English, Department of


First Advisor

Melissa J. Homestead

Second Advisor

Andrew Jewell

Third Advisor

Beverley Rilett

Date of this Version

Summer 6-12-2018


Tebo, Jessica. "Letters from Olive Fremstad to Willa Cather: A View Beyond The Song of the Lark. " MA thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2018.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Melissa J. Homestead. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2018

Copyright (c) 2018 Jessica E. Tebo


In 1913, Willa Cather met opera-diva Olive Fremstad and the two formed a friendship that would span at least a decade. Fremstad has long been recognized as an inspiration for the character Thea Kronborg of Cather’s Song of the Lark (1915) but has not been portrayed as influential in any other aspects to Cather’s career. Letters sent by Fremstad to Cather have recently been located, and they reveal an ongoing and interdisciplinary dialogue between the two women that negotiates issues surrounding art and professionalism. I locate these letters within the broader context of Cather’s public and fictional statements about art during this period and find evidence of Fremstad’s influence, particularly in the concept of performative selves as an integral part of the artist’s identity and praxis. Furthermore, this relationship challenges the pervasive mythos of Cather as an isolated artist torn between considerations of commercialism and high art. By considering Cather’s relationship with Fremstad and its ensuing dialogue, I have found that Cather began her career as a professional novelist fully aware and capable of reconciling the supposed tension between her art, personal life, and commercial acumen. Cather wrote the opera stories collected in Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920) throughout this period and reveal her development of an ideology engaged with feminine vitality as a means for producing art.

Advisor: Melissa J. Homestead