Literary history has simultaneously idolized and dismissed Willa Cather (l873 - l947) as a nostalgic saint of the lost West. Recent textual and biographical scholarship has fortunately revised these anti-feminist and anti-aesthetic views. The "new" Cather is sleeker and styled along Art Deco lines, a modernist rather than a Victorian, a Greenwich Village denizen rather than Nebraska pioneer.
This course will pair key Cather texts spanning her career and genre experiments with texts by select contemporaries, in order to reveal their artistic and philosophical affinities. Sample pairs include "The Troll Garden" with Edith Wharton; "Alexander's Bridge" with Henry James; "My Antonia" with Sarah Orne Jewett; "The Professor's House" with Faulkner; "Death Comes for the Archbishop" with Mary Austin; "Sapphira and the Slave Girl" with Toni Morrison. Cather's criticism, reviews, and travel writings will also be read in tandem with subjects ranging from Stephen Crane to Mary Baker Eddy.
The seminar will be structured by a series of short papers critiquing each pair of texts, wide-ranging discussion incorporating trends in painting and the arts; and a final project inquiring into another contemporary (e.g. Georgia O'Keeffe, T.S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Ellen Glasgow, Sherwood Anderson, Virginia Woolf) or another Cather text (e.g. "One of Ours," "A Lost Lady," "Shadows on the Rock," "Lucy Gayheart").