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From Cather Studies Volume 8

"Pershing's Crusaders"

G.P. Cather, Claude Wheeler, and the AEF Soldier in France

Late in 1900, during another semester of mediocre academic performance at Nebraska’s Grand Island College, Grosvenor (G.P.) Cather wrote to his mother, Frances, describing a rare triumph. In this 11 November letter he noted that in his composition class he had written “an emagionary theam” about “a farmer boy entering the regular army” and how he turned out. “The class took it pretty well,” he relates. “The criticisms on it said it was a well thought out theam.” When the “guns of August” ceased firing exactly eighteen years later, G.P., “a farmer boy,” who actually had joined the regular army, had been dead for almost six months. The story of how he got from Bladen, Nebraska, to Cantigny, France, became the genesis for Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel One of Ours.

In the Historical Essay for the Scholarly Edition of One of Ours, I have already dealt with many of the rather desperate aspects of the life of Willa Cather’s cousin. Here I concentrate first on his military experience in World War I, his role in what many Americans, initially at least, saw as a “Great Crusade”; second, I urge another reconsideration of Cather’s purported artistic failure in this novel. The initial discussion, based on letters G.P. wrote home, represents an exploration of the experience of one World War I soldier and his fictional counterpart, who, as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), discovered themselves and France in 1917 and 1918. The second section attempts for the first time to assess Cather’s treatment of Claude Wheeler’s war experience in the light of G. P. Cather’s war letters. Examination of this information in conjunction with comments of other World War I veterans indicates that Cather’s account of Claude Wheeler’s war experiences is certainly valid, and it suggests that readers of One of Ours might better focus on what Cather did right in the novel as opposed to what she might have done wrong.

While in the last three to four decades a number of Cather critics have argued that earlier condemnation of the war sections of One of Ours was based on a failure to discern Cather’s use of irony, many readers continue to be uncomfortable with this novel or to condemn those sections as an artistic failure. In his highly praised study of World War I, The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell argues that the discrepancy between the romanticized notions of war held by most of the young men who went off to war between 1914 and 1918 and the horrible reality of the war itself led to the development of an ironic sense of things that became fundamental to the modern consciousness. That the twentieth-century sense of irony has in many cases given way to a twenty-first-century skepticism or cynicism perhaps makes objective evaluation of One of Ours even more difficult.

Critical discussion of Cather’s account of Claude Wheeler’s life and death have centered on questions of aesthetic distance and sentimentality. The “problems” Cather faced in writing the novel were inherent in the actual story of G. P. Cather. Telling G.P.’s story involved creating a character that necessarily would be romantically and heroically inclined. Thus One of Ours has all the makings of what critics from H. L. Mencken to Stanley Cooperman and others would see as a bad twentieth-century war novel. The problem for readers who have panned Claude’s story is that it seems too good to be true; the problem for Willa Cather as writer, some might argue, was that G. P. Cather’s story was too good to be true and that Claude Wheeler’s story was, finally, too true to be good (see Mahoney).

G.P. and Willa Cather were markedly different personalities. Certainly, G.P.’s mind was no match for hers. For every one of her accomplishments, there was yet another of his failures. While from a young age Willa was intent upon getting on in the world, G.P. was often trying simply to get by in the world, a place that he, like his fictional counterpart Claude Wheeler, generally found “too rough a place to get about in” (One of Ours 210).G.P. Cather and Claude Wheeler, however, did seem to share one common fear with Willa Cather—that they might die in a cornfield in Nebraska (Willa Cather to Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, 27 June 1911, 20 April [1912]). Claude’s desperate sense that “there ought to be something,—well, something splendid about life sometimes” (79) clearly echoes both Willa and G.P. Cather’s notions that life should bring some sense of fulfillment. Willa Cather realized that dream with the pen, her cousin, so to speak, with the sword.

After enlistment and brief service in the U.S. Navy in 1908 and 1909, G.P. returned to Nebraska and married his longtime friend and confidante Myrtle Bartlett in 1910. As the marriage was deteriorating over the next few years, he continued to pursue his interests in hunting, did some farming, and then enrolled in the Nebraska National Guard. He served with General John J. Pershing’s troops in the Mexican Border War of 1916, became a member of the U.S. Army in April 1917, and then in September sailed out of Hoboken, New Jersey, to fight with Pershing “over there.” G.P. was one of the first of more than a million U.S. soldiers who ended up in France by mid-1918. That he would end up there, in retrospect, seems quite predictable.

