3. the troll gardentemptations of art - Masaryk University by linxiaoqin


									              Masaryk University
               Faculty of Arts

           Department of English
           and American Studies

     English Language and Literature

                Veronika Slováčková

The Role of Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction
           Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

     Supervisor: Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, Ph.D.
               I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.

                                                Veronika Slováčková
 I would like to thank my supervisor Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, Ph.D. for her valuable advice
and comments. I would also like to thank my family and friends for providing priceless moral
                                                               support and encouragement.

1.     INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................................... 1

     1.1     Willa Cather’s Life and Her First Experience with Music ................................ 2

     1.2     Willa Cather’s Aesthetic Theories ..................................................................... 8

     1.3     Willa Cather’s Use of Music in Her Short Stories and Novels ........................ 11

2.     THE EARLY UNCOLLECTED STORIES: MUSIC LOST .................................. 15

     2.1     “Peter:” Defeated ............................................................................................. 16

     2.2     “Eric Hermannson’s Soul:” Unresolved .......................................................... 18

3.     THE TROLL GARDEN: TEMPTATIONS OF ART ............................................... 22

     3.1     “A Wagner Matinee:” Anguished .................................................................... 23

     3.2     “The Garden Lodge:” Resisted ........................................................................ 26


     4.1     The Song of the Lark: The Kingdom of Art within Reach ............................... 35

     4.2     Lucy Gayheart: The Kingdom of Art Inaccessible .......................................... 43

5.     CONCLUSION ....................................................................................................... 50

6.     WORKS CITED ...................................................................................................... 53

7.     RESUMÉ ................................................................................................................. 57

The aim of this thesis is to discuss the importance of music in Willa Cather’s fiction and

analyze the ways in which Cather employs music for her literary purposes. As Cather

devoted a considerable proportion of her interest to art, to music and musicians in

particular, it becomes evident that music is not a mere ornament of her fiction. Although

it can be said that music in her works usually serves higher purposes, generally to

express Cather’s views and beliefs, it is music’s special nature that enables Cather to do

so. Music functions as a very distinctive medium of emotions which are sometimes

rather difficult to be conveyed in words. From this point of view, Cather is capable of

capturing the inner conflict and development of her characters with the help of music

more delicately and effectively. Throughout all her writings Cather occupies herself

with characters who struggle. While the pioneers struggle with the physical conditions

of the prairies and feelings of exile, the artists struggle for success and with feelings of

isolation. In all the cases mentioned in this thesis, apart from one, music serves as a

means that brings about a certain kind of awakening or that bridges reality with desired

places, desired states of mind and accomplishments. However, in the last novel

analyzed, Lucy Gayheart, Cather goes beyond this. Here, music brings knowledge and

understanding of life. The meaning of music in human life is diminished and the

importance of living itself is put forward.

   The first chapter with its three subchapters is designed as a theoretical part of the

thesis. The first subchapter deals with Cather’s artistic growth and its connection to

music, the second focuses on Cather’s aesthetic theories established during her

apprenticeship within her journalistic writing, and the third contains a short summary of

the ways Cather makes use of music in the works I have chosen for the analysis. The

importance of the first two subchapters consists in the fact that all of these aspects are to

a certain extent reflected in Cather’s fiction and thus form the basis of Cather’s thematic

choice in her short stories and novels. The second, third and fourth chapter of the thesis

each analyzes either two short stories or two novels and draws parallels and distinctions

between those two in question.

      In order to support my analysis dealing with Cather’s fiction I worked, next to the

chosen four short stories and two novels, also with one more kind of primary sources

and two types of secondary sources. The category of other primary sources includes

Cather’s journalistic writing such as her dramatic columns published originally in the

Nebraska State Journal or the Courier, Cather’s columns and writings edited by other

people such as The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles and Critical

Statements 1893-1896 edited partially by Cather and partially by Bernice Slote, The

World and the Parish: Willa Cather’s Articles and Reviews, 1893-1902 edited by

William M. Curtin, or other materials such as Willa Cather in Person: Interviews,

Speeches, and Letters edited by L. Brent Bohlke. Among the secondary sources used

are biographies of Cather and scholarly books, journals and essays.

1.1     Willa Cather’s Life and Her First Experience with Music

In order to better comprehend Willa Cather’s artistic growth and maturation, her

approach to art, and how these were reflected in her work, it is necessary to draw on the

places she lived at, the experience she gained and the people she encountered during her

life. Born with an exceptional talent, Willa Cather’s lifelong journey towards artistic

fulfilment started in Back Creek Valley, Virginia where she was born in 1873. As E. K

Brown claims in Willa Cather: A Critical Biography, it was a place where the farming

community was “homogenous [and] somewhat humdrum.” Unlike dull Virginia, Red

Cloud in Nebraska where Cather moved with her parents ten years later, was

“tumultuous polyglot mass of pioneer life on farms” (vi) abounding with various

cultures of the European-American immigrants and Native Americans. Building on

Cather’s own accounts of the shift from Virginia to Nebraska, Brown suggests that the

“imaginative and emotional response” (vi) she experienced “gave her an awareness of

her differentness from others, her individuality” (vii). According to Edith Lewis, a close

friend and long-standing companion, this was the time when Cather’s “another self had

already begun in her” (28). Moreover, she points out that it was probably her

“extraordinary sensitiveness to people – her intense curiosity about them [and] the depth

of her response to them” (Lewis 23, 24) that was the greatest indication of her artistic

potential. In Cather’s view, as she observes in The Song of the Lark, “Every artist makes

himself born” (175). Similarly to Thea Kronborg in Moonstone, Cather in Nebraska was

just at the beginning of the laborious and “painful process” (Lewis 28) of becoming an

artist. However, she was not aware of her artistic vocation until the point when she

entered the University of Nebraska and her class theme essay on Thomas Carlyle was

published in the Nebraska State Journal in 1891 (Lewis 31). This primary impulse was

like a spark which ignited Cather’s professional career in journalism and later on as a

writer, because it marked the commencement of Cather’s “conscious expression”

(Lewis 32).

   As Marion Fay mentions in her essay, Cather actively occupied herself with music

from an early age. However, her piano classes did not result in much technical

knowledge as she was more interested in her teacher’s stories and playing rather than in

spending long hours practicing the piano. It was Professor Schindelmeisser, a drifter of

German origin, who served as a model for Professor Wunsch, Thea’s first piano teacher.

(Fay 28). Nevertheless, the deficiency of practical skills did not deprive Cather of “a

very sure intuition of the qualities of music – both its aesthetic and, so to speak, its

moral qualities; its sincerity, or the lack of it, its elevation or vulgarity” (Lewis 48).

Throughout all her life, Cather took particular pleasure in attending stage plays, various

operatic performances and concerts of instrumental music. As Lawrence Kramer, a

leading cultural theorist and musicologist, claims in Why Classical Music Still Matters,

classical music possesses the capacity to “stimulate imagination and speculative

energies while it sharpens senses and quickens [the] sense of experience” (5). This

conception strikingly resonates with Lewis’s opinion when pointing out that music was

not for Cather merely “an intellectual interest” but rather “an emotional experience”

(47), which enabled her to work with her ideas more easily and produced a special

connection between her thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, Lewis points out the extent

to which “musical forms influenced [Cather’s] composition, and how her style, her

beauty of cadence and rhythm, were the results of a sort of transposed musical feeling

[…]” (48).

   As early as in 1885, when the Red Cloud Opera House was built, Cather began

attending theatrical performances which were of great importance to her initiation into

the world of art. Having moved to Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, where Cather

started her studies at the local university, she was provided with an opportunity to see

many excellent plays and performers as in Lincoln there were two luxurious theatres. It

was also at this time when Cather took up a course in journalism at the Nebraska State

Journal, writing literary and dramatic criticism. The fact that Cather could go to see the

performances in person was of a considerable help to her and owing to her

uncompromising criticism, her person and dramatic column soon became a matter for

discussion among professional theatrical community of the West (Lewis 37). In 1915

the Lincoln Daily Star published Cather’s view on talent and art where she “makes the

comparison between learning to write and learning to play the piano. If there is no talent

to begin with, the struggler can never become an artist. But no matter what talent is, the

writer must spend hours and years of practice in writing just as the musician must

drudge at his scales” (Lincoln Daily Star). Setting out on her literary path, Cather

worked hard. Still as a college student, she worked long hours so that she could finish

her tasks for the Journal in time. However, Cather’s apprenticeship was just at its

beginning and a long way of struggle and striving was ahead of her. Yet, she was able to

find some time to write her own pieces of literature and her first short story “Peter” was

published in a Boston literary weekly in 1892. Having graduated from the University of

Nebraska, Cather travelled to Chicago to see the Metropolitan Opera for a week where

her passionate love of opera was actuated (Brown). When Cather was offered an

editor’s post in Pittsburgh in 1896, she grasped the opportunity to leave Lincoln

(Woodress, Willa Cather: Her Life and Art 75).

   Cather’s departure for Pittsburgh did not mean just to be capable of earning her

living, it was more to her – “the freedom to spend one’s youth as one pleased” (Brown

76). At first, she got a job for the Home Monthly which she soon left for the Pittsburgh

Daily Leader to start again her dramatic criticism. Attending plays, concerts and

Wagnerian operas at the newly opened Carnegie Hall and at the opera was the only

escape for her from the travail at work. She did not focus on musical criticism though,

rather, she used her aesthetic talent to size up the “voices, personalities, dramatic

interpretation” (Lewis 47). In addition to the fact that Cather’s musical taste was shaped

by refined performances, Cather was also introduced into society of mature artists,

which later on turned out to be a valuable source of inspiration for her short stories and

novels. Making acquaintance with a number of accomplished singers and musicians, she

gained an important insight into the realm of artistic devotion, which was of a

considerable significance to her. Cather’s aesthetic philosophy and theories, therefore,

stem from her personal experience.

