A masterful study by a preeminent scholar that situates Cather as a visionary practitioner of literary modernism
Willa Cather is often pegged as a regionalist, a feminine and domestic writer, or a social realist. In Cather Among the Moderns, Janis P. Stout firmly situates Cather as a visionary practitioner of literary modernism, something other scholars have hinted at but rarely affirmed. Stout presents Cather on a large, dramatic stage among a sizable cast of characters and against a brightly lit social and historical backdrop, invoking numerous figures and instances from the broad movement in the arts and culture that we call modernism.
Early on, Stout addresses the matter of gender. The term “cross-dresser” has often been applied to Cather, but Stout sees Cather’s identity as fractured or ambiguous, a reading that links her firmly to early twentieth-century modernity. Later chapters take up topics of significance both to Cather and to twentieth-century American modernists, including shifting gender roles, World War I’s devastation of social and artistic norms, and strains in racial relations. She explores Cather’s links to a small group of modernists who, after the war, embraced life in New Mexico, a destination of choice for many artists, and which led to two of Cather’s most fully realized modernist novels, The Professor’s House and Death Comes for the Archbishop.
The last chapter addresses Cather’s place within modernism. Stout first places her in relation to Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot with their shared ties to tradition even while making, sometimes startling, innovations in literary form, then showing parallels with William Faulkner with respect to economic disparity and social injustice.
Janis P. Stout is professor of English emerita at Texas A&M University. She is the author of South by Southwest: Katherine Anne Porter and the Burden of Texas History,Picturing a Different West: Vision, Illustration, and the Tradition of Cather and Austin,Coming Out of War: Poetry, Grieving, and the Culture of the World Wars, and Willa Cather: The Writer and Her World. She is also coeditor of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather.
“Many scholars—among them Jo Ann Middleton in Willa Cather’s Modernism and Rick Middleton in various writings—have convincingly argued that certain fictions by Willa Cather (1873–1947) exhibit many of the traits usually associated with modernist art of the early 20th century: experimentation with form, disruption of conventional ways of seeing “reality,” and a questioning of traditional morals, values, and societal structures. Stout seeks not only to expand this list to include other Cather works—O Pioneers!, A Lost Lady, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and Shadows on the Rock—but also to demonstrate that Cather herself was ‘modern’ (synonymous with 'progressive' and 'liberal') in her actions and attitudes, and thus should be seen as closely akin to her American modernist writer contemporaries. Stout offers a number of persuasive arguments concerning Cather’s modernist literary techniques but does not present sufficient evidence to dispel the prevailing understanding of Cather as a person who (except in the case of exploring alternative roles for women) held rather conventional views for her time, and neither actively engaged in the types of activities nor adhered to the same types of liberal beliefs that most modernist American writers did.” —CHOICE
“Cather Among the Moderns offers a considerable contribution to Willa Cather studies, demonstrating exemplary scholarship in blending close literary analysis with historical and biographical insights.” —Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature
“Cather Among the Moderns is a major contribution to the field of Cather scholarship. It will immediately be a touchstone for anyone working on Cather; with its groundbreaking study of the relationships between Cather and a range of other authors and their works, from Dorothy Canfield Fisher to Virginia Woolf and Robert Frost, it will also serve as a wonderful resource for future studies. Further, it helps us understand literary modernism, and modernism itself, in deeper and more nuanced ways.” —Julie Olin-Ammentorp, author of Edith Wharton’s Writings from the Great War and a member of the Board of Governors of the Willa Cather Foundation