Skip to main content
Source File: cat.cs004.xml

From Cather Studies Volume 4

Willa Cather's Canada

The Border as Fiction

[Crossing borders brings one closer to] one's shifting and multiple identity and integrity. —Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera

E. K. Brown, Cather's first biographer and a Canadian, observed that even before she began Shadows on the Rock "Willa Cather had been in Canada much more than most American writers" (204). More famously, Hemingway and Faulkner spent time in their youth in Canada—Hemingway as an employee of the Toronto Star newspaper, and Faulkner in a period of service with the Royal Air Force in Canada— but Cather's connections to Canada extended over a lifetime. Current criticism highlights Cather as a traveler, a border crosser. Joseph Urgo, in Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration,argues persuasively that Cather's fiction is inordinately preoccupied with travel, that displacement, exile, and transformation are the psychic condition and meaning of her art. And in discussions of sexuality and subversion, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler have explored the transitivity of Cather's imagination, the crossing of gender and sexual borders in her writing and in her personal life. Here, in the light of her Canadian writings and experience, I will ask specifically what it meant for Cather to cross a national boundary, considering the idea of "border" as it has been theorized in contemporary criticism—as a trope of difference,whether of gender, ethnicity, race, or culture.

In Border Traffic: Strategies of Contemporary Women Writers, Maggie Humm posits that feminist fictions deliberately choose to describe the kinds and experiences of women that exist beyond the borders of traditional literary representation—the experiences, for example, of witches, Creoles, lesbians,and so on (2). In this light we might say at once that Cather reveals a radical feminist dimension, a border-crossing instinct, for she chose as heroines women who are outside conventional stereotypes: women, like Thea Kronborg and Lucy Gayheart, who are artists; women who are old, like Gabrielle Longstreet, Mrs. Harris, and Sapphira Colbert; the female child, Cécile Auclair; and immigrant women, like Ántonia Cuzak, who labored on farms and as domestics. Most striking is the gallery of immigrant women in Cather's fiction, for in their stories (Ántonia as an unwed mother, Marie Shabata as an adulteress, the Danish laundry girls, and the three Bohemian Marys as women of easy virtue) Cather merges foreignness or ethnicity with transgressive behavior.

Ethnicity was in fact the subject of Cather's first story, "Peter," and in her subsequent portrayal of the diverse ethnic makeup of the pioneer Midwest, Canada figures in the inclusion of French-speaking settlers who had come to Nebraska from Quebec. Cather was herself aware of French-Canadians from the time she was a child newly arrived in Nebraska. In Catherton precinct of Webster County there were French-Canadian settlers who built a small frame Catholic church called St. Ann's. The church was the center of their community. In O Pioneers! Cather gives a vivid account of transplanted French-Canadian culture in the story of Amédée Chevalier, the Sainte-Agnes church fair, and the confirmation service. Although Cather refers to her settlers simply as "French," she leaves no doubt about their Canadian origins in the passage where Emil Bergson says teasingly to Amédée's wife that her baby looks like it might have had an Indian ancestor. Amédée's mother, we are told, "had been touched on a sore point, and she let out a stream of fiery patois" (216). The Nebraska novels comprise transplanted peoples, exiles sensitive to issues of ethnicity and race, and in foregrounding their lives in her fiction—examining the plight of working women, making her foreigners "heroines"—Cather subtly challenged the master narratives of American culture and the conventional boundaries concerning ethnicity, gender, and class.

Whether Cather had childhood experience of Canadians beyond her neighbors in Catherton precinct, we cannot say. However, as a young book reviewer she exhibited some knowledge of Canadian literature and the debates about Canadian culture at the end of the nineteenth century. She cites Seth Low,then president of Columbia University, as having said there is no literature in Canada because there is no national life, but she refutes that statement in a discussion of Gilbert Parker's The Seats of the Mighty: A Romance of Old Quebec (1896), claiming that "a generation of young men . . . are making the most of Canada's literary possibilities" (World and Parish [WP] 355). Among those young men she would have included Bliss Carman, Charles G. D. Roberts, and mistakenly, American-born Richard Hovey, all of whose work she reviewed positively. She praised these three poets for their fresh treatment of nature as a literary theme and heaped special praise on Roberts' verse: it is "wonderfully beautiful," she wrote, "rich in expression and redolent of wood life and field life, of Canadian forests and meadows" (WP 886). But as Merrill Skaggs has observed, what is especially interesting in her review of Parker's Quebec romance is her citing of Low's remark that Canadian culture was like a plant whose roots drew nourishment from the other side of the Atlantic but lost most of it under the sea. As Skaggs puts it, we have formulated here a question—something like, "How does a transplant like Quebec find the cultural sustenance to survive?"—a question that will become a central theme in Cather's Quebec novel written more than 30 years later (127).

