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During the pivotal years of Willa Cather's artistic development, she regularly engaged a variety of American arts communities that encouraged, challenged, and influenced her work and professional growth. Her interactions with these communities were an effort to locate a sustainable, meaningful relationship to her fellow artists. This dissertation explores her efforts by analyzing the character of the communities, chronicling Cather’s involvement within them, and interpreting the impact on Cather’s life and work.
After the Introduction, the chapters are organized to follow Cather as she experimented with various communal forms and developed her own relationship to the literary scene. Chapter one explores Cather's relationship with Annie Adams Fields and the circle that gathered around Fields's Boston home. Fields, who was Cather’s ideal of the literary hostess, demonstrated the power a community could have on an artist's work and engaged Cather's imagination as a representative of the American literary past. Chapter two investigates Cather's experience in Greenwich Village during the early twentieth century, a time when the neighborhood was popularly known as the home of political and artistic radicals. Cather's comments about the Village, particularly in her story "Coming, Aphrodite!," demonstrate her efforts to counter the Village's popular identity and define her own role within the community. In chapter three, I look at Cather's involvement in three formal artists' colonies: the Bread Loaf School of English, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s colony, and the MacDowell Colony. Her involvement with and eventual rejection of these colonies suggests Cather’s growing awareness of her own creative needs and worth as a legitimate artist. The final chapter details the most profound artistic relationships of Cather's life, the intimate circle of her friends and fellow writers. Examination of her professional exchanges with Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, and Edith Lewis reveals that Cather frequently relied on the encouragement and suggestions of these women while creating her work.
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