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Katherine Mansfield, she remarks, has ‘a powerful slightness.’ How excellent the phrase!When Miss Cather says that a second rate writer can be defined, but one first-rate can only be experienced, she codifies a law of universal criticism.Queer refers to both the specific sexuality of Cather; it is also used as a transitive verb to describe the writer’s interrogation and disruption of the broader culture, as in “Queering America.” It has a very specific literary-historical import when Lindemann says of “Tom Outland’s story” that it represents “Cather’s queering in the sense of critique and revision of the American classic as the tale of a free boy’s adventures” (103).
To Miss Cather we are already indebted for a distillation of Miss Jewett’s stories, wrought with a precision unknown elsewhere in American Letters. How handsome Miss Jewett looked in those days, the epitome of New England inheritance, a little formal, not free from self-consciousness, but a work of art quite as truly as her stories are a work of nature.
Slighter papers make up the volume, illuminated by flashed of intuitive understanding.
Lindemman’s impressive s tudy entwines textual criticism with a theoretical discourse derived from cultural studies and nascent queer studies.
One of the most important features of the book is its self-consciously decentered format, as Lindemann weaves together a range of critical discourses: close readings of Cather’s correspondence; neo-Foucauldian cultural history; deconstructions of canon formation and literary nationalism; and attentive textual criticism.
There are slippages of meaning, moments when argumentative logic is lost, elided or blurred.
Critical Essays On Willa Cather
Lindemann is fond of oppositions wh ere the queer is said to resist or critique the straight; but the rhetorical force of these oppositions sometimes masks a lack of specificity.The formless prairie, the sandy sluggish streams, the windy landscape, and the wind-blown people formed a background at once too ample and too inchoate for her fancy.One knows instinctively that she was never happy till she escaped to the land she has made her own, a land of quiet where manners are made by tradition and the spirit never escapes from the mould which defines its excellence.The most delightful of her essays is that in which she approaches the greatest of her gods, Flaubert, whose clairvoyance means hardly more to her than his intolerance of imperfection.Rather than to presume to stand directly before his altar, she makes her oblation vicariously, sitting at the feet of his niece, Madame Franklin Grout, the Caro of the They met by merest chance, but to sit beside one who had held an immortal hand was thrilling to Miss Cather, and the electricity of that touch lights the chapter.Lindemann addresses a subject that has steadily achieved significance in Cather studies: her lesbian identity.Sharon O’Brien addressed sexuality in her 1987 biography, Willa Cather: the Emerging Voice; but Lindemann’s work is the first major account to enmesh textuality and sexuality across Cather’s full career.To anyone who, in those ancient days, walked up the carpeted stairs, past keepsakes and mementoes, tall octavos of Dryden, Donne, and Herbert, turning right through the long quiet parlor to draw a chair beside the sofa where, in lace cap and rustling silk, Mrs.Fields lay under the portrait of Dickens, - not yet cynical and bearded, but in his twenties and glowing in the confidence of genius, - Miss Cather’s memories stir a thousand others.Joseph Urgo’s Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration (1995) and my own Willa Cather in Context (1996) uncovered a Cather attuned to a progressive, even liberal agenda: a writer fascinated by otherness and a postmodern sense of mobility.Marilee Lindemann’s Willa Cather: Queering America widens this progressive school.