G.P. was interested in the military from an early age. As a boy he loved hunting and playing with guns. In 1898, when the Spanish-American War seized the American imagination, the fifteen-year-old G.P. was corresponding with several of his Nebraska friends and acquaintances who were in the service and stationed in or fighting in locations in the United States, Cuba, and the Philippines. Hunting and riflery (for which he won medals in a number of events) continued to be major interests as G.P. moved into his twenties and early thirties. A third attempt at college (G.P.’s stay at the university in Lincoln had resulted in more disappointment), this time at Boyles College in Omaha, seems to have led to yet another mediocre performance and to more hardships for the now thirty-two-year-old G.P. By early 1916 he was living in a $1.25-a-week room and waiting tables at local restaurants and at the ymca cafeteria (G. P. Cather [gpc] to Frances Cather [fc], 26 March 1916, 7 May 1916). Seemingly unconcerned, he told his mother that if things didn’t work out in Omaha he “could still work for Uncle Sam” (12 March 1916). Shortly thereafter, he was.

In the military, during the Mexican expedition and in World War I, G.P., like Claude Wheeler, whose life had been “one blunder after another” (One of Ours 345), found a new sense of purpose and achievement. The United States, after remaining officially neutral regarding the war in Europe for almost three years, declared war on Germany and its allies in early April 1917. Among the papers in the George Cather Ray Collection at the University of Nebraska is a 26 April 1917 recommendation letter to the U.S. Army from G.P.’s commanding officer in the Fifth Nebraska Infantry, describing G.P. as “sober, industrious, and capable of command,” a man who “will prove himself an efficient officer.” Soon thereafter G.P. was in training at the army base at Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

He wrote his mother on 18 June that Fort Snelling is “one of the most intensive training camps that the Government has ever established. The officers themselves say that they are attempting the impossible, in an effort to turn out West Point Officers in three months. It can’t be done, but they are trying to come as near to the ideal as possible.” He reported in early August that he and the other officer candidates had been tested and graded in three areas: warrior tactics, military law, and personal aptitude. After the three grades had been added up, he was number 64 of 168 candidates competing for a position in the “New Army.” Commissioned a second lieutenant shortly thereafter, G.P., accompanied by his wife (unlike Claude Wheeler), made his way to Chicago and then to New York. In early September he had his picture taken in his new uniform, and the next day he sailed for Europe. He wrote his mother on 24 September that he had arrived in Liverpool the previous day and had taken a train to Southampton. He would take a Channel boat to France that night.

G. P. Cather’s initial experience in France must have been very much like that of most American soldiers—training. Although French officials, both political and military, had hoped that the U.S. troops would be available to plug holes in the decimated French army almost immediately after their arrival, their American counterparts, Wilson and Pershing, refused to pursue that course of action. Pershing, at Wilson’s command, insisted that U.S. troops would enter the action only after they were well trained and only in American units. The First Division, of which G.P. was a member, trained in the Sommerville sector in Lorraine beginning in October 1917, moved to relieve the First Moroccan Division in the Ansauville sector north of Toul in January 1918, and then was stationed near Montdidier in late April 1918. Several of G.P.’s letters home comment on that period of training. He wrote his mother on 15 December, “We are getting most thorough instruction as to how to play this new and severe game. It is changing everyone.” Two weeks later he noted that he was “still learning the war game.” By the end of three months, he had been “pretty much all over France,” had learned battle tactics, and had become familiar with various weapons (gpc to George Cather [gc], 30 December 1917). Major Theodore Roosevelt Jr., G.P.’s commanding officer, declared in his memoir of the war that by March 1918 his men were “veteran troops” (120). From this time, they were gradually inserted in actions at the front.

G.P. had a great sense of respect for Roosevelt, whom he refers to as “a fine man” (gpc to fc, 10 February 1918). He wrote his father, “Our major is of very prominent parentage. He is certainly making good. Our battalion is one of the best in the U.S. Army and we will certainly be heard from shortly” (20 March 1918). As an officer himself, G.P. was especially proud of his men. Claude Wheeler’s comments in One of Ours—that he “had worked with brave men” (593), “he commanded wonderful men” (597)—are not the contrived romantic phrases of a writer who knew nothing about war, but rather almost verbatim lines from G.P.’s letters home, which Willa Cather read in September 1918, during a visit with G.P.’s mother.

