexually ambivalent Paul, despite her earlier participation in "the public auto-da-fé" surrounding Oscar Wilde's trial ("Across Gender" 63).
Seen in the light of such critics, Cather's "The Garden Lodge" portrays
the ways in which the boundary between gender and sexuality can be
blurred or subverted by fictional characters so as to achieve an honest
expression of the "inaccessibly beautiful" that simultaneously drives
and defeats them. Such a subversion of the commonplace is crucial to the
thematic structure of The Troll Garden and also
to an understanding of the importance Cather placed on artistic
endeavor, even if, as Susan Rosowski has shown, Cather's stories of this
period lack the conviction necessary to pursue this subversion to its
conclusion (29). Still, there are hints that Cather was aware of the
power of her material, for even though Caroline ultimately forsakes the
world of illusions for the safety of married life, she clearly loses
something valuable in the process. According to E. K. Brown:
In the rendering of Caroline's bitter, anxious mood one can feel not
only Willa Cather's personal sense of the value for one's life of
devotion to art, but no less, and for the first time in her writing,
a sense that sustained labor, when forced upon one by ambition and
determination and directed toward a nonartistic goal, threatens the
very core of personality. (117)
In the rendering of Caroline's bitter, anxious mood one can feel not only Willa Cather's personal sense of the value for one's life of devotion to art, but no less, and for the first time in her writing, a sense that sustained labor, when forced upon one by ambition and determination and directed toward a nonartistic goal, threatens the very core of personality. (117)
In Cather's story, Wagner's seductive music is yoked to the goblin men of Christina Rossetti's astonishing poem "Goblin Market," quoted with Kingsley's parable at the beginning of the volume, and with interesting results. The ensuing struggle between marriage, romantic dissipation, and sexual experimentation "threatens the very core of personality" and ends in Cather's acceptance of her role as the dutiful stockbroker's wife, despite d'Esquerré's powerful attractions-attractions that have less to do with his alluring masculinity than with his ability to transpose feminine desires into another voice, to sing to Caroline with a woman's voice, as it were, Sieglinde's half of the duet and to weave for her a feminine "ecstasy of fancy" to which she nearly succumbs.
Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" (1862) provides not only a unifying device for the Troll Garden stories but also a kind of narrative model for "The Garden Lodge." Laura's first taste of the goblin men's fruits entices her back night after night in search of their seductive flavors; she begins to languish and grow old until her sister Lizzie brings her the nectar the goblins have smeared on her face. The nectar has a poisonous effect on Laura, who falls into a deep sleep. The following morning, "Laura awoke as from a dream, / Laughed in the innocent old way" (51); she then regains her youth and resumes her former life, eventually marrying and producing children who are themselves warned of the dangers of the "haunted glen." The parallels with Cather's story are obvious: Caroline hosts the tenor d'Esquerré and drinks deeply of their exalted moments in rehearsal together; she visits the garden lodge every day after d'Esquerré departs, and finally, after a tormented, storm-clouded night of playing Wagner, Caroline sleeps for awhile and sorts out the meaning of d'Esquerré's visit. Finally she creeps back at dawn to meet her husband, Howard, at the breakfast table, announcing that she has abandoned her romantically inspired doubts about demolishing the guest house. Rising from the table, Caroline and Howard laugh over her return to a safe, ordered existence after a brief moment of uncertainty.