   The last step before fully pursuing her artistic career was accepting a job at

McClure’s in New York, which was “one of the United States’s most successful and

popular literary magazines and muckraking journals” (The Willa Cather Foundation).

Now that the pace of her life slowed down for a little bit, Cather could spend more time

writing her fiction. Moreover, in 1905 her first collection of short stories, The Troll

Garden, was published and achieved big success. E. K. Brown asserts that this

accomplishment “closed a door upon her formative years and by the same token opened

another upon her future” (113).

   In Brown’s view, it was not until 1912 when Cather resigned from McClure’s that

she devoted her life to art. One of the most important experiences at that time was her

first trip to the Southwest, to the Walnut Canyon in Arizona. The ruins of the Cliff-

Dwellers had a powerful influence on her imaginative thought as it disclosed to her the

continuity of American people. Taking into consideration the fact that Nebraska’s past

was meagre, being a frontier country, Cather discovered in the villages of the Cliff-

Dwellers “something that was not only extremely simple and extremely beautiful, but

extremely old” (Brown 171). Suddenly, she became aware of her existence as fitting

into a larger cultural context. What Cather found here was “a history of successive

creations [...] [in which] layer upon layer of the past was an inexhaustible stimulus to

the admirer of the pioneer and the admirer of art” (Brown xiii, xiv). Only now did

Cather realize that the pioneers of Nebraska were in actual fact artists as well. Both the

pioneer and the artist were “intent on creating” and what made them alike was “the

impulse they shared to turn from all the tracks of routine and convention to make a track

of their own” (Brown x). This experience played also a key role in the creation of The

Song of the Lark where Cather draws a parallel between herself and the main

protagonist Thea Kronborg, when Thea is reborn an artist and becomes aware of her

higher self in the “Panther Canyon.” Upon her return to New York, Cather rented an

apartment with her friend and typist Edith Lewis in Greenwich Village. As Edith Lewis

remarks: “These were Willa Cather’s best working years” (88). Frequently going to the

opera at this period, Cather formed a friendship with one of the best opera singers of

that time – Olive Fremstad. Cather thought very highly of Mme. Fremstad’s genuine

talent and “her unresting, unappeasable aspiration that gave Fremstad’s genius its

unique quality, and its power over her audiences” (Lewis 90). Inspired by her vigor and

energy, Fremstad became to a certain extent Cather’s model for Thea Kronborg,

embodying all the attributes Cather looked for in an ultimate artist. Regardless of the

critique Cather’s novels drew from the critics and the readership, Cather reached the

stage in her career when she was satisfied with her writing style and perhaps found

herself at the height of her artistic expression.

   Towards the end of Cather’s life one particular friendship with a family of

musicians slightly altered her view on child prodigies in her early short story “The

Prodigies,” where she maintains that children are not capable of expressing great

emotions which are inherent in music. The subsequent response to such unnatural

emotional demands leads to the loss of vital energy and exhaustion. Cather met the

Menuhins in California in 1931 where Yehudi, a child prodigy, was giving concerts

with his father. In her contribution to the Journal Cather informs her readers that “art

does not come at sixteen” (“As You Like It”). However, after getting to know Menuhin,

Cather made a concession to her early statement when admitting that prodigies are not

necessarily doomed to be oppressed by their special gift. However, in order to accept

the fact and be able to live with it they have to be “great indeed to do it” (Courier,

October 26, 1895).

      Willa Cather never married. It might be argued that it was either because of her

lesbian orientation, this opinion having been relatively often suggested by her

biographers, or because of her single-minded artistic pursuit. Speculations aside, Cather

lived to a certain extent in seclusion with her companion Edith Lewis, surrounding

herself with a circle of close friends. Cather created a world for herself which suited

best her needs and enabled her to write the best of her works. Even though Willa Cather

lived according to the demands she placed on her literary characters, she did not go to

extremes to become estranged from others.

1.2     Willa Cather’s Aesthetic Theories

The importance of Cather’s access to a wide spectrum of musical performances and her

personal encounters with some of the greatest artists of that time, which enabled her to

gain a significant insight into the genuine realm of art, consisted not only in providing

her with valuable material for her journalistic writing, but also and more importantly in

shaping her philosophical beliefs on the nature of art and its place in human life, which

she subsequently applied in her writings. The fact that Cather was seriously engaged

with the cultural phenomenon of art, specifically the sphere of literary writing and

music, is amply evident from the number of works she devoted to this theme. The

Journal and Courier articles from her Nebraska period and later on her dramatic

reviews in the Pittsburgh Leader represent Cather’s formative years which saw the

evolution of her attitude to art. It was in her short stories and novels where she began to

utilize her aesthetic views. Although Cather occupied herself with the conception of art

as a whole in terms of one single body, music constituted her preferred kind of art. As

Richard Giannone suggests in his book Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction, music for

Cather “is the pre-eminent art, the condition toward which other significant [artistic]

forms aspire” (6). Due to the fact that the art of literature was her primary field of

interest, Cather expressed her aesthetic theories primarily in relation to this kind of art.

Nevertheless, all of the laws and principles are also inherently true in the province of


   Art for Willa Cather is:

               not thought or emotion, but expression, expression, always expression.

               To keep an idea living, intact, tinged with all its original feeling, its

               original mood, preserving in it all the ecstacy which attended its birth, to

               keep it so all the way from the brain to the hand and transfer it on paper a

               living thing with color, odor, sound, life all in it, that is what art means,

               that is the greatest of all the gifts of the gods. (qtd. in The Kingdom of Art


By this statement Cather touches on the issue of balance between the divine and human

components in art, which become the fundamental elements necessary to human

creation. On the one hand, there are “god-given” qualities such as “intuition, inspiration,

feeling, emotion, idea, experience,” on the other hand the actual piece of work such as

“form, craft, technique, language” are at play (Slote 72). Taking this into account, none

of those above mentioned should prevail in the end product of art as it would either

eradicate the worldly aspect or cause the lack of transcendental quality which is

perceived as the ultimate aim in all works of art. Cather’s doctrine is based on the

assumption that all art stem from life and thus artistic expression is a recreation of life

on the spot. Interestingly, Bernice Slote even claims that Cather “changed ‘Art for Art’s

Sake’ to Art for Life’s Sake” (Slote 32). In the case of performing artists, musical scores

and technique account for the lifeless aspect of art which is animated through

expression. In this respect, the ideal is achieved when a work of art “becomes a living

fact.” This soulless fact is brought into life by “genius which forever evades analysis”

and which “can breathe into [the form] a living soul and make it great” (“Amusements”).

   According to Slote, an artist, therefore, finds himself living in two worlds at the

same time – in the world of earth and the world of art. Moreover, this “duality” as she

calls it causes that an artist’s personality contains two selves which attempt to arrive at

an everlasting balance (Slote 66). In the world of earth, mundane and sterile world

lacking strong emotions, the main role of art is to “intensify experience.” Thus, in

Cather’s view, the world of art is represented by “the stage [which] is the kingdom of

the emotions and the imagination” (Nebraska State Journal, September 30, 1894).

   However, “the absolute necessity in art is the personal encounter. The artist or the

work of art succeeds if something works – if there is a response” (Slote 46). The artist,

as it has been already implied, does not create for the sake of art but more importantly

for the sake of life and humans to which a piece of art is addressed. In the Journal

Cather asserts her thought in a following way: “A singer might have as many tones as a

piano, but lacking the power to make men have great experiences she would sing to an

empty house.” However, these great experiences are accomplished solely under two

conditions. In one of them Cather maintains that an artist must “feel, interpret, create”

(Nebraska State Journal, September 30, 1894). By such act he stirs up a feeling in the

audience, an emotion which touches the soul. According to Cather, the part of human

being which “feels” is the “human soul.” And therefore the artist must in the act of

creation bestow on the audience his soul for this special bond to be created because

“only a diamond can cut a diamond, only can a soul touch a soul” (Nebraska State

Journal, February 16, 1896). The second condition mentioned represents the state of

                                               - 10 -
openness to great art, the state of mind of the addressee. Cather holds that “all search of

true art and aesthetics requires some preparation. […] It requires a certain mental house-

cleaning that is reached by regaining one’s equanimity,” or “a moment’s reading or

contemplation” (qtd. Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters 161,


      Another area of the world of art to which Cather devoted a great deal of her

attention is talent, on a higher level genius, which are presuppositions of reaching the

imaginary end of art. For Cather “genius means relentless labour and passionate

excitement from the hour one is born until the hour one dies” (“Plays and Players”). In

many of her short stories and novels Cather makes evident that great things are to be

accomplished only when one is working hard. Such a way of life requires sacrifices,

though. These entail discipline which is based on unceasing repetition and travail, and

austerity. The artist has to isolate himself and forsake the society which is a man’s

natural environment. In order to find suitable conditions for his work he is bound to live

in detachment and self-abnegation. In addition, there are two crucial factors at play. One

of them being determination and perseverance which next to other factors determine to

what stage the artistic endeavor will be brought. The second one being “the awakening”

of the genius. If “it was never awakened” it means that the “genius [is] asleep” (qtd. in

The Kingdom of Art 48). These themes are to be found in Cather’s novels The Song of

the Lark and Lucy Gayheart and can be traced in Cather’s own life as well.

1.3     Willa Cather’s Use of Music in Her Short Stories and Novels

Willa Cather employs music in her fiction in several ways. Usually all of them or at

least most of them are present in every single work of hers dealing with music.

Basically, Cather draws on her life experience and knowledge of the musical world

                                               - 11 -
which enabled her to adopt music and music-related issues into her short stories and

novels. Her use of music encompasses both rather abstract and concrete realizations.