To his wife, G.P. reported in late March that while his unit had recently been in a support position, they were being shelled almost every day, though with few casualties. He returned to the front soon thereafter (27 March 1918), and in late April he notes that he and his men have come under heavy artillery fire, as well as poison gas attacks (gpc to gc, 24 April 1918). In a Mother’s Day letter to Frances Cather, G.P. writes, “It is hard for you folks over in the States to realize the conditions under which we are fighting” (12 May 1918). The same letter indicates G.P.’s pride in being a member of the AEF: “The Govt. movie man has taken us many times,” he remarks. “If you see any pictures of Pershing picked men look for me. I was there.” He would die two weeks later in the U.S. troops’ first major offensive engagement at Cantigny, which, though small in scale, did much to raise the morale of both French and American forces.

In “Getting Claude ‘Over There’: Sources for Book Four of Cather’s One of Ours,” I examined Cather’s use of sources in writing the portion of the novel titled “The Voyage of the Anchises,” in which she moves her hero from Hoboken, New Jersey, to France. Once Claude was in France, Cather brought together G. P. Cather’s actual experiences and her own from her 1902 and 1920 visits to France to create Claude Wheeler’s fictional experiences there. G. P. Cather said nothing in his letters home about his first sight of France; Willa Cather essentially took her recollections of her own landing at Dieppe in 1902 and made them Claude’s (cf. One of Ours 421–22 with Cather’s earlier description in Willa Cather in Europe 93–100). Claude, coming to France after almost three years of reading and hearing about the war, cannot help but think of it “as a country shattered and desolated,—‘bleeding France’” (422). But the sentiment about France attributed to Claude Wheeler as he approaches the French coast was no doubt Cather’s own, remembered from a decade and a half before: “he had never seen anything that looked so strong, so self-sufficient, so fixed from the first foundation, as the coast that rose before him. It was like a pillar of eternity. The ocean lay submissive at its feet, and over it was the great meekness of early morning” (422). As George Kates pointed out many years ago in his notes on Cather’s 1902 travel pieces (92–93), the feeling for France described here and subsequently in One of Ours reminds one of Harvey Merrick’s appreciation “for all that is chastened and old, and noble with tradition” (“The Sculptor’s Funeral” 180). That is what Cather loved about Europe, France in particular, and what Claude and many others saw themselves fighting for.

Although we can now trace the movements of G. P. Cather and the First Division in France, that information was not available to Willa Cather when she was working on the last section of One of Ours. In fact, her cousin’s letters, which Cather read in September 1918, are filled with indications of his anxiety that he might unintentionally reveal his location or other details that would compromise U.S. movements and activities. He always writes with the censors in mind, several times mentioning that he hopes what he has written will be acceptable to them. In a letter to his father he writes of courts-martial and adds, “There is no second chance over here. General Pershing means business, and when he gives an order he expects it to be obeyed” (30 December 1917).

Whether G.P. ever visited Rouen is questionable, but absence of comments in his letters would not have concerned Cather, whose own experiences, with some changes, again become those of Claude. Claude, who arrives on a cold, rainy day, sees Rouen as “that harsh Norman city,” “grey and shabby” (448–49). Whereas Cather in 1902 was awed by the interior of the city’s cathedral, with its “silence absolute and infinitely sweet,” “vested with a peace that passes understanding” (Willa Cather in Europe 100, 99), Claude mistakenly ends up in the church of St. Ouen, thinking that, because of its size, it must be the cathedral. Cather’s awe as well as consciousness of her own naïveté during her first visit to France no doubt played a role in her creating this scene, at the end of which Claude becomes the butt of his comrades’ joking.