On a first reading, Cather's story seems to imply that Caroline's longing for the male artistic world represented by d'Esquerré is the source of her discontent (O'Brien, Emerging Voice 274). Yet this "male longing" appears to be more complex than a mere desire for admission to the sacred precincts of the performing arts dominated by men and somewhat more problematic than a search for erotic fulfillment with a man who offers what her husband lacks. Hermione Lee has noted the "chivalrous mode" suggested by d'Esquerré's name (75), thus implying a courtly grace hardly compatible with a flaming sexual passion. Caroline realizes that her own fear of d'Esquerré is aroused by "the quiet, tired reserve, the dullness, even, that kept him company" (53), rather than, say, the powerful sexual attraction that Frank Ellinger has for Marian Forrester in A Lost Lady. Moreover, the curious gender portrayals in "Goblin Market"-the fact that the only men in the poem are goblins who appear in various animal shapes, from cats to wombats, and who coo like doves-also color our reading of events in the Noble household. Significantly, Caroline's father, Auguste, her brother Heinrich, even d'Esquerré himself resemble goblinlike apparitions that haunt Caroline from afar. Not only are Rossetti's men grotesques and therefore unfit for commerce with Lizzie and Laura; Rossetti's poem is in fact remarkable for its unusually vivid suggestion of an incestuous lesbian sexuality. Lines such as those addressed by Lizzie to Laura ("Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, / Goblin pulp and goblin dew. / Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me") (46-47) can still raise the eyebrows of modern readers accustomed to more frank depictions of sexuality than were common in Rossetti's time. Like Lizzie and Laura, Caroline shuns the world of men except insofar as men can provide safety and security. Although Caroline and Howard share an easy manner with each other, Cather provides shrewd glimpses of the couple's routine existence that give the impression that the Nobles' marriage does not seethe with erotic passion. We know, for example, that Howard is sixteen years older than Caroline, that they sleep in separate rooms, that they seem to enjoy traveling separately, and most importantly that they are divided by Caroline's continual refusal to give in to the romantic sentimentality that Howard longs to find in her.
Caroline's periodic visits to the garden lodge and her tumultuous night at the piano can best be understood not as a confrontation between Howard Noble and his rival d'Esquerré but as the pursuit of a vision of rapture and excitement that is lacking in both men. Just as Cather's frequent use of juxtaposition in her later fiction has been cited by Merrill Skaggs as a means of defining characters through "contrasting opposite types . . . by pulling [a] straight line between the two opposite points into a triangle" (18), in "The Garden Lodge" Cather's "triangulation" of Caroline's character may involve the addition of an unnamed but distinctly lesbian sexuality to emphasize the romanticism missing from Caroline's well-ordered life. Interestingly, this "sin with no name" is suggested both by d'Esquerré's withdrawn masculinity and by the Amazons in his entourage, who together form a vivid chamber of horrors for Caroline.
If Rossetti's poem struck a note of sexual ambivalence in The Troll Garden, the references to Wagner add to the mood. There are in fact three Wagnerian allusions in Cather's story: the Siegmund-Sieglinde duet from Die Walküre (signifying the characters' discovery that they are twins); Klingsor's garden from Parsifal; and a little-noted reference to the "witchery of Freya" (46), connecting Caroline and her apple garden to the goddess of love Freia (or Freya) in the prologue to the Ring, Das Rheingoid. The strong note of incest in the Siegmund-Sieglinde duet and in the references to Klingsor are particularly important in discussing questions of Caroline's sexuality, although the Freia allusion may ultimately be more revealing of Cather's purpose in framing Caroline's tormented night in the lodge as a kind of microcosm for the larger issues in Wagner's tetralogy.
Cather was well versed in the action of Die
Walküre, as is apparent from her 17 June 1899 review
in the Pittsburgh Courier of a performance given
by the Metropolitan Opera, featuring Lilli Lehmann as Sieglinde: "The
scene which follows [Sieglinde's return to the stage] is probably the
most exalted love scene ever set to music, and all Frau Lehmann's
stilted posings could not mar it. When Siegmund throws open the door,
letting the moonlight in, and sings his song of spring and love, then
for the first time the human element enters the cycle of the Ring" (World and the Parish 624). Siegmund announces the
joining of Spring and Love in his expansive "Winterstürme" in
terms that parallel his meeting with Sieglinde: "Zu seiner Schwester /
schwang er sich her" ("To clasp his [Spring's] sister / here he has