The abstract utilization of music is a representation of something that Cather strove for

in all of her writing, something which elevates mediocre art to ultimate. The other is

figurative use of music when music acquires various shapes and meanings and primarily

helps Cather to express her ideas and opinions. In this case, music is seen as a bridge or

an emblem of a particular place. Among the concrete realizations is depiction of

musicians and their lives, and, finally use of musical pieces which Cather deploys in her

fiction in accordance with her specific intentions.

   While in music the desired “higher thing” (Nebraska State Journal, December 9,

1894) the artists seek Cather calls “emotion” or “soul,” in literature the “symbol of

transcendence” (Giannone 8) becomes music. In a short essay “The Novel Démeublé”

Cather articulates her demand when saying that an ideal piece of written text must

contain “the inexplicable presence of the thing not named […] the overtone divined by

the ear but not heard by it […]” (837). In other words, music for Cather does not mean

merely the beautiful sounds in the literal sense of music but she insists that music is to

be found in all art as some kind of “appeal” or “expressed passion” (Giannone 6) that is

present there above the explicitly stated facts. Willa Cather herself endeavored to

enhance her works with the “overtones,” which can be regarded as one of her uses of


   Secondly, Cather employs music metaphorically. One of such uses is to be found in

her short story “Eric Hemannson’s Soul” where Eric’s violin epitomizes a figurative

“bridge into the kingdom of the soul” (24). In this view, therefore, music becomes a

medium, a bridge that transports a man to his higher existence, to his so far

undiscovered self.

                                               - 12 -
   Thirdly, musicians occupy a great deal of Cather’s work. The novelist portrays

musicians and music in at least twenty of her short stories and twelve of her novels. In

the pieces of Cather’s fiction chosen for this thesis, musicians are depicted as either the

main protagonists whose psychological development is in author’s focus, or characters

who are involved with music in some particular way and help to establish and further

promote Cather’s philosophical beliefs.

   Moreover, Cather also relies on music when she wants to draw a comparison

between the hostile rural world of Mid-western America and the East Coast American

cities. The lives of frontiersmen and frontierswomen are usually silent because these

people are either forced to renounce music or their yearning for music is gradually

stultified by the uncongenial prairie conditions. Therefore, music constitutes an emblem

of the civilized world where Western classical music is perceived as exalted. In

addition, in order to pursue musical career, the characters have to leave their homes,

struggle and try to succeed, in case of Thea Kronborg and Lucy Gayheart in Chicago.

   Next, Cather makes allusions to particular musical compositions which subsequently

become an underlying force for the plot development. However, this is done on two

levels, either directly when Cather herself provides her reader with the text of a

particular song or the libretto of an operatic performance, or indirectly when the theme

or story of the musical composition is not mentioned and thus it is up to the reader’s

musical knowledge whether this deeper sense will be discovered or remain hidden.

   To sum up, it becomes clear that to detect all possible cases and ways in which

Cather uses music is not an easy to task to carry out as they are often interwoven,

sometimes not visible on the surface and when taken as a whole form a unique

indivisible artistic unit. Giannone casts light on the subject in his statement that music in

Cather’s works “is not accidental to technique, not simply an extension of personal

                                                - 13 -
interest in musical art, not merely ornamental to her achievement. Music is a distinctive

quality of Willa Cather’s mind creation; and it is a univocal index to her loyalties” (1).

By these words, Giannone produces a neat summary of the importance of music in both

Cather’s life and work.

                                               - 14 -

The first two stories which are going to be analyzed in this chapter, “Peter” (1892) and

“Eric Hermannson’s Soul” (1900), belong to Cather’s earliest short stories that were

published and therefore represent her initial attempts to formulate her ideas and theories

in a fictional piece of writing. However, it should be pointed out that at this stage of

Cather’s artistic development the set of her aesthetic principles was fully-fledged

already and in fact valid throughout the whole body of her work.

   These two short stories in question, unlike the two of her latest Nebraska novels

which are going to be examined, mirror Cather’s early negative attitudes towards the

crude Nebraska prairies inhabited by uprooted European emigrants who find themselves

homesick living in inimical conditions. Some years later after leaving Nebraska and

gaining a more objective view on the place where she grew up, Cather was able to look

at western America with a certain degree of detachment and even appreciation as

depicted for example in The Song of the Lark.

   In “Peter” and “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” Cather employs music as a means that

comes to bridge not only the abyss between the old and the new world but also and

more importantly the abyss between one’s self and the “kingdom of the unattainable”

(Courier September 25, 1895) which, however presented as unattainable, becomes the

main object of Peter’s and Eric’s desire. What makes these stories different from each

other is the main character’s final reaction and a way of coping with the situation when

deprived of music.

                                                - 15 -
2.1     “Peter:” Defeated

Of all Cather’s writings dealing with frontier life, short story “Peter” can be perceived

as one of the bleakest not only in terms of its content but also in the way in which the

story is depicted which contributes to the overall felling of revulsion “Peter” raises. The

Nebraskan immigrant Peter, an alcoholic and a former musician, finds himself isolated

from everything what was dear to him. Divested of the sound of his violin, his

homeland, and understanding of his son, Peter sees suicide as the only solution to his

desperate situation.

      Peter Sadelack, a Bohemian emigrant, settled with his wife and son Anton in south-

western Nebraska. Once a second violinist in a Prague theatre, he is unable to forget

“the great days at the theatre” when he “wore a dress coat every evening” (6) and had,

unlike at present, enough alcohol to drink. When his bowing arm was partially disabled

in a stroke of paralysis, he was relieved of his post and left for America. In the belief

that he will find a better world to live in, shared with most of the European emigrants of

that time, he finds out that the barren plains of Nebraska bespeak something else. Not

only does Peter become feckless in the “new world,” unable to make his own living by

rejecting hard labor in the fields, but he also becomes alienated from his son Anton.

      Unlike Anton who represents the second generation of American immigrants and

who considers the place as his home, Peter conceives of the frontier as an antagonistic

land. While his son is compelled to work by material success and induces Peter to sell

his violin, Peter is depicted more romantically and that makes him unsuited to the

reality of the silent plains where great emotions are not. Peter’s violin comes to embody

the whole old Bohemian world which is equated to his memories and feelings from the

stage. Even though he is almost unable to play the violin anymore, he still daydreams

about “the touch” he once had and “the beauty of it” (6). Moreover, “the great hunger

                                               - 16 -
[he] felt” (6) when listening to music is even amplified when he is divested of what he

once experienced on a daily basis.

   In Giannone’s view “Peter’s attachment to music derives from a pleasure in its

transporting power” and its ability to converge “the worlds of fact and fancy” (16).

However, as it has been already mentioned in the introductory paragraph to this chapter,

“the magical realm” (16) as Giannone calls Cather’s “kingdom of the unattainable” is

not accessible to ordinary people. In this story it is a French woman, a theatre player,

who serves as the epitome of Peter’s yearning. With the help of this French artist Cather

voices her opinion that “singing is idealized speech” (Nebraska State Journal,

September 30, 1894) when she lets Peter think during her performance that although

“he did not know French, and could not understand a word she said, […] it seemed to

him that she must be talking the music of Chopin” (6). In this respect, music is elevated

to the greatest art that enables non-musical art to communicate its great passions even

without words, beyond its content. Enthralled by the aural experience Peter wishes to

touch the arm of the actress once even if he should be stabbed by her and die as it was

done in the performance. In Peter’s mind, the act of touching her was equal to touching

the “promised land.”

   In Nebraska, where Peter’s hunger for sensuous experience turns into greed, Peter

after his last unsuccessful attempt to play the violin commits a suicide. Before shooting

himself to death in a stable, he breaks the violin to prevent Anton from selling it.

Giannone claims in his analysis that when shooting himself, Peter still believes that the

“kingdom of the unattainable” is within his reach and by this act he will preserve the

ecstasy he found in the drama. “In the great Prague theatre he died many times traveling

into the bright realm across the footlights. In Nebraska the only death available is the

irreversible one” (17). However, according to the textual evidence it seems to be more

                                              - 17 -
plausible that Peter just accepts his defeat. When talking to his fiddle for the last time,

he says: “I can play thee no more, but they shall not part us. We have seen it all

together, and we will forget it together, the French woman and all” (7). In his final act,

Peter wants to forget the French woman because he cannot reach his lofty ideals, and

thus endeavors to be liberated from her seducing power. Finding himself unable to go

on living in Nebraska which deprived him of what was most beloved to him, the silent

prairies cause his total surrender.

2.2      “Eric Hermannson’s Soul:” Unresolved

In the short story “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” Cather once more expresses her negative

stance towards frontier life. Eric, a rough Norwegian man who fully embraces the

delights of life and whose particular joy is his violin and the sounds it makes, is

confronted with a strict puritanical religion in Nebraska condemning all worldly

pleasures. Unlike Peter in the previous story, Eric has enough inner strength to

overcome his difficult exile situation and goes on living. However, having been

contaminated with the puritanical belief, he becomes unsure about the nature of his acts.

Leaving this decision to God himself rather than to his putative earthly representatives,

Eric’s fate remains unresolved.

      Eric Hermannson, a native born pioneer of Norwegian descent living in Nebraska, is

portrayed as “the wildest lad” (23), “a hustler and the spryest dancer” (32) on all the

Divide. Eric, even though hardened by tilling the uncultivated soil and the uncongenial

conditions does not have a grudge against his life. What keeps him from getting

dejected is not only his violin but also his character. Among the members of the society

he lives in, who are strong Free Gospellers and who believe in salvation through ascetic

lifestyle, Eric “seems quite like a human being” (28) who “may conceal a soul

                                               - 18 -
somewhere” (29). Eric’s love of life is sustained with the help of his violin which brings

him the beauty of the great world, and which stands “to him for all the manifestations of

art;” moreover, being “his only bridge into the kingdom of the soul” (24).