Cather did have close professional contact with at least one Canadian when she was working for S. S. McClure in New York. Georgine Milmine, who collected the materials for the biography of Mary Baker Eddy, was a newspaper woman originally from Canada. Unfortunately we have no significant knowledge about Milmine, nor do we know anything about the relations between the two women. We only know that they did work in close conjunction for a time in preparing the McClure's articles for book publication, for as Kevin Synnott verified, both of their handwritings are on the manuscript (Stouck xxvii).

Cather first imagined Canada as a geographical setting when she wrote her first novel, Alexander's Bridge (1912). Much of the story's significant action takes place along the rivers of Quebec where the engineer hero, Bartley Alexander, has built two bridges. It was near the site of his first project, a suspension bridge over a wild river, that he met his future wife, Winifred, a Canadian woman described as very proud and a little hard. While in Quebec, Alexander also takes great pleasure in the company of Winifred's aunt Eleanor, who likes to talk army and politics. These are not sentimental portraits of women; they suggest Cather's view of English Canadians as shrewd, practical, and British colonial in character. Alexander's Bridge reaches its tragic climax when the cantilever bridge being built at a place named Moorlock crashes into the river, taking the engineer and many of the workmen to their deaths. Cather based the incident on an actual event that happened near Quebec City: on 29 August 1907 a bridge being built to span the St. Lawrence River collapsed and more than 80 men were killed, including the chief engineer, who had gone out on the bridge just before it broke apart. The principal designing engineer was an American, Theodore Cooper of New York, who had not been on the site during the bridge's ill-fated construction (see Hinz; E. K. Brown 157-59; Slote xv-xvi). The Canadian backdrop for the story might easily be dismissed as of little consequence—a conventional setting for an engineering feat that conquers the wilderness—but this is a novel persistently about crossing geographical,political, and sexual borders. The hero travels not only repeatedly to Canada but to England, where he conducts a protracted affair with a woman he had known in his youth. In the story's moral order Alexander's border crossings are sexual transgressions, and his death takes place because he has broken all bounds.

The only other mention of Canada in Cather's early fiction is the brief vignette of Tiny Soderball in the Yukon in My Ántonia. Historically, this is a fairly conventional use of Canada as a wilderness setting where adventurers try their luck, but imaginatively Tiny's story belongs with those of a group of women in Cather's fiction who choose unconventional lives. Instead of marrying a Black Hawk boy and settling down to raise a family, Tiny is persuaded by a "roving promotor" to leave for Seattle and manage a lodging house for sailors there. The narrator makes it clear that the business is not likely reputable ("all sailors' boardinghouses were alike")but that Tiny's interest is in making money. This she continues to do when she hears of gold being discovered in the far north. After helping to found Dawson City during the Klondike gold rush, Tiny goes off "into the wilds"(301), where she lives on a claim and eventually realizes a considerable fortune from trading and selling claims on percentages. She winds up in San Francisco, a wealthy woman, but she has lost her zest for living. The Canadian north, like so many other non-American destinations in Cather's fiction (I think here of Germany for Thea Kronborg, France for Claude Wheeler), is a place beyond the border where characters are able to come closer to their inmost identity and integrity. Significantly in this light, when Cather actually came to know Canada from first hand experience, she did not continue to view it as a place of testing or adventure but saw it as a locus at the very center of her pastoral imagination.