flown") (90). Sieglinde is clearly associated with the love that lay
hidden in the couple's hearts. But now, with the coming of Spring and
Siegmund, "Die bräutliche Schwester / befreite der Bruder" ("The bride
and sister / is freed by her brother") (90). The linking of Siegmund
with Spring and Sieglinde with Love is repeated in Sieglinde's
impassioned reply, "Du bist der Lenz, / nach dem ich verlangte" ("You
are the Spring, / that Spring I have yearned for") (91). The duet rises
in intensity until, intoxicated with their love for each other, the two
embrace. Cather's use of this passage in an early story such as "The
Garden Lodge," as well as in the far more mature The
Song of the Lark, indicates that she was so haunted by the
power of the music that she structured fictional events around its
narrative skeleton. For example, Richard Giannone's detailed study of
Cather's use of music includes an extended explication of the action of
"The Garden Lodge" in Wagnerian terms:
"Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold embraces"
are the words which come back to her, and with them she feels again
d'Esquerré tenderly putting his arm at her and lifting her right
hand from the keyboard. The gesture transforms Caroline into
Sieglinde. Willa Cather has not given us a woman whose destiny is
linked with the vast affairs surrounding the strange gold ring, but
she has given us a Sieglinde, nevertheless-a woman who finds her
spiritual twin, her namesake Siegmund. (38)
"Thou art the Spring for which I sighed in Winter's cold embraces" are the words which come back to her, and with them she feels again d'Esquerré tenderly putting his arm at her and lifting her right hand from the keyboard. The gesture transforms Caroline into Sieglinde. Willa Cather has not given us a woman whose destiny is linked with the vast affairs surrounding the strange gold ring, but she has given us a Sieglinde, nevertheless-a woman who finds her spiritual twin, her namesake Siegmund. (38)
Yet if Caroline actually hears words that are meant to be sung by a woman to a man, and there is no soprano present, is Caroline's acting the role of Sieglinde or Siegmund, or both? And if she assumes for a moment the role of Siegmund, is the "spiritual commotion" that Giannone detects in Caroline (39) even more deeply rooted in her psyche than the confusion engendered by her doubts about the artistic life?
Perhaps Caroline, like Cather, "found music compelling because it offered
her a text without words" (O'Brien, Emerging
Voice 171), enabling a reading of the world unacceptable to a
heterosexual viewpoint without offending the opinions of heterosexual
music lovers. Sharon O'Brien in fact pinpoints
the artifice of a performance of an opera like [Beethoven's] Fidelio [which] visually offers the
possibility for transformation and inversion of gender and
sexuality: when a woman dons male attire and becomes the object of
another woman's love, the lines between heterosexual and homosexual,
sexual and nonsexual, male and female-fixed in the social
world-become blurred upon the stage. (171)
the artifice of a performance of an opera like [Beethoven's] Fidelio [which] visually offers the possibility for transformation and inversion of gender and sexuality: when a woman dons male attire and becomes the object of another woman's love, the lines between heterosexual and homosexual, sexual and nonsexual, male and female-fixed in the social world-become blurred upon the stage. (171)
We might add that when Caroline Noble stages a performance of Die Walküre in which she is simultaneously the Sieglind and Siegmund-as well as the accompanist!-she has already outdone Beethoven (and probably Mozart and Richard Strauss, too) in extending the permutations of sexuality and gender that make opera in travesti a fascinating if deeply Freudian event on the stage.
For it should also be remembered that Wagner's "exalted love duet" is
sung by brother and sister, invoking a taboo that does not seem to
trouble Cather or generations of operagoers who surrender to the
beauties of Wagner's music. Yet the Siegmund-Sieglinde relationship is
nevertheless a strange model for Caroline to follow, given her own
ambivalent relationship with her brother Heinrich, who had committed
suicide and who was even more hopelessly romantic than her father. On
the surface, Caroline's yearning for d'Esquerré betrays her frustration
with a prosaic husband who plays the unfortunate role of a kindly
Hunding. Thus, according to Sharon O'Brien, "Caroline Noble's love for
Raymond d'Esquerré . . . momentarily surfaces when she plays Sieglinde
to his Siegmund" (Emerging Voice 115, n.26). Yet
despite the heterosexual symmetry that Caroline and d'Esquerré suggest,
there seems to be an echo of an imbalance between the two, which is
heightened by Cather's otherwise superfluous italicization of
Sieglinde's words. In reading into Caroline and d'Esquerré's
relationship a presupposed tendency toward romance, are we ignoring
Cather's signals and instead, in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's words, "moving