   However, to the Free Gospellers the violin is “an object of particular abhorrence,”

which is regarded as “a very incarnation of evil desires […] inseparably associated with

all forbidden things” (23). For this reason, Eric becomes of a special interest to Asa

Skinner, a former train gambler, who is obsessed with Eric’s conversion as it is seen as

the only way in which his soul can be saved. Eric, who suddenly becomes an object of

the revivalists’ and his mother’s prayers is gradually pressured to give in. Giannone

suggests that although Eric “cannot understand how mirth and music are evil” he “does

not question the categories of his seniors” (18). Forced to break his violin into pieces,

the sound that resonates through the church is “like the shackles of sin broken audibly

asunder” (26). Left in the silent prairies deprived of the sounds which, in Giannone’

view, nourish man’s spirit (18), Eric grows gloom and passive. “It was as though some

red-hot instrument had touched for a moment those delicate fibers of the brain which

respond to acute pain or pleasure, in which lies the power of exquisite sensation, and

had seared them quite away” (33). Eric accepts his new kind of life as he adopts the

conviction of his religious milieu that “to save the soul, it [is] necessary to starve the

soul” (34).

   In such a condition Eric has lived for two years until Margaret Elliot comes to

Rattlesnake Creek to visit her brother Wyllis. Margaret, a musician coming from New

York City, breaks the soul-numbing silence of the Nebraska Divide. Her singing and

playing a parlor organ “gave him speech, he became alive” (30). As in “Peter,” in “Eric

Hermannson’s Soul” it is once again a musician, a woman, who brings about this

change and becomes the embodiment of the newly awakened desire. However, in Eric’s

                                               - 19 -
case it not only a desire for music and its inherent passions, but also sexual desire that is


   In this story, the composition performed by Margaret is of considerable importance

as Cather uses its music and libretto as an underlying force and theme for her story. The

Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, is a purely orchestral part of

the one-act verismo opera, which sums up the drama of the whole opera. It is a musical

counterpart to the story of conflict between sexual desire on the one hand, and religious

tensions on the other, taking place on the stage. Even though it might be assumed that

Eric who lives his whole life on the Divide has no knowledge of this opera, music as a

universal language of the whole mankind possesses the capacity to speak to him. When

reviewing Cavalleria Rusticana for the Lincoln Courier, Cather enacts this idea when

observing that the music of the opera represents “a notable emotional language, the

speech of the soul” (Courier, May 12, 1900).

   The other aspect of Cavalleria Rusticana at play comes to embody the similarity

between the struggle in the opera and in the story. Cather, in her dramatic review pays

particular attention to the intermezzo’s “bass that labors and fails and struggles, that

suffers and protests in black despair; [to] its treble that never yields, never falters, dips

sometimes toward the lower octaves like a bird that is faint with its death wound, and

then flies on, flies on” (Courier, September 7, 1895). However, at this point it is not

easy to decide whether Eric’s soul should be identified with the bass heading towards

hell or the treble heading towards heaven. Eric, whose awakened desire makes him

unable to resist the carnal temptations to take part in a dance Margaret arranges for the

villagers, where he also plays his violin again, finds himself inevitably doomed. Yet, at

the end of the story Eric by murmuring the words of 2 Peter 3: 8 from the Bible “And a

day shall be as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” (45) voices the hope for

                                                - 20 -
his soul. According to John H. Flannigan, Eric thus “defers the question of his soul’s

judgement to an authority higher than Skinner” (213). In addition, this view that in fact

questions the nature of the Christian sect is supported by Margaret’s question: “'Those

Free Gospellers have just cast an evil spell over this country, haven’t they?'” (31) and

the subsequent answer Margaret gets confirming this idea by commenting that they

really are “'responsible for a few suicides'” and “'a good-sized delegation to the state

insane asylum'” (31). In this respect, Eric who believes that “it is a patient, not a

vengeful god that will judge our conduct” (Flannigan 215) thinks of his Judgement Day

as being unresolved while he is still living. Since Eric, although deprived of music for a

while, finds “the bridge into the kingdom of his soul” again, he does not resort to

committing suicide as in Peter’s case.

    Cather’s interest in portraying pioneers is to be found also in the following chapter.

What alters, however, is her view on the nature art which Cather captures in her stories

and as she wants her reader to notice this new attitude of hers she consciously draws

attention to it.

                                               - 21 -

The next two short stories which are going to be examined were published in Willa

Cather’s first collection of short stories named The Troll Garden in 1905. In The Troll

Garden, Cather’s focus of interest become the lives of artists and ordinary people who

are tempted by the lures of art. Basically, Cather depicts art as a threat. In Susan

Rosowski’s view, when writing this collection Cather was already “a woman devoted

theoretically to the kingdom of art” and therefore “these stories are paradoxical, for they

show the world of the imagination as dangerous” (19). As an introduction to her stories

Cather used two opening epigraphs, each of them enacting one basic theme. The first

epigraph, alluding to one of the themes, is a quatrain from Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin


               We must not look at Goblin men,

               We must not buy their fruits;

               Who knows upon what soil they fed

               Their hungry, thirsty roots?

               (Cather, Cather: Early Novels and Stories).

The second epigraph Cather chose is a parable by Charles Kingsley:

               A fairy place, with a fairy garden…inside the trolls dwell…working at

               their magic forges, making and making always things rare and strange.

               (Cather, Cather: Early Novels and Stories).

   Generally, this collection is designed as a composition of two kinds of stories,

prairie and garden stories, in which Cather makes use of a double perspective. Her

characters are to be found either inside or outside of the realm of art. While the prairie

stands for a place devoid of art, the garden is depicted as a place where art is not only

present but also adored and cultivated. In the prairie stories, Cather shows “defeated

                                               - 22 -
artists […] with an undercurrent of malaise and a sense of nightmare” (Brown 115).

Having tasted the fruits of the goblins once, ordinary people from the prairies live in

perpetual hunger. Therefore, the epigraph warns against the sweet taste of art which

might be not only poisoned but even evil. On the other hand, in the garden stories the

fairy garden is the “preserve of art” (Brown 115) where art is seen as something magic

and rare, nonetheless, dangerous to those living outside. Taking this into account, The

Troll Garden can be perceived as encompassing an internal conflict with one of its

epigraphs expressing “a warning to resist” and the other talking about “a temptation to

succumb” (Rosowski 22).

      In this chapter, one story from each group has been chosen for analysis. The first

one, “A Wagner Matinee” (1904), representing the prairie stories and the second one,

“The Garden Lodge” (1905), coming from the garden stories. The common feature both

of these stories share is the portrayal of a woman who sacrificed her artistic engagement

to a marriage and the reawakening of the main character to the great enchantments of art

once experienced. What makes them different, however, is their denouement. While the

protagonist of “A Wagner Matinee” leaves for her prairie home in despair and anguish,

“The Garden Lodge” ends with its main character restored to her former state of


3.1     “A Wagner Matinee:” Anguished

In “A Wagner Matinee,” Cather illustrates on the main character, Aunt Georgiana, how

the tasting of the fruits from the Goblin market can have a far-reaching impact.

Georgiana, a former music teacher, decided to relinquish the cultural world to a

marriage and settled in the wilderness of Nebraska. In this story, Cather employs music

to draw a contrast between the silent prairies, where drab reality inhibits man higher

                                               - 23 -
impulses because of the lack of appropriate stimuli, and Boston, where these are

encouraged. According to James Woodress, Cather attempted in “A Wagner Matinee”

to recreate a life story of her aunt Franc. However, she was criticized for this as it was

seen as a disgrace not only to pioneer Nebraska but also to her family. To justify

herself, Cather claimed that her intention was to pay “tribute to those uncomplaining

women, who weathered those times” (Woodress, A Literary Life).

   Georgiana Carpenter, a music teacher at the Boston Conservatory, abandoned her

musical career in order to marry a poor country boy in frontier Nebraska. Having lived

for thirty years in Red Willow County in “one of those cave dwellings whose inmates so

often reverted to primitive conditions” (325), she is going to spend a few days in Boston

for the first time since she had left. During her visit Georgiana stays with her nephew

Clark whom his boyhood memories still remind of Georgiana’s extensive cultural

knowledge as she taught him not only to play “the little parlor organ” (326) but also

Latin and Shakespeare. Upon her arrival on the prairie Georgiana’s life diminished to

cooking, ironing and taking care of her husband and six children. For fifteen years her

yearning for music was left with nothing but a few scores and a borrowed accordion,

only then did her husband buy for her the parlor organ. Clark remembers that it was

very rarely that she spoke with him about music. However, that did not mean that her

love of music was fading away. Quite the contrary, Georgiana realized that if she

preserved her memories from Boston in her heart nobody would be able to take music

from her. Moreover, when Georgiana conveyed to Clark: “Dear boy, pray that whatever

your sacrifice may be, it be not [music]” (326), she was aware of her musical history’s

importance in her weary prairie life. Although Georgiana is described as a “pious

woman” who “had the consolations of religion” (326), it was her spiritual consciousness

brought about by music that made her consider “her martyrdom […] not wholly sordid”

                                               - 24 -
(326). Nevertheless, thirty years of silence caused that even the strongest of Georgiana’s

emotional experiences were pushed to the most remote parts of her memory.

   In Boston, Clark treats Georgiana to a Wagner matinee unaware of the

consequences. Unable to accustom herself to the new reality it is at the concert hall that

she “for the first time seemed to perceive her surroundings” (326). However, it is not

until the first number by Wagner, the Tannhäuser overture, that she is truly reawakened

to her deeper self. It was this music that broke “the inconceivable silence of the plains”

(327). The main theme of this operatic performance, the “vacillation between sensual

delight and spiritual aims” (Music With Ease), strikingly alludes to the storyline of “A

Wagner Matinee.” As Giannone suggests, Cather applies Wagner’s motif of profane

delights to “the hostile world in which the artist must assert his higher drives and to

which he occasionally succumbs” (43), namely to Red Willow County. When

Georgiana imprudently succumbed to physical love, she forsook the sacred world, the

fairy garden which was back then at hand. In addition, Giannone maintains that

Georgiana “intuitively apprehends Wagner’s musical message though it has been many

years since she thought of the composer” (43). In this view, Cather’s use of music can

by no means be seen as a mere autotelic tool, but as a very significant part of her fiction.