As far as we know, Cather herself did not actually cross the physical border in to Canada until after her close friend Isabelle McClung was married and living in Toronto. Isabelle married Jan Hambourg, a concert violinist of Russian Jewish and English background who was known in both Europe and North America for his skilled and sensitive performances. Jan frequently gave concerts with his brothers Boris, a cellist, and Mark, also a violinist. With their father, a musical scholar, they taught music much of the year from the family home in Toronto. Cather made two lengthy visits that we know of while Jan and Isabelle were living in Toronto: in 1919 she spent June and July in the city, and in 1921 she stayed nearly five months, from April until late August. On both occasions she was working on One of Ours, finishing the novel during her second visit. It was on this second visit that she read the account of Lyra Garber Anderson's death in a clipping that had been forwarded to her and the idea for A Lost Lady came to her. James Woodress tells us that Sinclair Lewis was in the city at this time and that he praised her work highly, telling his audience of her whereabouts; accordingly she was reluctantly swept up in a round of social events for a couple of weeks. However, and perhaps this is what is most important here, Toronto on the whole served as a retreat from the attention of friends, business associates, and well-wishers and provided her a space for uninterrupted work. (Incidentally,Cather would have traveled to the city on the TH&B rail service, passing through the small city of Hamilton on Lake Ontario, which may have suggested the name of the setting for The Professor's House, with its protagonist of French-Canadian ancestry.)

In 1922 the Hambourgs moved permanently to Europe, but that year Cather was again in Canada, this time making her first trip to Grand Manan Island. According to Marion Marsh Brown and Ruth Crone (information verified by Helen Cather Southwick), Cather first learned of the island from a librarian at the New York Public Library who told Cather the remote fishing island in the Bay of Fundy was "probably the quietest place in the world" (6-7). Cather decided to investigate, and after leaving Bread Loaf in Vermont, in early August 1922 she took a train to New Brunswick via Montreal. She rented a cottage for a month from Sarah Jacobus, a woman from New York City who ran a small resort at Whale Cove. She wrote to a friend of her pleasure in the quiet and remoteness of the island, where mail only came three times a week on a little steamer from the Canadian shore. For the next 18 years she and Edith Lewis returned almost every summer. In September 1926 they bought a piece of land in a spruce wood near Whale Cove and employed two carpenters from North Head to build a Cape Cod-style cottage; it was completed when they arrived for the summer of 1928. Above the living room was a large attic, which Cather chose for her study; from the window she could look out over the cliffs and the sea. Grand Manan was the one place in the world where she felt she could work without interruption, and all of her books from A Lost Lady to Sapphira and the Slave Girl were composed in part on the island. If Toronto seemed to provide Cather with a retreat from her public,Grand Manan served this function even more so. On that foggy island in the Atlantic, writes E. K. Brown, Cather felt "securely hemmed in from the world" (203) and at a considerable remove from all mundane things. After she had to leave her Bank Street apartment in New York, during which time the family home in Nebraska was also broken up, Grand Manan, writes Lewis, "seemed the only foothold left on earth" (153), not just a retreat but a refuge from an uncaring and rapidly changing world.

In Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner reminds his readers that when Americans are aware of Canada at all, it is most often as a border, a margin, an end to things American (3). But perhaps Cather came to view Canada as an alternate American tradition. It is interesting to know that Gather belonged to the Grand Manan Historical Association, a rather striking piece of information about someone who was not a joiner, who in the 1930's zealously guarded her privacy. (Proof exists in the society's membership list printed in The Grand Manan Historian 5: 72.) I was told by Kathleen Buckley that Cather was persuaded on occasion to attend society meetings by her friend, Doctor MacCauley. Early Grand Manan history focuses on the lives of a group of United Empire Loyalists—New Englanders chiefly—who fought on the royalist side and after the Revolutionary War took refuge in what remained of Britain's empire to the north. The Loyalists had sought to preserve an ideal of order and justice stemming from the British monarchy and they saw Canada providing a sanctuary line. Perhaps the Cather who wrote One of Ours and The Professor's House, profoundly disillusioned with the materialism of contemporary American life, also came to see English Canada as providing a sanctuary line, a still-pastoral alternative to America's increasingly urban, technology-dominated culture. Certainly by the late 1920s there is evidence in her fiction that her political sympathies were conservative, and perhaps she felt a strong attraction to living for part of the year within the British Empire.

