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Thesis (M.A.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln, 1949. Department of English.


Copyright 1949, the author. Used by permission.


Because these five books (O Pioneers, The Song of the Lark, My Antonia, One of Ours, and A Lost Lady) form the basis of Miss Cather’s work and reputation, the period of her life in which she formed the impressions upon which they are based is naturally of interest; and the purpose of this study is a consideration of a part of that period—the time which she devoted to her education at the University of Nebraska. It is restricted, except for incidental references, to a period from September, 1890, when Miss Cather first went to Lincoln, Nebraska, to the summer of 1896, when she left Nebraska to make her home permanently in the East. My purpose has been biographical and bibliographical, and I have made in no sense a critical study. I have attempted to form a complete impression of Miss Cather in those years and to locate all the writings which may be definitely identified as hers during that period.

In this study all accounts of her activities are based on records still in existence; impressions of her are confined to actual statements made to me, orally or in writing, by persons who knew her at the time under consideration; and writings listed as hers are only those which have been unquestionably identified as such. The result is, I hope, a reasonably complete factual picture of Willa Cather in her college years.

I have not included copies of her writings during this period, but have listed them by reference, with short descriptive elements. Complete copies of all letters used are included in the Appendix.

Most of the published biographical writing about Willa Cather has tended to minimize, or ignore completely, her college years. The reason for this is not apparent, unless it might be that it interferes with the popular concept of her in her early years, as a sort of wild girl of the West, riding across the prairies, and listening open-mouthed to the tales of the immigrant settlers. Nothing could be further from a true picture of the young Willa Cather. Actually, she was an unusually able and talented young woman who was remarkably sophisticated in intellectual and artistic matters.

She spent five busy years at the University of Nebraska, in constant association with an unusually accomplished group of people, working, learning, writing, and displaying always an intense intellectual curiosity. It is not surprising that she was able, from the time of her graduation, to live independently by her writing and editorial work. The purpose of this thesis will have been served if the facts it presents help to dispel mistaken impressions of Willa Cather, and to show a young woman who, understandably, became one of America’s most eminent novelists.

Advisor: L. C. Wimberly