   Throughout the following number, prelude to Tristan and Isolde, Georgiana remains

silent as if contemplating her life. During The Flying Dutchman her fingers begin to

work “mechanically upon her black dress, as though, of themselves, they were recalling

the piano score they had once played” (328). Towards the end, when Georgiana realizes

her loss, she starts weeping and it becomes clear to Clark that the soul “never really

dies” (328). The final number, Siegfried’s funeral march from the Ring, accords with

the climax of the story. The defeat of the operatic hero functions as a portent of

Georgiana’s own defeat when she apprehends her inability to preclude her return to

                                                - 25 -
Nebraska. Aunt Georgiana, being in the process of resurrection of her spirit, gives

suddenly a desperate cry: “′I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want to go!′” (328), which

is an obvious sign of her antagonistic attitude to her home where she is going to find

“the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs” and “the tall, unpainted house, naked as a

tower, with weather-curled boards” (328).

      In this short story, Willa Cather does not provide the main character with a solution.

She does not end the torment of Georgiana as in “Peter” nor does she give her a certain

kind of consolation as in “Eric Hermannson’s Soul.” She is left alone to what awaits her

on her farm, which in fact lends a heightened sense of drama and desolation to the story.

3.2     “The Garden Lodge:” Resisted

On a thematic level, “The Garden Lodge” corresponds with “A Wagner Matinee,”

however, the former story closes on a somewhat brighter note. Taken from a different

perspective, from within the fairy garden, Caroline Noble comes into contact with one

of its inhabitants, a troll. The trolls, namely the accomplished artists who “make things

rare and strange,” possess the ability to exert a special influence on those coming from

the outside. In Caroline’s case, it is her guest, an opera singer Raymond d’Esquerré,

who brings about an awakening of Caroline’s intentionally suppressed artistic desires.

      Caroline is perceived by the people around her as “cool-headed,” “disgustingly

practical” and as “a mistress of herself in any situation” (49). However, this is only a

pose she adopted in order to prevent her life from resembling the unstable conditions of

her upbringing. Her father, a music teacher and an unsuccessful orchestral composer

unable to earn a decent living, her brother, a painter who “shot himself himself in

frenzy” and “the general atmosphere of wretchedness that pervaded the house” (51)

caused that Caroline decided to stop her musical education. Occasional moments when

                                                 - 26 -
the family was engaged in a “mystic worship of things distant, intangible and

unattainable” (51) left a distinctive impression on Caroline which contributed to her

enchantment with music. Nevertheless, her hatred of that “humiliating and uncertain

existence […] and [its] sordid realities” (51) that go with devotion to art made her to

cling to “the middle course” (50) and secure her life by a marriage. In fact, Howard

Noble won Caroline’s heart primarily because of “his money, his position, his energy,

[and] the big vigor of his robust person” (53), simply those things fully satisfying

Caroline’s special needs.

   After six years which went according to Caroline’s plan, her calm life is threatened

by a visit of an opera-star Raymond d’Esquerré who stays in her garden lodge and uses

Caroline as his accompanist. Giannone suggests that “for Caroline the visit was to be a

proof of her resistance to the emotional excitement d’Esquerré represented. She would

share in his art and enjoy his presence, but she would preserve her detachment” (38).

Despite succeeding in this, during the next two weeks since d’Esquerré left, Caroline

goes every day to the garden lodge to practice the piano. “It was the sheerest sentiment

she had ever permitted herself [and] she was ashamed of it, but she was childishly

unwilling to let it go” (54). Moreover, when her husband suggests tearing down the

garden lodge so that a new summer house could be build instead, Caroline herself is

surprised by her negative reaction. At this point, her dormant desire for artistic

engagement comes to life again.

   On one stormy night Caroline is tempted to go to the garden lodge once again where

she experiences a battle between her mind and soul. Reconsidering her former decision

to detach herself from music, she still feels d’Esquerré’s “formidable power” over her

which “formed the undercurrent of her consciousness” (55). One of the things that

Caroline feared most in her life was idolatry. Yet, she feels unable now to resist the

                                              - 27 -
spell d’Esquerré’s cast on her. She realizes that it is not his success that is responsible

for her enthrallment but his “appeal” (55) and the overall “beautiful illusion” (56) with

which he serves “the mystic bread” to the hungering souls at the “eucharist of

sentiment” (57).

   In this story, it is again Wagner’s music which Cather uses to her purposes. An

excerpt from the Walküre, second of the four operas from The Ring of the Niebelung, is

the last piece Caroline and d’Esquerré practiced together. The romantic love of the

operatic couple Siegmund and Sieglinde resembles the spiritual love Caroline feels for

d’Esquerré which is ignited in her while playing the first act of the opera. In this part,

she becomes Sieglinde when d’Esquerré addresses the final duet to her: “'Thou art the

Spring for which I sighed in Winter’s cold embraces” (58). Although Caroline was able

to keep herself in perfect self-control at that time, she succumbs to the unexpected

emotion on this night. Suddenly, she realizes that “it was not enough; this happy, useful,

well-ordered life was not enough. It did not satisfy, it was not even real. No, the other

things, the shadows – they were the realities” (59). Caroline is swayed by her

imagination and strong yearning for artistic romance.

   However, with the coming morning she feels like the previous night was just a

dream which is now “growing thin [and] melting away from her” (59). Nonetheless, she

becomes aware of its seriousness. “It was the expression of something she had kept so

close a prisoner that she had never seen it herself” (60). Accepting this reality,

Caroline’s firm conviction enables her to free herself from the tying bonds once again.

In the morning, Caroline tells her husband that she wants the garden lodge torn down

and laughingly acknowledges her previous sentimental foolishness.

   In “The Garden Lodge” Cather creates a character whose rugged will and love for

her husband win over the attractions of the magic forges found in the fairy garden, the

                                               - 28 -
attributes Georgiana Carpenter is deficient in. Therefore, unlike Georgiana, Carolina is

capable of recovering her composure and forgetting the fairy garden once and for all.

                                              - 29 -

The last two works by Cather which are going to be analyzed, two novels depicting the

life of a female artist who strives to reach the gates of the Kingdom of Art, are separated

by a time span of 20 years. Both of these novels reflect a particular stage of Cather’s

artistic journey, her aesthetic and philosophical views of that given period, and her

preference for a specific type of music. While in The Song of the Lark (1915), one of

her early novels, Cather voices her reverence for attaining the ultimate art, in Lucy

Gayheart (1935), her penultimate novel, Cather reassesses her opinion on the position

of art in life and life itself, stemming primarily from the losses of her family members.

Even though both The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart focus on a young heroine

struggling for success by means of her art, Cather treats the theme very differently in

each case. In the story of Thea Kronbrog Cather renders an artist’s growth ending with a

fleeting moment of artistic achievement. Lucy Gayheart, in contrast, can be seen as an

artist’s failure but in fact human’s accomplishment transcending all earthly matters.

   The Song of the Lark originates from the time when Cather was just at the beginning

of her artistry and was gradually reaching the acme of perfection. In Cather’s biography

Brown points out that Cather herself did not think highly of her new novel because of

its excessive length and for the reissue of 1932 the novel was substantially revised

(189). The Song of the Lark is called by scholars a Künstlerroman, which is a novel

portraying an artist’s growth and development towards mastery (Stouck, “The Song of

the Lark: A Künstlerroman”). In this novel Cather employs two major themes of her

writing, artists and pioneers. Of great importance to her was the fact that Cather “had

been observing artists for twenty years, and [therefore] her understanding of the artistic

temperament came out of long experience” (Woodress, Willa Cather: Her Life and Art

167). Generally, The Song of the Lark is based on two models. On the one hand, “Willa

                                               - 30 -
Cather was telling the story of Thea Kronborg from an intimately personal viewpoint,

incorporating her own memories and experiences into the story of the artist’s life,” on

the other, she saw the “external model for her story in the person of the opera singer

Olive Fremstad” (Stouck, “The Song of the Lark: A Künstlerroman”). Fremstad, the

Swedish-born Wagnerian diva coming from Minnesota, embodied Cather’s “artist par

excellence” not only because of her outstanding vocal qualities, beauty and the

intelligence of her singing but also because of “the force behind the instrument” that

Cather so deeply admired (Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 83, 84).

Moreover, the fact that Cather and Fremstad became good friends was not a mere

coincidence as the two were considerably alike. Next to the similarities in their

childhood and striving for recognition in the artistic world, they also shared a very

similar view on art. In The Song of the Lark Cather makes use of her theories on artist’s

life and creativity originally expressed in her journalistic writing. At that time Cather

presented accomplished artists as “divine figures” or sometimes as “heroic conquerors”

(Stouck, “The Song of the Lark: A Künstlerroman”) whose achievement of success

demands nothing less than “awful loneliness,” “longing for human fellowship and for

human love” (“Shakespeare and Hamlet [Part 2]”) and of course resolve and

perseverance. However, given those years between The Song of the Lark and Lucy

Gayheart, Cather matured not only as an artist but primarily as a human, which made

her change her attitude to living as it is amply evident from the latter novel.

