Vanity Fair on Cather (1927)

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Another portrait by Steichen was published in Vanity Fair magazine in 1927, accompanied by the fascinating blurb below.  Recall that it wasn’t until 1926 that Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises, his first big success, so that at this point in literary history, the appreciation of “spare, muscular prose” had not yet been usurped by the mystique of machismo – and a woman writer could be praised for her transparency of style and her economy of expression.

An American Pioneer – Willa Cather
The Noted Novelist Has Just Completed Her New Work “Death Comes for the Archbishop”

Since the publication in 1915 of The Song of the Lark, each new story by Willa Cather has won an increasing recognition as a picture and an evaluation of the American landscape. Today, after twenty-four years of scrupulous craftsmanship, she is the heir apparent to Edith Wharton’s lonely eminence among America’s women novelists. Her contradictory avocations include landlord-farming in Nevada and a one-time editorship on McClure’s Magazine. Daughter of pioneers, graduate of a prairie farm and the University of Nebraska, her position in American letters is an absolute one by right of sheer artistic stature, beyond the categories of literary schools or genres. She writes in a way that seems utterly transparent and forthright but that conceals in its overtones a vast and subtle interplay of ironical intelligence. The depth and variety of her understanding is implicit in a swift, muscular style, wrought with an economy that discovers the inevitable word and the inevitable idea. No one else has so well expressed the new philosophy, the urge “to live out our potentialities” because no other novelist has so deeply felt the need of it, yet so vividly seen that such a philosophy should not make a break with our past but an enrichment. Miss Cather’s intellectual roots go deep into the soil of early America yet her spare beautiful style has the poise and elegance inherent in the great tradition of English prose.

2 thoughts on “Vanity Fair on Cather (1927)

  1. I just read Cather’s story “A Wagner Matinee” and like it a lot. I’m reading a bunch of “realist” American fiction for a seminar and Cather seems the most straightforward, one of those who does not flaunt her knowledge of the language and distract with flourishes … I found her story the one of the bunch I’ve read so far that got me emotionally involved with the characters. I think having just read “My Antonia” helped too…


    __________________________________________ Elisa Campbell


    • Elisa: Thanks for the reference. I’ve found a copy of “A Wagner Matinee” online and will make a PDF available. (If you click on this red link text, you’ll go to a page from which you can download and read the story.)… The whole question of “American realist” fiction is most intriguing – especially after all our readings of classic British literature from the 18th and 19th centuries. Have you read any Sinclair Lewis so far? It’s been ages since I have – I think the last I read was Babbitt (1922). Wonder how he’s regarded these days. – Tom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s