Her feelings about Canada grew even stronger and more focused once she came to know Quebec. It was because she traveled almost every summer to Grand Manan that she discovered the subject for her one novel set wholly in Canada. She was on her way to the island in June 1928 by a roundabout way when she first saw Quebec City. Lewis came down with the flu during their stopover, and they wound up staying at the Chateau Frontenac for 10 days. Cather was immediately attracted to the city and its environs. Lewis describes the imaginative excitement Cather felt: "from the first moment that she looked down from the windows of the Frontenac on the pointed roofs and Norman outlines of the town of Quebec, Willa Cather was not merely stirred and charmed—she was overwhelmed by the flood of memory, recognition, surmise it called up; by the sense of its extraordinarily French character, isolated and kept intact through hundreds of years, as if by a miracle, on this great un-French continent" (153-54). Cather explored the city alone, visiting the Ursuline Convent, the Laval Seminary, the Church of Notre Dame des Victoires, and the marketplace in the Lower Town. When Lewis was well enough they made an excursion to the Ile d'Orleans. All the while Cather was reading Canadian histories from the hotel library. In 1929 Cather again traveled to Grand Manan by way of Quebec City, and that summer she began to write Shadows on the Rock, returning to Quebec in November and again at New Year's to get a feeling for the city in the dead of winter. She made a fifth visit to Quebec on her return from a trip to France in 1930— "the slow progress up the St. Lawrence," writes Lewis, "between woods on fire with October, was its climax—a dream of joy"(160). It had not been her intention, but she stayed several days and this last visit, according to Lewis, brought her closest to her story. She finished writing Shadows on the Rock in the winter of 1930-31.

In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua writes that crossing borders brings one closer to "one's shifting and multiple identity and integrity" (preface). Visiting Toronto and traveling to Grand Manan, Cather crossed a political border that translated for her into a physical retreat, but when she came to know Quebec City she crossed a border, I believe, that led to the psychological heart of her artistic and spiritual being. This is not to say that she came to identify herself as French-Canadian or Catholic. On the contrary, in her letter about Shadows on the Rock to Governor Wilbur Cross she says explicitly that she encountered in Quebec a "feeling about life and human fate that I could not accept, wholly," something pious and resigned. She further marks her distance from French-Canadian life when she says of her novel, "It's very hard for an American to catch that rhythm—it's sound like us" ("On Shadows" 15,17). But it was a feeling about life, persisting from another age, that she could not help but admire, and through her gift of sympathy she captured the Canadian spirit of place and the Catholic vision of a world informed and regulated by spiritual rites.

Benjamin George, in his essay on Cather as a "Canadian" writer, claims that"she came to hold a close affinity with Canadian ideals and attitudes, pointedly different from those of her own national ethos" (249). He develops his thesis by quoting Northrop Frye, who has characterized Canadians as hampered by a "garrison mentality," referring thereby to an inward-looking, negative aspect of Canadian culture concerned to hold the threatening wilderness at bay, a colonial fear of the unknown (225). Cather quickly recreates the beleaguered condition of early Canadian life in her novel: outside of the city of 2,000 was the forest, and "[t]he forest was suffocation, annihilation; there European man was quickly swallowed up in silence, distance, mould, black mud, and the stinging swarms of insect life that bred in it" (Shadows 7). But Russell Brown has more recently suggested a positive aspect to this garrison consciousness when he urges that we see it as an aspect of a larger human desire for sanctuary and for safe borders(Borderlines 32). In such a statement we recognize one of Cather's strongest themes in Shadows on the Rock, where Canada is "a possible refuge, an escape from the evils one suffered at home" (31), when envisioned by the French apothecary, where even children are consciously aware of "the goodness of shelter" (66). When she is ill in bed, Cécile mentally roams about the town, always aware of "the never-ending, merciless forest beyond." The lives of her friends, the roofs and spires of the town, the crooked streets all "seemed to her like layers and layers of shelter, with this one flickering, shadowy room at the core"(157-58). There is no desire at the imaginative center of this text to repudiate or escape from the garrison but rather there is a need to nurture and augment it, to keep alive and shelter that bit of French culture on the rock. As Cather recreates it, seventeenth-century Quebec was not a colony determined to create a new society but one determined to preserve an old one; it was not the Puritan "city upon a Hill" for all eyes to see (John Winthrop's words) but a Catholic preserve for the Holy Family and a vision of heaven.