   Lucy Gayheart was written at the time when Cather had already produced the best of

her works and in fact was reaching artistic zenith. According to David Stouck, it was

Lucy Gayheart that “received the greatest amount of negative criticism” of all her

output, the main reason he gives is the abundance of “contrivance and sentimentality”

(“Willa Cather’s Last Four Books” 45). Nevertheless, Giannone justifies the mode of

                                                - 31 -
the novel with a view that it was meant to serve as a solace to Cather’s readership,

generally the whole humankind, and Cather herself, simply to those who found

themselves in a difficult and depressing situation during the 1920s and 1930s. In order

to support this idea Giannone maintains that Cather’s outlook on life was influenced by

several bleak realities such as her father’s and mother’s death, selling the Nebraska

home and subsequent break-up of the family, and last but not least, her painful right

wrist which prevented her from writing. In addition, the world prospects were darkening

as well. In Europe Hitler became German chancellor, America went through years of

serious economic instability due to the Great Depression, and the Southwest was ruined

by dust storms (Giannone, “Music, Silence, and the Spirituality of Willa Cather”).

Under such circumstances Cather in her novels shifted her attention from artists who

sacrifice their lives to art to artists and characters who find out that life itself is the only

thing that really matters and therefore view art only as a part of the human life not as a

thing totally engulfing whole living. In this respect, Cather with the help of music and

musicians conveys in Lucy Gayheart an important message, providing people with

hope. In other words, David Stouck suggests that Willa Cather as a romantic abandons

her belief in “the absoluteness of the artist’s vocation” and “the imaginative tension for

great art [which] is largely gone” is replaced by “artist’s wisdom” (“Willa Cather’s Last

Four Books” 43).

    As Cather’s ideal art is music, her preferred kind of music is singing. Cather

considered vocal music as the most natural form of art not only from the historical and

cultural standpoint but also because in the act of singing the human body naturally

comes into direct contact with the passions and power of art. However, when it comes

to professional singing, the most important attribute of a singer in Cather’s view is not

the beauty of the voice or its art gained by training but some “third element” which

                                                  - 32 -
Cather calls “individuality” or “personality” (“Emma Calve”). This element functions as

some added value to the overall artist’s magnetism and enhances mediocre performance

to transcending. In both The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart Cather deals primarily

with singing. After realizing that playing the piano is not her innate endowment, Thea

Kronborg ends up as opera diva. Although Lucy Gayheart works as a piano

accompanist for the baritone Sebastian Clément, the first two books of the novel are

based on the song cycles by Schubert and for the lesser part on opera.

   It becomes obvious from these two novels that Cather’s taste in music changed a lot

during the twenty years in between. From an early age Cather worshipped Richard

Wagner and his special kind of opera, called “music drama,” as his artistic expression

was very close to Cather’s view on art. Wagner is often described as “a child of Nature”

and “sensualist” (Old and Sold) since his music springs from natural sources and thus is

capable of “channeling primitiveness itself” and “freeing human passion from the

confines” of society (Ruotolo 380). Moreover, in order to reinforce the effect he

endeavored to achieve in his music, Wagner’s practice was to use librettos dealing with

the mythological past. Such attitude was in full agreement with Cather’s beliefs in

which she, according to Slote, “gravitated to a fundamentally primitivistic position” as

well – “historical, cultural, humanˮ (33). This conviction made her reject “whatever was

hard and intellectually inhuman” and favor “emotion, sympathy, and life” (Slote 33). In

The Song of the Lark Thea Kronborg, a Wagnerian soprano, represents Cather’s ideal

artist as she is depicted as the epitome of the novelist’s aesthetic principles. In addition,

as Cather’s favorite musical form was opera and big dramatic and symphonic forms in

general at that time, Cather makes use of several operatic compositions in The Song of

the Lark.

                                                - 33 -
   Similarly, music assumes this function also in Lucy Gayheart, however, as Cather’s

opinions matured during the 1920s also her musical taste ripened. From then on Cather

“preferred music by itself, without the trappings of drama, and, above all, orchestral and

chamber music.” “It was no longer Wagner but Beethoven or Schubert that she needed”

(Brown 301). Abandoning opera, Cather became interested in “more intimate, lyrical

forms” (Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 213), chiefly songs by Schubert as it

is demonstrated in Lucy Gayheart. As Lawrence Kramer argues, the “song is, of all

forms of music, the one most expressive of the performer’s subjectivity” (113). In his

view, Schubert’s special kind of German song called Lied is not a mere articulation of

what the poet was trying to say in his lyrics, but rather an independent artist’s creation.

Thus, “the self who sings is free to make its own meaning, and make meaning on its

own, even at the expense of the poet’s intentions” (Kramer 116). In Lucy Gayheart,

Sebastian Clément is Cather’s ideal song singer. His singing gives Lucy the feeling that

it is “not an interpretation” but “the thing itself” as if “something newly created”

(Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 215).

   The connecting feature of The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart is the storyline.

Both of them revolve around a female musician who in order to study music in Chicago

leaves her prairie hometown. After meeting various artists of the musical world who

substantially influence her personality and further development, she becomes estranged

from the people of her childhood. Perhaps the main difference which determines the

progress of the plot is the degree of heroine’s talent and her inborn temperament. While

Thea possesses a real talent, rugged will, strength and ambitions which enable her to

accomplish a professional career, Lucy is deficient not only in her musical endowment

but also in her commitment to art and therefore remains in her position of accompanist.

Nevertheless, what makes Lucy special is her receptiveness to her surroundings and her

                                               - 34 -
fine personality which allows Cather to express her philosophical ideas. Superficially,

The Song of the Lark can be summed up as a story of career and Lucy Gayheart as a

story of love. Yet, there is much more to be found beyond the plot which makes these

novels very distinct from each other and which reflects Cather’s shifting opinion about

the interrelation between life and art.

4.1     The Song of the Lark: The Kingdom of Art within Reach

The Song of the Lark is a story of Thea Kronborg, a daughter of Swedish immigrants,

who grows up in a small Colorado town, Moonstone. This novel renders her journey of

self-discovery, union with her unawakened self and artistic growth. Thea’s unrelenting

desire to achieve great things in her life leads her to Chicago where she studies the

piano only to find out that the real gift of hers is her voice. Hard work, discipline and

isolation have the effect of hardening Thea’s personality and taking away a great deal of

her energy. This is the toll Thea’s success takes. However, as an opera diva capable of

creating the bridge between her art and her audience she reaches her ultimate aim, the

Kingdom of Art.

      Willa Cather’s use of music in this novel does not consist merely in depicting an

artist’s life but music assumes here also other roles. Firstly, the first concert of classical

music Thea attends to a certain extent brings about a new kind of awareness for Thea of

the beauty of great art which stimulates her desire to succeed. Cather’s allusions to

particular musical compositions throughout the novel function as a subsidiary element

underlying the narrative. Nonetheless, Cather does so mostly, although not exclusively,

indirectly without providing the reader with the libretto, as if relying on the common

knowledge of these works.

      The first important stage of Thea’s life lasts until her seventeenth year while she

lives in Moonstone and learns to play the piano. Right from the beginning of the novel

                                                 - 35 -
Thea is perceived as an extraordinary child by those who know her best. Dr. Archie, her

aunt Tillie, Spanish Johny, Ray Kennedy, her piano teacher Wunsch and even Thea

herself think there is “something very different about her” (10). However, only Wunsch

and later also Thea come to understand this. In Wunsch’s view, Thea has not only talent

but also “imagination and a stubborn will, curiously balancing and interpenetrating each

other” (96). Basically, the above mentioned represent the main prerequisites necessary

for an artist in order to become excellent. But Thea possesses even more which will

some time later constitute her most natural and innate source of artistry. While she feels

that there has always been “a friendly spirit” (78) around her and that she has had

“certain thoughts which were like companions” (58), Wunsch, as an external observer,

perceives this as “something unconscious and unawakened about her” (96). Giannone in

his explanation identifies this phenomenon with Thea’s “creative passion” (86) which

she can “unlock” only by her “true medium,” her voice (Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction

90). Her true artistic spirit remains unawakened until the time she starts to study singing

in Chicago, chiefly because Thea lacks the assurance that it is her voice that she should

cultivate and not her piano technique. Equally important for Thea becomes Wunsch’s

endeavor to encourage Thea in her artistic quest by constantly prodding her ambitions.

He conveys to her that “there is only one big thing – desire. And before it, when it is

big, all is little” (76). According to him, desire enables one to accomplish great things

not only for himself but in some cases also for the whole humankind. Despite this, Thea

realizes that it is money insufficiency which prevents her from gaining more

sophisticated and profound musical education and which ties her down as a mere piano

teacher in provincial Moonstone. Yet, she is constantly reminded of her yearning for

freedom by the eagle living up in the open air and the sand hills stretching to the

boundless horizon. These foreshadow Thea’s final abandonment of her hometown. “She

                                               - 36 -
looked at the sand hills until she wished she were a sand hill. And yet she knew that she

was going to leave them all behind some day” (79). In her preface to the novel Cather

mentions that what she particularly cared about was “the play of blind chance, the way

in which commonplace occurrences fell together to liberate [Thea] from commonness”

(Cather, Preface to The Song of the Lark). As one of the liberating coincidences can be

surely considered Ray Kennedy’s death, Ray is Thea’s friend, who bequeaths to her a

moderate sum of money which enables her to leave for Chicago in order to take music

classes from professionals. Next to classical training rooted in the German vocal

tradition based on established rules recognized by the members of white culture Thea

receives from European immigrants there is one more resource forming Thea’s

musicality – the Mexican ethnic element. Although the Mexican settlement in

Moonstone is mostly disapproved of by the white society, Thea finds these people

“really musical” (232) and “talented” (238). The folk music of Mexicans is specific for

its crudeness and vital energy which origins “in the earth, in the sound of things and the

rhythm of life” (Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 85). Thea who was born

with a certain kind of instinctive vitality which resounds in her voice therefore finds in

the Moonstone’s Mexican community “emotional allies” as music is capable of

“transcending social and racial fact” (Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 87).