Paris, of course, was the city every doughboy wanted to visit. G.P. spent one day there in January 1918, as his unit was being moved from place to place; Claude only dreams of visiting the great city. During her 1920 visit Willa Cather would spend almost four months there, with travel “for a couple of weeks in the devastated part of France” (Lewis 121), during which time she located and photographed G.P.’s grave at Villers Tournelle, near Cantigny. Much of France was, of course, terribly changed from what Cather had seen in 1902. While she did love Paris, what Cather had then found most fascinating about France was not its splendor but rather the landscape, the small towns and villages, and the people. Visiting the French Riviera in 1902, she criticized Monte Carlo’s “oppressive splendour” (Willa Cather in Europe 168). “There is nothing at all produced or manufactured there,” she declared, “and no life at all that takes hold upon the soil or grapples with the old conditions set for a people” (169). Daudet’s country around Arles, however, is described as a “pastoral district”; the wheat fields near Barbizon reminded her of the Nebraska divides, and “recalled not a little the country about Campbell and Bladen” (121–22). Certainly Claude’s journey “deeper and deeper into flowery France”—“Fields of wheat, fields of oats, fields of rye; all the low hills and rolling uplands clad with harvest” (446)—echoes Cather’s own 1902 journey and those Nebraska connections. While much of France along the western front had been devastated by the war and one might see another example of irony in this passage, it should be noted that the war, fortunately, took little toll on these areas.

Although G.P. Cather lacked the refined appreciation of French cultural achievement and the aesthetic sensibility of his famous cousin Willa, it is clear that he admired the French people. Writing his mother on 12 December 1917, he commented: “The French people stand up wonderfully under the strain of three and a half years of war. France has made a terrible sacrifice. She threw her millions of the best blood of France in the fight when there was no one to help. She stopped the German army when it was fresh and at its prime, a thing no other nation has done. France is a wonderful nation.”

The French people’s appreciation of the Americans was never more evident than in the celebrations in Paris on 4 July 1917, 4 July 1918, and 14 July 1919. Cather, who was in Paris for the 1920 celebration, notes the 1918 event specifically in One of Ours. In a conversation with Claude, Mademoiselle Olive calls the American troops’ arrival in France “the last miracle of this war” (514). “I was in Paris on the fourth day of July,” she says, “when your Marines, just from Belleau Wood, marched for your national fête, and I said to myself as they came on, ‘That is a new man!’ . . . Our people laughed and called to them and threw them flowers, but they never turned to look . . . eyes straight before. They passed like men of destiny” (514). Cather no doubt saw accounts of the event in one or more New York newspapers. The Times reported the 1918 celebration under the title “All Paris En Fete to Honor Fourth,” noting that thousands of French citizens had jammed the streets, windows, and roofs of Paris and had shouted themselves hoarse to celebrate American victories at Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood. The French government declared the day a national holiday and dedicated one of Paris’s main avenues as the Avenue du Président Wilson (“All Paris”).

Whereas G.P. Cather arrived in France in September 1917, trained for months, and did not see action until March 1918, Claude Wheeler arrives much later in the course of the war, after Belleau Wood and the 1918 Fourth of July celebration, and is killed not long thereafter. For Cather, who knew about the military or the lives of soldiers at war only through reading—G.P.’s letters, newspaper accounts, books, and memoirs—and from interviews with veterans, making Claude’s actual battle experience brief was an understandable and wise authorial decision.

Much of the material in the last section of the novel again reflects points raised in G. P. Cather’s letters. Pershing’s determination to have his men fight offensively in open warfare often put him at odds with the French commanders. The independence of the American soldiers, upon which this strategy was based, puzzled and concerned both their European allies and their enemies—as it had since the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution over a century and a half earlier. Some of the French instructors “don’t understand our ways,” G.P. wrote his father while in training in December 1917. “We are a different people all together then [sic] the European people. We are more of a free and independent people” (30 December 1917). “Many times,” Major Roosevelt would say in his memoir of the war, “real trouble was caused because the Americans did not understand what a part in French life politesse plays” (38). Of course, the French sometimes did not understand the Americans either. Roosevelt recounts his meeting with one woman who had probably never traveled farther than six to eight miles from her home. When she first heard the Americans were coming, he says, she ran away because she thought they would all be cowboys and Indians (42).

At the outset, G. P. Cather might not have seen the war as a “Great Crusade,” but he clearly did come to believe that it involved a cause and a people worth fighting for. In the letter he wrote his mother on the day he took the Channel boat from Southampton to France, he asserted, “The U.S. Public don’t realize what this war means. I haven’t got near the Front but I have seen the results of the Front” (24 September 1917). G.P. was, without a doubt, transformed by his journey to France. Having heard of his adventures and read his letters, Willa Cather wrote Dorothy Canfield Fisher that she was amazed that something so glorious could have happened to an ordinary fellow like her cousin ([8 March 1922]); in One of Ours she calls the war “the rough-necks’ own miracle” (413).