The Canadian/American border has produced theories of culture that turn on such binaries as northern/southern, colonialism/republicanism, individualism/socialism. One of the strongest of these binaries is that of stasis/movement. Where American critics like Janis Stout and Joseph Urgo have interpreted themes of flight,exile, and the open road as expressive of their country's originary and defining experience, Canadian critics, again like Russell Brown, have pointed to the writings of the Loyalists and their themes of homesickness and longing to return home as founding imaginative expressions. The idea of "home," suggests Brown, serves to order Canadian narratives just as the idea of the "road" so often organizes American writings ("Road Home" 27). E. K. Brown attributed much of the emotional power in Shadows on the Rock to Cather's memories of her home in Nebraska and her relationship with her father—for when the author was a child the Cather family had been uprooted and had started life over in conditions as harsh as those in Quebec (217-18). The controlling emotion in the hook experienced by Cécile is a kind of homesickness, a clinging to what is known and secure in the face of threatened upheaval and departure. This emotion is dramatized poignantly in Cécile's visit with the Harnois family on the Ile d'Orleans (their rough menage contrasts sharply with the Auclairs' passion for cleanliness and order) and reaches an acute pitch at the end of book 5, "The Ships from France," when Cécile believes she must soon leave Quebec, the only home she has ever known. There is also a political dimension to this nostalgia for the past, for it focuses on the imperial order that has created the colony and on a veneration of the old religious and political leaders, Laval and Frontenac, who have helped nurture and sustain it. It is expressed on an intimate level in Cécile's relation to her dying mother. "As long as she lived," we are told, "[Madame Auclair] tried to make the new life as much as possible like the old. . . . her chief care was to train her little daughter so that she would be able to carry on this life and this order after she was gone" (23). Madame Auclair believed firmly that the French were the most civilized people in Europe and "[s]he wanted to believe that when she herself was lying in this rude Canadian earth, life would go on almost unchanged in this room" (25). In writing about Canada, Cather plumbed the most conservative depths of her being, which from a postcolonial perspective seem marooned in another age. Urgo, however, has argued persuasively that even in creating this world so far removed from the present Cather reveals that great changes take place with each generation (Cécile, for instance, abandons her loyalty to the Old World for the New) and that identities, cultures, and cosmologies are all "shadows" that pass over the rock with time (97-111).

The attraction to home that is so powerful in this novel has conservative manifestations in mode and genre. A narrative of the road is most likely to be written in the romance mode and in the genre of adventure fiction, whereas a story of home is likely to be a pastoral, the affirmation of a retreat, a safe place where life remains simplified and seems not to change. Ann Romines has demonstrated the primacy of the domestic in Cather's fiction, but in this light a distinction can be drawn between Shadows on the Rock and her other narratives; in novels like My Ántonia or One of Ours the domestic theme is circumscribed by the larger ones of adventure and exile that take the protagonist away from home. There is no adventurer figure of parallel importance to Jim Burden or Claude Wheeler to undercut the primacy of the domestic theme in Shadows on the Rock; there is only the fear that Cécile experiences of being removed from home and that, in fact, never takes place.

We know since Bakhtin that the novel is most characteristically dialogical, but in Shadows on the Rock we do not hear the contesting voices of the age in Bakhtin's sense of dialogue; we have only a very muted sense of social and political changes taking place. Cather recognized in her letter to Cross that what she was trying to do was not very novelistic—it was more like music, like a song rather than a story. Moreover, in direct contrast to Bakhtin's understanding of the novel, she was determined not to "mix kinds," ("On Shadows" 16; italics in original) so that her narrative (again in her own words) is about something narrow, "lacking in robustness and full of pious resignation" (15). As an instance, when Cécile's nostalgia is strongest—during her visit to the family on Ile d'Orleans—the language retains the stiff and formal character that Cather thought best suited her remote subject. Cécile feels uncomfortable around the rough country girls and their talk, but we never hear the girls speak; rather, we are told that "(w)hen they showed her the pigs and geese and tame rabbits, they kept telling her about peculiarities of animal behavior which she thought it better taste to ignore. They called things by very unattractive names, too" (190). We don't hear the actual words from that intersection of "high" and "low" cultures; the dialogue is translated into a monologue, preserving the character of something remembered and politely rephrased. The speaker of the text and the characters instead formulate their thoughts in the maxims and aphorisms of the past. We are reminded, for example, that the Latin poets insisted that those who died in the land of their fathers were blessed (263); and in another such generalization we are told that men trained at court all become a little crafty (258). By muting the actual voices of the age in favor of received wisdom, Cather has created a pastoral that attempts to exclude time and change—and perhaps a peculiarly Canadian form of pastoral whereby the security of the garrison has primacy over nature,whether it be a rural retreat or the wilderness.