This is demonstrated later on in the novel when Thea attends a Mexican ball. While she

sings for those present, she feels a real “response,” “as if all these warm-blooded people

débouched into her” (232). In addition, the natural quality in Thea’s voice not only

makes it distinctive in the musical world but it also attracts the attention of the European

– American culture in general. While Professor Wunsch thinks of Thea’s voice as “a

nature voice” (77), in Chicago she is given a nickname “'the savage blonde'” (177)

whose voice needs a very prudent cultivation so that its naturalness is preserved.

                                                - 37 -
   The first composition of substantial thematic importance is mentioned in the first

part of the novel and foreshadows Thea’s upcoming dilemma and also indirectly the

inevitable destiny of hers as an artist. Cather uses Gluck’s opera Orfeo and Euridice to

emphasize the seemingly incompatible relation between art and personal life. The myth

of Orpheus “is the eternal story of the striving artist whose reach exceeds his grasp, who

must reconcile his desire with possibility” (Woodress, Her Life and Art 168). Even

though Orpheus can retrieve his beloved Eurydice from Hades by his art and bring her

to life again, he loses her once more soon afterwards for not fulfilling other conditions.

To put it differently, art functions as a perfect solution in this situation, it is the human

element which fails and “thwarts the realization of the ideal” (Woodress, Her Life and

Art 168). As Thea remains unsatisfied with her life outside the realm of art she lets art

to solve “the crisis of life by absorbing it” and thus “the sublimation of life into art”

represents Cather’s way out of the difficult situation as she develops a functioning

“marriage between life and art” (Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 90).

However, Cather by transmitting the succession of events from Orpheus to her novel

suggests that as Orpheus’s reunion with Eurydice is merely temporal so Thea’s

achievement of being at her artistic peak as opera singer in the Metropolitan Opera is

just a transient moment.

   Another stage of Thea’s self-discovery is represented by the years of her

apprenticeship. This period starts with her departure for Chicago, includes Thea’s first

symphonic concert, her conversion from a pianist to a singer, meeting Fred Ottenburg,

experiencing an enlightening awakening in Panther Canyon, Arizona, and ends with her

study in Germany.

   At the beginning of her stay in Chicago Thea goes to a concert where she hears

Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World.” As this is Thea’s first concert she has ever

                                                - 38 -
attended it has a powerful influence on her. She is introduced to the world of great art

where, as Giannone suggests, she is “brought to a union with her aesthetic desire”

(Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 92). In fact, this moment marks the commencement of

Thea’s genuine quest for creative expression as upon the exciting experience she makes

a commitment to herself: “As long as she lived that ecstasy was going to be hers. She

would live for it, work for it, die for it; but she was going to have it, time after time,

height after height” (201).

   Despite the fact that Thea goes to Chicago to study the piano she soon finds out that

playing the piano is too exhausting for her and leads almost nowhere. Not only does her

progress seem slow, but she also feels as if she were losing the most precious thing of

hers, her secret companion. This makes her think that “she was not born a musician

[…], there was no other way of explaining it” (177). Therefore, when she is redirected

to singing by her piano teacher she becomes much happier because she realizes that that

is her true vocation.

               Her voice, more than any other part of her, had to do with that

               confidence, that sense of wholeness and inner well-being that she had felt

               at moments sever since she could remember” […] “She took it for

               granted that some day, when she was older, she would know a great deal

               more about it. I was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of

               herself sometime, somewhere. (216)

However, as she gradually gets to know the world of singers aspiring to a professional

career she grows to resent the conventional stream of “popular success” (Giannone,

Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 94) towards which most of them head. At this point

Thea finds herself at a crossroads whether to yield to the “smoothness” (252) of

expression her voice teacher Madison Bowers requires of her and which would ensure

                                               - 39 -
her popularity with ignorant audience or to find her own way beyond careerism and

serve to highest art instead. The cold nature and contemptuous attitude of Bowers

towards mass audience is evident from his utterance:

               'When you come to marketing your wares in the world, a little

               smoothness goes farther than a great deal of talent sometimes. If you

               happen to be cursed with a real talent, then you’ve got to be very smooth

               indeed, or you’ll never get your money back.' (252)

As Thea had always aimed at getting “something big” (242) out of life she sticks to her

principles also now. She wants only “impossible things” (243) and thus rejects the idea

of conforming to the mainstream. When Fred Ottenburg offers a trip to her to the desert

in the Southwest, she grasps the opportunity to escape the hostile atmosphere of


   From the first moment Thea sets foot in the big city she cannot help noticing the

obtrusive noise, confusion and dirt of Chicago, so different from Moonstone. While

Thea discovers the beauty of art, she is confronted with the sordid realities of life at the

same time. Her life is turning more and more bleak owing to the place she lives at, the

social milieu which makes her suffer for her ideals and also dissatisfaction with her

musical development. From now on Thea perceives life “as the natural enemy of art”

(Stouck, “The Song of the Lark: A Künstlerroman”). While the art – life interrelation

begins on a somewhat pessimistic note, the novel depicts Thea’s changing perspective

on these two antagonists as she comes to achieve a certain kind of harmony between

them in the end.

   Before Thea leaves to Arizona and while she is still contemplating her further

action, Cather refers to another composition, Grieg’s Thanks for Your Advice. This time

Cather even mentions the lyrics: “Thanks for your advice! But I prefer to steer my boat

                                                - 40 -
into the din of roaring breakers. […] I long to fight my way through the angry waves,

and to see how far, and how long I can make them carry me” (270). This piece in fact

anticipates Thea’s resolution to struggle for success on her own and her decision to

discontinue her American studies in order to go to Germany.

   The Southwest canyons with their ancient cliff dwellings turn out to be of crucial

significance to Thea. When she withdraws to absolute solitude and starts to lead a sort

of instinctive life, she frees herself from the tiring personality which burdened her in

Chicago. Moreover, “She was getting back to the earliest sources of gladness that she

could remember” (296). As she gradually achieves a symbiosis with the natural world

totally engulfing her physical body, Thea’s mind is subdued whereas her senses take

over the control of her being. She feels that “she could become a mere receptacle for

heat, or become a color, […] or she could become a continuous repetition of sound”

(300). Having found the relics of Cliff-Dwellers, fragments of pottery, she becomes

aware of the past, its extinct people, the Indians who inhabited this place many years

ago, and most importantly the continuity of human striving. In an attempt to hold the

most precious element for their needs, water, the Ancient People created vessels which

functioned as an envelope or a sheath. On the one hand, their jars functioned as useful

objects, on the other, however, they were the expression of the human creativity and

artistry. Therefore, by such finding Thea comes to understand the nature of art, it is “the

giving of human shape to physical nature” (Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction

95). In the novel, Cather gives a following explanation taking place in Thea’s mind:

               what was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mould in which to

               imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself, -

               life hurrying past us and running away […]. In singing, one made a

                                               - 41 -
               vessel of one’s throat and nostrils and held it on one’s breath, caught the

               stream in a scale of natural intervals. (304)

Having spent some time at this place whose atmosphere is saturated with a certain kind

of “cross-cultural, and cross-historical contact” with the past generations which

“remains entirely disembodied” (Ruotolo 380), Thea has the impression as if “certain

feelings were transmitted to her” (302). The powerful experience in Panther canyon

enables Thea to perceive art as “a sacred trust for the whole humankind, rather than a

struggle for individual achievement and recognition” (Stouck, “The Song of the Lark: A

Künstlerroman”). Suddenly, Thea is prepared to serve art selflessly and absolutely. The

newly gained knowledge and energy impel her to action. She decides to start her studies

anew in Germany and try to succeed.

   Finally, the last stage of Thea’s journey toward success depicts Thea as an opera

diva of the Metropolitean Opera. Thea, now Madame Kronborg, sacrificed her personal

life to the life on stage. Since she lives fully for her vocation, she is not married, nor

does she have any children. As she explains to Dr. Archie: “Your work becomes your

personal life. You are not much good until it does” (455). However, in uniting those two

it seems that “in a sense Thea has died to life” and it is “only the challenge of her art

[that] brings her vitality and zest for life” (Stouck, “The Song of the Lark: A

Künstlerroman”).When Dr. Archie goes to her performance in New York for the first

time since she left for Germany, he expects to find the old Thea as he knew her. For this

reason, he is surprised when looking at her in her Elsa role that he feels “admiration and

estrangement” (412). Moreover, he sees “her much brightened and beautified” (412)

and realizes that it is only on stage that she becomes “entirely illuminated” (442). When

he meets her after the concert in privacy, he notices how tired and worn she looks. As a

young artist Thea has to fight her way to success even when she is a professional

                                                - 42 -
already. A large number of singers causes that she has to accept secondary roles at the

beginning of her career even if not suitable for her voice. Yet, Thea gradually gains

recognition in the world of music. It is perhaps in the role of Sieglinde that she reaches

her peak. That night is remarkable not only because the opera hall is full of her friends

from the past who came to see her, but also because she accomplishes her goal. During

her singing she feels that “What she had often tried to reach, lay under her hand. She

had only to touch an idea to make it live. […] Her body was absolutely the instrument

of her idea. […] And her voice was as flexible as her body” (478). This is the moment

Thea enters the Kingdom of Art. It is the beauty of her voice, her noble style and a

consuming passion that enables her to touch the soul of her listener. Thea as an ultimate

artist creates the connecting bridge and transcends the reality of life. In this novel,

Cather lets Thea succeed because she complies with the demands she placed on artists,

which is something Lucy Gayheart, the heroine of the novel dealt with in the following

chapter, is not capable of.