blindly from a sense of the good, the desirability, of love and
sexuality to the automatic imposition on [oneself] of a specifically heterosexual compulsion"? (Epistemology of the Closet 196). For Cather, it seems, Wagner's
verse portrayed love in an ungendered language, or more succinctly, in a
language in which gender mattered less than sexuality. Apart from her
use of Wagner, Cather also takes great pains to permit her reader to
imagine a wide range of possible characterizations of d'Esquerré's
appeal. On stage the tenor himself is as vague about the objects of his
love as is Caroline: "For the moment, he, too, believed again, desired
again, he knew not what, but something" (53). In language that otherwise
suggests d'Esquerré's phallic presence, Caroline proceeds to undercut
his masculine appeal to her:
His power she knew, lay not so much in anything that he actually
had-though he had so much-or in anything that he actually was; but
in what he suggested, in what he seemed picturesque enough to have
or be-and that was just anything that one chose to believe or to
desire. His appeal was all the more persuasive and alluring that it
was to the imagination alone, that it was as indefinite and
impersonal as those cults of idealism which so have their way with
His power she knew, lay not so much in anything that he actually had-though he had so much-or in anything that he actually was; but in what he suggested, in what he seemed picturesque enough to have or be-and that was just anything that one chose to believe or to desire. His appeal was all the more persuasive and alluring that it was to the imagination alone, that it was as indefinite and impersonal as those cults of idealism which so have their way with women. (52)
Cather cannot resist a misogynistic slap at feminine "cults of idealism," but I think the general tone of the passage requires us to take her meaning literally: that d'Esquerré suggests "just anything that one chose to believe or to desire," including, perhaps, a homosexual rather than heterosexual love. Earlier in the story, when Caroline realizes that she has underestimated d'Esquerré's power, Cather compares Caroline to overbold swimmers who forget "the ever changing moods of their adversary, the sea" (51). The image of the sea in all its teeming fecundity seems inappropriate as a simile for masculine strength, emphasizing further that Caroline's adversary is not the man whose spirit haunts her but something she has suppressed within herself and that is reminiscent of Kingsley's "sins that have no name": "the nothingness of time and space, of system and discipline, of closed doors and broad waters," in short, "the wail from the donjon deeps when the watch slept" (56).
The allusions to Parsifal are somewhat less complicated, although just as suggestive. Cather seems intuitively to link d'Esquerré's spent energy and the need to regain his strength in the garden lodge with the dissipation that colors Wagner's last opera. According to Robert W. Gutman, "Not only the snobbery of racism but also its inevitable Neronic concomitants of inbreeding, cruelty, depravity, and an atmosphere of exhaustion make Parsifal seem to distill the essence of fin de siècle mysticism and demonism" (473). The world of Klingsor's castle and garden is a world of magic and dreams and of sexuality that poisons those who engage in it. For instance, Kundry has sexual relations with Amfortas before the opera begins, causing the dreaded wound that finally kills him. The "guileless fool," Parsifal is tempted by Klingsor's Flower Maidens and Kundry to abandon his quest and to spend a life of pleasure with them, but he rebukes their efforts and, after retrieving Amfortas's spear, rejoins the sanctified if sterile world of the Monsalvat monastery. In Cather's story, d'Esquerré steps out of the world of Klingsor's garden for the safety and security of Caroline's garden lodge, yet, like Kundry, he still practices the arts of a necromancer (Giannone 40). He changes stout matrons into slender girls, "Young and old, however hideous, however fair, they yielded up their heat-whether quick or latent" (51). Even the "stony fastnesses of apartment houses," from which d'Esquerré coaxes his Amazon fans, bear a resemblance to Klingsor's castle. And Caroline herself plays out the narrative thread of Wagner's bizarre work; her troubled sleep, showing to her "the nothingness of time and space," mirrors the struggle between Monsalvat and Klingsor and is acted out with the violence of an unwanted sexual encounter. Caroline is literally ravished by her dreams. She awakens as dawn streaks the sky above the garden lodge: "her eyes opened wide and she sprang up and sat holding dizzily to the cushions of the couch, staring at her bare, cold feet, at her labouring breast, rising and falling under her open night dress" (Troll Garden 55). She creeps back "guiltily" to her own bed, carefully avoiding any noise that might awaken the servants, and rejoins Harold Noble at the breakfast table, looking, in his estimation "rather fagged" (56).