If Cather, in crossing the border into Canada, was attracted to an older political order and a way of life less marked by the modernism and materialism of twentieth-century American culture, her attraction to seventeenth-century Quebec was especially rooted in the idea of a way of life that had seemed to survive almost unchanged for three centuries. In Shadows on the Rock Cather is deeply preoccupied with humankind's mortal and corruptible nature—the foregrounding in the text of diseases, injury, and death has led John J. Murphy to describe the novel as a "compendium of pain" (31)—but at the same time human suffering is seen as providentially ordered because in the Catholic context it provides the sufferer with a purgatorial passage leading from innate depravity to promised redemption. This vision knows no political or geographical boundaries. The members of the religious orders who helped establish the city did not experience borders. When they crossed the Atlantic, they carried their family with them: "they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host. . . . They had no hours of nostalgia, for they were quite as near the realities of their lives in Quebec as in Dieppe or Tours. They were still in their accustomed place in the world of the mind . . . and they had the same well-ordered universe about them" (97). While Quebec is "entirely cut off from Europe" (3), it is experienced as spiritually complete in itself. For Cécile, in the high altar of Notre Dame de la Victoire, resembling a feudal castle, there is an image of the kingdom of heaven—like Quebec, "strong and unassailable" (65). The city, as Murphy observes, is repeatedly represented as a holy place: Auclair reflects at the outset of the narrative that the rock-set town is like a theatrical setting for the Nativity (5); in a snow-fall "the whole rock looked like one great white church, above the frozen river" (136); and in a particularly fine passage we are told that in the early sunlight of a summer morning "the rock of Kebec stood gleaming above the river like an altar with many candles, or like a holy city in an old legend, shriven, sinless, washed in gold" (169). In such images Cather communicated what she experienced as the spiritual integrity of Quebec, a feeling about life based on a medieval cosmology that transcended borders of every kind.

In the closing years of her writing career Canada remained significant to the play of Cather's imagination. The epilogue to Sapphira and the Slave Girl, a novel about racial boundaries, brings the escaped slave girl, Nancy, to Virginia for a visit after 25 years of living in Montreal. Canada again is envisioned as a refuge, a very real sanctuary line, and this final section of the novel is constructed artfully around the contrast between life in a northern English colony and the post-Civil War Southern state. The post-Civil War generation, we are told, is "gayer and more carefree . . .perhaps because they had fewer traditions to live up to. The war had done away with many of the old distinctions. The young couples were poor and extravagent and jolly" (277). Nancy has been part of a very different social order and has decidedly changed from living in Montreal; she dresses elegantly and expensively, and she has lost her Southern speaking habits, pronouncing each syllable of a word distinctly, and using phrases of deference like "by your leave" (286). She works for a Madam and Colonel Kenwood, who are in England for the spring, and is married to the Kenwoods'' gardener, who is half Scotch and half native Indian. Nancy's success, her alleged superiority to the other former slaves in the Colbert household, is predicated on her place in a world that still has traditions and makes distinctions.

In "Before Breakfast," the second to last story she completed, Cather created her only fictional portrait of Grand Manan. In this story a Boston stockbroker, Henry Grenfell, has a cabin on a little island in the North Atlantic, where his business correspondence is never forwarded to him. If Canada had come to represent a place where things did not change, where old traditions continued, that comforting sense of time is exploded when Cather's protagonist is confronted by geological time and the brevity of human existence. Cather was here no doubt incorporating something of her own experience, for not far from her cottage was Ashburton Head, a rock face rising straight up from the beach and known locally as the "Seven Days Work," because in its layers of rock seven different periods of geological time are in striking evidence. Cather wrote of Quebec that there was a feeling about human life and fate there she could not wholly accept—a feeling of "pious resignation." I would argue that in "Before Breakfast" she accepts in a very positive way the message of the rock and the shadows cas ton it so briefly. Henry Grenfell, confronted with the brevity and insignificance of life at every turn, thinks to himself as he is about to put in his eyedrops, "Why patch up? What was the use . . . of anything" (148). But the sight of a young woman swimming out to an old sliver of rock in the frigid Atlantic waters precipitates in him a reaffirmation for living, and the story ends good-humoredly with an image of a frog making a leap in the evolutionary process, crossing a border.