At the front, G.P. excelled as a leader of his men. Sergeant E. H. Prettyman, who served under G.P., wrote Frances Cather shortly after the war’s end that “there never was a better officer than him” (24 November 1918). In Average Americans, Roosevelt noted that in the course of battle G.P. and several other young lieutenants had taken control when the situation demanded it and had done so “in the finest shape possible” (145). As a result of actions he took just prior to his death, G.P. was cited for bravery, for having acted “with splendid courage and coolness.” The scene in One of Ours in which Claude is killed is based on this citation, noted in a 25 June 1918 New York Times article (“Major Roosevelt”). (G.P. was killed on the night of 28 May when he was struck in the chest by a piece of shrapnel during a German artillery attack.) At the end of One of Ours, Cather tells us that for Claude “the call was clear, the cause was glorious” (604). G.P.’s and Claude’s military experiences in France allowed them to do “something splendid,” to become the men they yearned to be. Cather’s description of this feeling clearly reflects Alan Seeger’s assertion that the war had given many men “that grand occasion to excel / That chance to live the life most free of stain / And that rare privilege of dying well” (170).

According to his great-nephew Larry Lindgren, G. P. Cather died “doing what he liked best, chasing wars!” (Faber 17). G.P.’s story did not end in the military cemetery at Villers Tournelle, France, however. His body was brought home from France in 1921 at the insistence of his wife, and very much against the wishes of his mother. On 3 May 1921 he was accorded a celebration befitting a hero, with a funeral service in the Bladen Opera House attended by more than two thousand people and burial in the nearby East Lawn Cemetery. According to the Bladen Enterprise, these events marked “the final chapter in the heroic career” of Lieutenant Cather (“Impressive”). The local American Legion post erected a headstone to make certain that the story of his “bravery and gallantry [would] be handed down through history.” That end, of course, would more notably be accomplished by Willa Cather’s fictionalized and rather controversial version of her cousin’s life.

How, then, should we assess Cather’s depiction of Claude Wheeler’s military experience in One of Ours? Cather admitted to Dorothy Canfield Fisher and others that the writing of “Claude” (her original title for the novel) became all-absorbing, a kind of wonderful obsession (see One of Ours 618). One might reasonably argue that such an obsession made it impossible for her to establish the aesthetic distance that would have enabled her to see Claude in a way that some contemporary critics and later readers would have preferred. The critical problem with evaluating this novel, however, hinges not only on Cather’s writing per se but also on a late-twentiethand early-twenty-firstcentury consciousness that has informed our ways of reading.

Contemporary skepticism and cynicism make it impossible for many current readers to acknowledge or accept any book on war that does not condemn it outright, does not see it in wholly negative terms. For most of those individuals who have been to war, that experience remains the most intense and the most significant of their lives. War—it has been called man’s most irrational act—is horrible. Whether or not one agrees with those who create wars—the politicians—men and women do go to war, fight, and die out of a sense of patriotism, honor, and duty, because of some sense of a higher truth or greater cause. Because war is horrible, some do become disillusioned with the experience; some are traumatized forever. Some, like G. P. Cather and Claude Wheeler, die before their illusions or ideals are destroyed.

Cather’s sense that “Claude” was “doomed” (Cather to Fisher [8 May 1922]) no doubt came out of a realization that her cousin’s and thus her protagonist’s lives were in a sense too good to be true. However, acceptance of H. L. Mencken’s assertion that all novels about World War I must be measured against Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers—that is, must reflect the same sense of irony or the same feeling of malaise that we see there—limits our ability to see Cather’s “war novel” (the critics’ term, not hers) objectively. While One of Ours is, in fact, filled with irony, it obviously still lacks, for some readers, this desired sense of malaise.

Undoubtedly defensive about some of the reviews of One of Ours, Cather would insist that the comments on the novel that meant the most to her were those of veterans who had read her book. For example, Charles Bayly of Minneapolis, who had been in France for more than three years, called the last section of the novel “the most perfect picture of the war I have read” (30 September 1922). In an 18 November 1922 letter, Thomas G. Cassady, also of Minneapolis, told Cather that he was amazed that she had depicted life in the trenches “with such accuracy and insight.” Wendell Phillips Bieser of New York City wrote that Cather’s description of the Yanks’ experience in Europe was “poignantly true,” and thanked Cather for “the truthful account of things as they really were in France” (17 October 1922).