It seems most appropriate to Cather's purpose that Caroline is raped not by the dashing tenor but by an idea that she has harbored about herself, an idea that has the sexual potency of a man without its being embodied in a masculine figure. We may perceive this idea as a suppressed lesbian identity or as a lost opportunity to join the masculine world of artistic achievement. In any event, the idea seems to have little to do with Caroline's entrapment in a conventional love triangle, a fact that is reinforced by Cather's passing reference to Freia at the beginning of the story.
Freia's garden, according to the action in Das Rheingold, provides the golden apples that maintain the gods' youth. At the beginning of the second scene, Wotan realizes the stupidity of his agreement to pay the giants Fafner and Fasolt for their labor in building the new palace Valhalla by handing over to them Freia, the goddess of love. In order to save Freia from such a fate (and also to enable her to continue to supply him and his entourage with the golden apples, without which they will grow old and wither), Wotan cooperates in a scheme to pay off the giants with the ring formed of the Rheingold. Fafner murders Fasolt in a dispute over possession of the ring, and the foundation is laid for the ensuing disasters that conclude, at the end of Götterdämmerung, with the destruction of the gods and of Valhalla.
Caroline's link to Freia is established through gossip that circulates
The garden to the left and the orchard to the right had never been so
riotous with spring, and had burst into impassioned bloom, as if to
accommodate Caroline, though she was certainly the last woman to
whom the witchery of Freya could be attributed; the last woman, as
her friends affirmed, to at all adequately appreciate and make the
most of such a setting for the great tenor. (46)
The garden to the left and the orchard to the right had never been so riotous with spring, and had burst into impassioned bloom, as if to accommodate Caroline, though she was certainly the last woman to whom the witchery of Freya could be attributed; the last woman, as her friends affirmed, to at all adequately appreciate and make the most of such a setting for the great tenor. (46)
Why "the last woman"? For later we are told that the success of Caroline's garden is hardly accidental: "She superintended the care of the grounds herself. Her garden, indeed, had become quite a part of her, a sort of beautiful adjunct, like gowns or jewels" (50). Perhaps the unlikeliness of a comparison between Freia and Caroline stems from her hard manner, her businesslike way with her family and d'Esquerré. Howard knows her weaknesses, however; while, on the one hand he desires to locate some sentimentality in Caroline, on the other, he suggests demolishing the garden lodge that d'Esquerré has just quitted and replacing it with a much grander summer house. He backs off when he realizes how attached Caroline is to her memories of the tenor's visit. The parallels between the politics of Caroline's marriage and those of Wotan's circle are fascinating. After a nervous interlude in which Caroline and Freia each are nearly bartered away by the men in their lives, a bargain is struck that permits the men to keep their women and also to get the new houses (Caroline's summer house and Freia's Valhalla) that they have wanted all along.
"The Garden Lodge" in fact reinforces David Stouck's observation that "Cather often viewed marriage as a destructive relationship, especially for the artist" (183). The emotional and physical gaps between Howard and Caroline Noble are perhaps less threatening than in Cather's later fiction, but the Nobles' marriage is merely one of the few "good bargains" that a man and woman can make for each other when confronted by the economic facts of life and when the need to seek sexual satisfaction with a member of the opposite sex is less powerful than the desire for companionship and mutual support. Caroline decided to marry Howard Noble with all of the cool headedness she brought to her decision to replace her father as the head of the household. It was merely a business decision, prudent, safe, and the means to an economic end; and Howard does not seem to have wanted it otherwise.
The final laugh shared by Caroline and Howard has always struck me as unsettling. Howard, too, has had trouble sleeping: "It seems to me that you are looking rather fagged, Caroline. It was a beastly night to sleep" (56). What goblins might he have been subjected to while Caroline was crashing away at Die Walküre? As they rise laughing from the breakfast table, I find myself imagining that the fate of their marriage and summer house are closely bound to the actions of the Ring. Things have reached a tentative resolution at the end of Das Rheingold, but there are three more operas to come before the world passes away in the flames that consume Valhalla. For Caroline, the "wail from the donjon deeps" has only been muffled; it has not been extinguished. And even if Caroline takes the apparently easy route of abandoning her romantic garb for the safety of her marriage, her suppression of the shadows that haunted her during her night in the garden lodge will ultimately, in E. K. Brown's words, "threaten the very core of personality" (117).