Cather herself physically completed her journeying in Canada. Her longstanding interest in the country propelled her in the summer of 1941 to return from visiting her brother in California via the Canadian West. Lewis recounts that they went from San Francisco to Victoria, British Columbia, which, she says, "[Cather] had always wanted to see" (191)—perhaps, I would speculate, because Victoria was reputed to have preserved the English character of its origins in much the way Quebec City had remained so French. They stopped for several weeks at the Empress Hotel, where Cather spent most of her time reading in the spacious hotel garden, and then returned east on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The trip across the Canadian prairie apparently was not very comfortable or enjoyable, for the car in which they rode had been 20 years out of service and was only being used again because of the war. But in making that trip, Cather in her lifetime saw all the regions of the Dominion. It was the last earthly border she would cross.


Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinster/Aunt Lute,1987.
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
Brown, E. K. Willa Cather: A Critical Biography. Completed by Leon Edel. New York: Knopf, 1953. New York: Avon, 1980.
Brown, Marion Marsh, and Ruth Crone. Only One Point on the Compass: Willa Cather in the Northeast. Danbury CT: Archer Editions, 1980.
Brown, Russell. Borderlines and Borderlands in English Canada: The Written Line. Borderlands Monograph Series no. 4. Orono ME: Borderlands, 1990.
Brown, Russell. "The Road Home: Meditation on a Theme." Context North America: Canadian/U.S. Literary Relations. Ed. Camille R. La Bossière. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1994. 23-48.
Buchanan, Charles, ed. Grand Manan Historian. Grand Manan NB:Grand Manan Historical Society, 1938. 72.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex".New York: Routledge,1993.
Cather, Willa. Alexander's Bridge. 1912. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1977.
Cather, Willa. "Before Breakfast." The Old Beauty and Others. 1948. New York: Knopf, 1967.139-66.
Cather, Willa. 0 Pioneers! 1913. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1992.
Cather, Willa. "On Shadows on the Rock ." Willa Cather on Writing. Foreword by Stephen Tennant. 1949. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1988.14-17.
Cather, Willa. Shadows on the Rock. 1931. New York: Knopf, 1961.
Cather, Willa. The World and the Parish: Willa Cather's Articles and Reviews1893-1902. Selected and ed. with a commentary by William M. Curtin. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970.
Frye, Northrop. " 'Conclusion' to a Literary History of Canada." The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination. 1965. Toronto: Anansi, 1971. 213-51.
George, Benjamin. "Willa Cather and the French-Canadian Connection." Western American Literature II (1976): 249-61.
Hinz, John P. "The Real Alexander's Bridge." American Literature 21 (1950): 473-76.
Humm, Maggie. Border Traffic: Strategies of Contemporary Women Writers. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1991.
Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record. 1983. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1976.
Murphy, John J. "Cather's New World Divine Comedy: The Dante Connection." Cather Studies, vol. 1. Ed. Susan J. Rosowski. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990. 21-35.
Romines, Ann. The Home Plot: Women, Writing and Domestic Ritual. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1992.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham NC: Duke UP, 1993.
Skaggs, Merrill Maguire. After the World Broke in Two: The Later Novels of Willa Cather. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1990.
Slote, Bernice. Introduction. Alexander's Bridge. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1977.
Stegner, Wallace. Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1980.
Stouck, David. Introduction. The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science. By Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine. 1908. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1993. xv-xxvii.
Stout, Janis. The Journey Narrative in American Literature. Westport CT: Greenwood, 1983.
Urgo, Joseph. Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration. Urbana: U Illinois P, 1995.
Woodress, James. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987.