Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 158-159
This compilation of twenty-three essays proves that contemporary scholarship has moved beyond trite debates about Cather's alleged propensity to romanticize violence. Accordingly, the volume's editors have assembled a series of nuanced readings that reconsider Willa Cather's artistic uses of violence as well as her appropriations of various art forms before the backdrop of World War I, modernist aesthetics, Nativism, and 1920s feminism. Approaching their subject through the lenses of biographical, historical, aesthetic, psychoanalytical, and gender criticism, the contributors paint Cather as a sometimes generous, sometimes severe critic of American culture, whose insistence on the inescapability of violence is attended by a heightened awareness of the preciousness of life. Joseph R. Urgo makes this point explicitly in his introduction, arguing that Cather's works embody an "existential terror" and "display the ways in which intimate knowledge of sudden death may enrich our lives."
Part 1 consists of eleven essays that explore the sources and functions of violence in Cather's oeuvre by focusing on representations of war, family life, child abuse, suicide, and the settlement of the West. Among this section's more noteworthy pieces is Richard C. Harris's "Over There from Over Here," which considers Cather's Pulitzer Prize-winning World War I novel, One of Ours, from the perspectives of both the "authorial" and the "actual audience," concluding that the names of places themselves sufficed to conjure up images of terror in the minds of a postwar readership. In "Violence in Cather's Picture of the West," another valuable contribution, Janis P. Stout reads novels such as Death Comes for the Archbishop as revisionist histories of the Great Plains and the Southwest that foreground natural violence at the expense of depicting Anglo violence.