Read Willa Cather: Double Lives by Hermione Lee Free Online
Book Title: Willa Cather: Double Lives|
The author of the book: Hermione Lee
The size of the: 25.11 MB
City - Country: No data
Date of issue: November 5th 1991
ISBN 13: 9780679736493
Format files: PDF
Loaded: 2138 times
Reader ratings: 7.8
Read full description of the books:
A responsible but disappointing study. I had read all but one of the novels and many of the short stories, and wanted a biography. Unfortunately, despite the title, much of this volume is taken up with essays on the works, of varying quality. My objections:
• In the spirit of feminist criticism, activities and styles are regularly described as "male" and "female." It's hard to argue with some of these categories: sure, cooking has usually been done by women. But what critical insight is reached by pointing that out? Other times, especially in discussions of literary styles, the dichotomy reifies a difference that may not exist, or that may be one difference among many. Often the dichotomy simply paints the world in black and white only to point out contrasts that would not have been conspicuous had she (we) taken for granted that reality is complicated.
• Lee throws around the word "pastoral" so freely that it hardly seems to mean anything. I kept thinking, "Read Virgil's Eclogues and Paul Alpert's What Is Pastoral?!" and felt pedantic for doing so. What are the hallmarks of pastoral? Perhaps shepherds are dispensable, but the important thing is that sheepherding leaves Tityrus & company plenty of time for song contests, which makes pastoral the ideal meta-literary genre. Effort plays no role in the proceedings, which makes it very very different from Cather's prairie novels. Next, for all the descriptions of bowls of foaming cream, sheaves of wheat, and trees full of fruit, the shepherds hope for peace and are threatened by dispossession. These offstage dangers are again very different from what one finds in Cather's novels, where the hardships are very much in the foreground. And so on.
Lee does have a short critical discussion in which she distinguishes between "soft" pastoral and "hard" pastoral (ie, georgic, not pastoral at all), but that doesn't stop her from being careless. Too often the word seems to mean something, but closer inspection reveals that it means little more than that the novels are set in the country.
Lee rightly emphasizes the melancholy and the "vespertinal" quality of Cather's novels, and these are arguably characteristics of pastoral as well, but the sources of melancholy are not the same, and differences seem to outweigh the similarities.
• Finally, Cather's favorite novels are not my favorite novels. I know it seems capricious to condemn a book for this reason, but it was a bitter disappointment to read, in a study that was intended (I believe) to launch Cather in Britain, a grotesque overestimation of (to my mind) Cather's worst novel, My Antonia, and a polite condemnation of her best novel, Lucy Gayheart. I do believe that Cather's second-rate reputation can be attributed to all the praise showered on My Antonia: people read it, shrug their shoulders, and move on. Lee also underrates One of Ours, and she begins her discussion of it, unfairly, by quoting all the negative contemporary reviews and tacitly endorsing them. Nowhere does she mention that the magnificent first two thirds of the novel take place before Claude ever sees a battlefield, carefully and delicately building a character to whom, for all sorts of personal reasons that have nothing to do with world history, war seems like the perfect solution. Claude is idealistic about the war, and Cather manages to make his idealism sympathetic (and entirely in character) without endorsing it. Lee makes it sound like a work of simple-minded jingoistic patriotism.
The book is written in a pleasant, straight-forward style, and Cather fans will learn plenty (but not enough!) about the author's life. Someday I would like to read a real biography of Willa Cather. I look forward to reading Lee's biographies of Woolf and Wharton; by then, I think, Lee had come to think of herself as a biographer no less than a critic, and luckily Woolf and Wharton left behind veritable archives of letters, journals, and drafts, unlike Cather, who burned everything.
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Read information about the authorHermione Lee grew up in London and was educated at Oxford. She began her academic career as a lecturer at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va (Instructor, 1970-1971) and at Liverpool University (Lecturer, 1971-1977). She taught at the University of York from 1977, where over twenty years she was Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor of English Literature. From 1998-2008 she was the Goldsmiths' Chair of English Literature and Fellow of New College at the University of Oxford. In 2008 Lee was elected President of Wolfson College, University of Oxford.
Lee is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's and St Cross Colleges, Oxford. She has Honorary Doctorates from Liverpool and York Universities. In 2003 she was made a Commander of the British Empire for Services to Literature.
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