Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2010


Great Plains Quarterly 30:3 (Spring 2010).


Copyright © 2010 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


The Great Plains launched Willa Cather's career. Her multilayered imagining of frontier folk in O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918) placed the region-and the noveliston the literary map. In 1920, Youth and the Bright Medusa combined recent urban stories" Coming, Aphrodite!," "The Diamond Mine," ''A Gold Slipper," "Scandal"-with four stories from 1905's Troll Garden anthology-"Paul's Case," "A Wagner Matinee," "The Sculptor's Funeral," and "'A Death in the Desert.'" Youth and the Bright Medusa explores dilemmas arising from pursuit of the shining Medusa of art. Can pure art reconcile with commercial acceptance? Will a singer survive her parasitic entourage? Who controls celebrity image? The final three stories add a geographical dimension to artistic tensions as they unflinchingly juxtapose provincial West with cosmopolitan East: a Nebraska homesteader agonizingly reconnects with Boston's music scene; a deceased sculptor is returned to his barren Kansas hometown; a consumptive diva combats isolation on Wyoming's High Plains. Cather's collection, with its celebration of urban settings and unflattering portrayals of Plains life, seems almost to abandon admiration of western landscapes.