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Transplanting the novel of manners to American soil: Willa Cather and the democratization of manners

Jennifer L Bradley, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The dissertation examines the integral role manners played in Willa Cather's life and fiction. She simultaneously longed for and distrusted the social polish of proper manners. Cather understood the centrality of manners to human relationships, but she also recognized their potential to damage and silence. ^ The first chapter introduces Cather's life-long engagement with manners. The second and third chapters examine Cather's childhood scrapbook and her work as managing editor of the Home Monthly, to identify the prescriptive and conflicting nature of Cather's early interaction with manners. In The Song of the Lark, the focus of the fourth chapter, Cather addresses manners directly by rewriting the traditional novel of manners, subverting the marriage plot and creating an independent and talented heroine who can learn, interpret, critique, and transform manners to create her own code of behavior. In My Antonia, the subject of the fifth chapter, Cather fully democratizes manners, by inserting the silenced narrative of the hired girls, to produce the American novel of manners. Chapter six presents A Lost Lady as a postscript to Cather's American novel of manners, exploring what happens when society begins to disintegrate and manners no longer have a foundation to support them. The seventh chapter outlines Cather's continued engagement with manners in her later novels. ^ After working within the commercial construct of manners in her scrapbook and at the Home Monthly, Cather democratizes manners by rewriting the traditional novel of manners in The Song of the Lark and then creating her own American novel of manners in My Antonia , a version that included both broader opportunities for women and direct participation by all members of society. In A Lost Lady, her postscript to the American novel of manners, Cather points to the redefinition of manners in commercial terms and explores what happens when manners no longer have the society to support them. ^

Subject Area

Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Bradley, Jennifer L, "Transplanting the novel of manners to American soil: Willa Cather and the democratization of manners" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3064556.