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Modernist Geographies

Space in the Fiction of Willa Cather, Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein
  • Willa Cather
  • Djuna Barnes
  • Gertrude Stein

Abstract

If an anthropologist were to consider late nineteenth-century American society, she would note the central role played by the organisation of space in that culture. The Victorian ‘female world of love and ritual’ praised by many feminists might well have had a radical edge, and it certainly allowed for a greater range of emotional expressiveness than stereotypes of nineteenth-century stuffiness would suggest; yet it was also a confined world of the interior, of sitting-rooms and parlours. It is a cliché, but also a truth, that nineteenth-century American literary culture associated the open spaces of a new country (frontier, sea, wilderness) with freedom, while female culture was locked within the home (often constructed, as in Huckleberry Finn, in terms of a tyrannical space ruled by womanly culture’s petty rules). Women themselves, of course, often explored the home as a site of emotional plenitude and a sentimental politics of renewal (as in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin). And historians such as Ann Douglas have pointed to the ‘feminisation’ of American society as these values gradually took on a wider resonance and importance. But a time was bound to come when women would want to break out, in their writings and their lives, from this relentless association between themselves and the home.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Willa Cather, Not under Forty (London: Cassell, 1936), p. v.Google Scholar
  2. Granville Hicks’s attack, ‘The Case against Willa Cather’ (1933), reprinted in Willa Cather and her Critics, ed. James Schroeter (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), pp. 139–47.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Randolph Bourne, ‘Trans-National America’, Atlantic Monthly, 118 (1916), pp. 86–97.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a reading of Cather that links her sense of nation and community to her sexuality (a rich source of comparison with Stein), see Christopher Nealon, ‘Affect-Genealogy: Feeling and Affiliation in Willa Cather’, American Literature, 69 (1997), pp. 5–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Donald Sutherland, ‘Willa Cather: the Classic Voice’, in The Art of Willa Cather, ed. Bernice Slote and Virginia Faulkner (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1974), pp. 156–79.Google Scholar
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  8. 6.
    Joseph Farrell, ‘Walcott’s Omeros: the Classical Epic in a Postmodern World’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 96 (1997), 247–73.Google Scholar
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    Willa Cather, interview with John Chapin Mosher in The Writer (November, 1926), reprinted in L. Brent Bohlke (ed.), Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches and Letters (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), p. 94.Google Scholar
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    Sharon O’Brien’s chapter, ‘Every Artist Makes Herself Born’, in Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 403–27Google Scholar
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    Willa Cather, On Writing, with a Foreword by Stephen Tennant (1949; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), pp. 30–2.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    One might, for example, contrast Cather’s comment to this: ‘I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged’ (Peter Brook, The Empty Space (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968), p. 9).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Guy Reynolds 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Willa Cather
  • Djuna Barnes
  • Gertrude Stein

There are no affiliations available

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