“Truthfulness” is, perhaps, at the heart of the critical debate over the last section of One of Ours. Anyone who reads the novel Cather wrote can see that she was by no means naive about the war. On this note another of Mr. Bieser’s comments on the book may suggest an approach to establishing a reasonable perspective on book 5 of One of Ours. Having praised the truthfulness of Cather’s novel, he continued, “Ever since the Three Soldiers was published I have been hoping for someone who would appear with an adequate answer to the sourness and pessimism of John Dos Passos, for the Three Soldiers really isn’t true; it is only partially true[emphasis added]. There were so many boys who never found themselves until the War came.”

Some final thoughts, then, on One of Ours as a war novel. First, Willa Cather was quite proud of her cousin’s military record. Writing to her brother Roscoe after several American victories had helped turn back the last German offensive in mid-1918, she noted the glorious news from France and commented especially on G.P.’s citation for bravery, which, as mentioned previously, had recently appeared in the New York Times. Cather tells Roscoe that dozens of friends have called to ask whether G.P. was related to her (19 July [1918]). Second, Cather adamantly insisted in an interview that the novel was never intended to be a war story, but rather the story of “one red-headed prairie boy” (in Bohlke 39) who had desperately wanted “to find something splendid about life” (One of Ours 79) and had done so while training and fighting with the AEF in France.

Third, we should remember that Cather’s working title for the book was “Claude.” She referred to the book that way throughout its writing and even after its publication. It was only at the insistence of her friend Fanny Butcher and her publisher, Alfred Knopf, that she reluctantly agreed to “One of Ours.” Cather’s novel attempts to tell the story of one young man (though no doubt representative of many) who went off to World War I. Finally, her realization of the horror of war and her awareness of the ironies associated with this war are, in fact, obvious if one reads the novel Cather wrote. While Claude Wheeler may be naive about some of what he finds in his war experience, Willa Cather was not. Perhaps this point would have been more obvious to some readers had Cather retained her original epigraph and title for part 4 of One of Ours, “The Blameless Fool, by Pity Enlightened,” a reference to the youthful, idealistic hero of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal (Cather to Orrick Johns, 17 November 1922).

If, as Mencken claimed, all fiction about the war must be considered against or written in the manner of Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers, who was to tell the story of the G. P. Cathers, the Charles Baylys, the Thomas Cassadys, the Wendell Biesers, and all those soldiers who did not share Dos Passos’s view of the war? Are war stories that involve genuine heroic action simply not to be written because they might seem to smack of romanticism or idealism? Are stories about those whose lives have been transformed for the better by their military service simply to be ignored? Claude Wheeler dies “believing his own country better than it was, and France better than any country can ever be. And those were beautiful beliefs to die with” (One of Ours 604). While this comment suggests a sort of romantic sentimentality (though not necessarily Cather’s), it sounds similar to a statement made by one of Cather’s most critical contemporaries in the same year she began work on “Claude”: “how much better to die in all the happy period of undisillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered” (Baker 52). That was young Ernest Hemingway.

In World War I and the American Novel, Stanley Cooperman calls One of Ours a “naive picture” of the AEF soldier’s experience and declares that the novel “falls back upon the stereotypes of war rhetoric, the picture of clean-cut American boys marching to save the world” (30). Perhaps this notion of Claude Wheeler as stereotype provides a way of placing One of Ours in the context of the literature of World War I. A stereotype, of course, is an oversimplified generalization based partly on fact but mistakenly applied to a whole group or category of people. The problem with stereotypes is not that they lack factual basis but rather that broad generalizations derived from those facts are untrue or logically invalid. Is Claude Wheeler’s story any less true than that of Dos Passos’s John Andrews? Cooperman describes John Andrews as “an authentic historical type” (178), but is Claude Wheeler any less “authentic”? Claude Wheeler was no less “one of ours” than was John Andrews. As the poet Wallace Stevens suggested shortly before Cather’s novel was published, there is more than one way to look at a blackbird.


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