4.2   Lucy Gayheart: The Kingdom of Art Inaccessible

In Lucy Gayheart the author renders a story of a young girl Lucy who leaves her

Nebraska home in order to study the piano in Chicago. However, Lucy does not focus

on her own development and career and works partially as an accompanist for an

accomplished singer, Sebastian Clement. As she does not quest for her own artistic

expression, it is only through his art that she lives for music. Even though Sebastian is

aged and married, Lucy falls in love with him. When he drowns in an accident at sea in

Italy, Lucy gets depressed and returns to her hometown Haverford to recover from her

grief. At this time when her mood is to a certain degree pervaded by nihilistic thoughts,

she realizes with the help of her closest friends that she simply must go on living. That

                                               - 43 -
is the only thing that really matters in life. Nonetheless, with such resolution in mind,

she drowns in Haverford before being able to act on it.

   As it has been mentioned already, Cather occupies herself with simpler musical

forms in her later novels. The substantive material used in Lucy Gayheart represent

Schubert’s song cycles Die Winterreise, Die schöne Müllerin, other songs, and also

opera to a limited extent. Die Winterreise has a very special position among these as it

is thematically linked to the theme of the novel. It is a cycle comprised of twenty-four

songs following a winter journey “of a wandering youth who broods obsessively over

having been jilted by his sweetheart” (Kramer 122). The whole cycle is designed as a

sequence of haphazardly changing moods from the youth’s happy spring memories

filled with love and his present dreary situation taking place in winter. In Giannone’s

view, however, the whole journey is so indefinite and impersonalized that it could

express not merely “falling out of human love” but more generally “disaffection with all

life” (Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 216). Virtually, the journey is “a solitary

exploration of one being’s inner life” (Youens 55), which perfectly corresponds with the

narrative of Lucy Gayheart. Another common feature of the novel and the cycle is the

dramatization of the “bottomless resilience of a human psyche” (Kramer 123) which in

the end enables the main character to “turn [the] suffering into knowledge” (Kramer

124) and to find out that love is volatile and thus life itself should be the essence of


   The story of Lucy Gayheart is told in a time span of two years, beginning in winter

and ending in winter, making it Lucy’s own Winterreise and her search for the meaning

of life. While this story is fitted in two books, there is one more Winterreise depicted in

the third book, this time of Harry Gordon’s, Lucy’s friend. It is more in this novel than

in any other that Cather attempts to achieve the desired “overtone divined by the ear but

                                               - 44 -
not heard by it.” With the help of Die Winterreise Cather achieves her goal: “one finds a

deep similarity between the effects created by both the song cycle and the novel”

(Giannone, Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 215). Cather invites her reader to undertake

his own journey and with her guidance by means of the novel reach the elevation of


    Lucy is portrayed as a person of fine nature, vitality and zest for life. “Life seemed

to lie very near the surface in her” (6). Even though she studies the piano, career is not a

pursuit of hers. For Lucy, music is just pleasure and a means of earning money. It seems

like Lucy gets the purpose of life right naturally, albeit unconsciously. However, this

understanding is at this point of time merely in embryo. Up to now it remains in this

stage only because of one reason, Lucy’s life experience is too limited as she has not

been exposed to much of what life brings. When she spots a bright star in the sky she

considers it as “another kind of life” which “spoke to her like a signal” (11). “That joy

of saluting what is far above one was an eternal thing” (12). Nevertheless, Lucy is not

prepared yet to place her trust to something transcending one’s own being and thus she

turns away from the silver light as it “was too bright and too sharp. It hurt, and made

one feel small and lost” (12).

    Her unruffled life devoid of great emotions changes when she attends two recitals of

Sebastian who opens the gates of great art for her filled with strong feelings and beauty.

Sebastian as an acclaimed artist presents his audience with perfection. His personality,

his diction, and the music Sebastian sings, emotional Schubert songs, make her

“struggling with something she had never felt before. […] It was a discovery about life,

a revelation of love as a tragic force, […] of passion that drowns like black water” (27).

The dark mood of the songs and Sebastian’s interpretation enhanced by some tragic

aspect of his personality awakens something new in Lucy and spoils something for her

                                                - 45 -
at the same time. Life seems to her now as “dark and terrifying, full of fears and

dangers” (27). When she comes home she realizes that her idealistic conception of life

was disturbed. Suddenly, “some protecting barrier was gone” (28) and the embryo of

Lucy’s understanding is terminated. The implication of the recitals is linked to Lucy’s

sensitive disposition. While “some people’s lives are affected by what happens to their

property,” for “others fate is what happens to their feelings and their thoughts” (28).

From now on Lucy is burdened with the dark feelings experienced during the recitals

and considers them true as Giannone suggests: “to Lucy, truth is beauty and feeling”

(Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction 224). This viewpoint together with Cather’s reference

to love as a dark passion that drowns as early as now at the beginning of the novel in

fact predetermines the cause of Lucy’s early death. After Sebastian’s death she

accidentally drowns while skating on a frozen river.

   However, the effect of these songs on Sebastian is different as he is capable of

distinguishing the emotions inherent in art from reality. Moreover, when singing Die

Winterreise, he “did not identify himself with this melancholy youth; he presented him

as if he were a memory.[…] One felt a long distance between the singer and the scenes

he was recalling, a long perspective”(33). This is the interpretation favored by Cather

and therefore Sebastian is presented as Cather’s ideal artist.

   In fact, Sebastian also underwent his Winterreise in his life. It was some years ago

when his marriage turned out to be unsuccessful and he came to a conclusion that

despite all the difficult situations in life he must fully enjoy it. In Lucy’s view

“[Sebastian] had a simplicity that must come from having lived a great deal and

mastered a great deal” (39). As in Die Winterreise, past however bleak and painful is

recollected with a feeling of happiness, the same rule applies also in Sebastian’s case.

“When he happened to tell Lucy about something he and his wife had done or seen, he

                                                - 46 -
seemed to recall it with pleasure, became animated and gay. But [Lucy] felt sure that

things were not like that with them now. Perhaps this was why he was unhappy” (44).

Sebastian’s sadness stems from the fact that his life passes fast and he cannot stop it. He

realizes his mortality primarily because of his dying friends whom he loses forever.

“Nothing had ever made Sebastian admit to himself that his youth was irrevocably

gone. He had clung to a secret belief that he would pick it up again, somewhere” (65).

The moment he meets Lucy, Sebastian seizes his opportunity to revive his youth and

gain some new vitality. Although Lucy falls in love with a man who teaches her about

the beauty of true art, it is rather a platonic love. According to Rosowski “what

Sebastian does is not to awaken passion in her, but to draw it from her, feeding himself

from her” (225) and thus “he leaves her with emptiness and estrangement” (226). While

Lucy seeks his attention and company to be happy, “she felt him to take everything that

was in her heart; […] his soft, breathing seemed to drink her up entirely” (73). Since

Sebastian is unable to come to terms with his diminishing youth he is bound to die. He

did not complete his Winterreise with the ultimate understanding and humility.

   When Sebastian drowns in Italy, Lucy returns to Haverford desperate and devoid of

life. It is from music she draws comfort and the knowledge. During the operatic

performance The Bohemian Girl by Balfe Lucy is awakened to life again. In spite of the

opera being sung by an aged soprano with a worn voice, Lucy is charmed by her desire

to do her best and by her passion. This becomes the cue for Lucy to think differently.

“What if – what if Life itself were the sweetheart? […] She must go back into the world

and get all she could” (150). “Let it come!” (151) Almost the identical kind of notion

she receives also from her old friend Mrs. Ramsay whose words become the final

legacy from Cather for all the people in the world. “'Life is short; gather roses while you

may. […] Nothing really matters but living. Get all you can out of it. I’m an old woman,

                                               - 47 -
and I know. Accomplishments are the ornaments of life, they come second” (134, 135).

Lucy grasps the idea and decides to continue with her piano studies in Chicago.

However, as she is too weak, still much affected by Sebastian’s negative influence,

Lucy is doomed to death, too and the black waters get hold of her.

   The last Winterreise depicted by Cather is the one of Harry Gordon. Before the

moment of Lucy’s death he refused to give her a ride in his horse sleigh which made her

go skating on the river. For several years his life was full of remorse only to find repose

in the end. Harry’s journey towards wisdom, humility and devotion to life itself is the

most perfect and complete undertaking. At the end of his Winterreise he remembers

Lucy with joy and through the years of sincere penance achieves absolution. In his

essay, Giannone voices Cather’s moral resounding in her novel: “If loss and death

produce a feeling of distress, the acceptance of these inevitable diminishments as part of

a timeless mystery opens [one] to a future of reconciliation” (“Music, Silence, and the

Spirituality of Willa Cather”). Taken this into account, it is only unconditional trust in

something transcending one’s own being that brings the absolutely perfect peace of

mind. What is striking about this part of the novel is the fact that Cather totally

abandons audible music here and thus Harry’s self-examination takes place in silence.

As Giannone proposes, the only music present in the book three is “the music in Harry’s

soul that arises from the harmony he eventually strikes with the eternal rhythm of loss

and life, of love and spite, and all other contrasts in the rhythm of life” (“Music,

Silence, and the Spirituality of Willa Cather”).

   To sum up, when put into contrast it becomes clear how much Cather’s view on art

and life changed during the span between The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart.

Although Thea Kronborg reaches the Kingdom of Art, the characters in Lucy Gayheart

                                               - 48 -
either touch or find the supreme truth, which in the long run is something of not only

greater but also more importantly lasting value.

                                              - 49 -

To sum up, Cather’s fiction reflects the most important aspects of her life. Firstly, her

late childhood on the Nebraska Divide and the experience with the pioneer life,

secondly, Cather’s lifelong love of music and art connected with her own profession

and her own artistic development, and thirdly, the aspect of womanhood representing a

controversial issue in nineteenth-century America. All of these constitute a fundamental

substance of her writing and are to be found in the works chosen for this thesis, “Peter,”

“Eric Hermannson’s Soul,” “A Wagner Matinee,” “The Garden Lodge,” and The Song

of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart

   The main theme interconnecting all of these pieces of fiction by Cather is the desire

to achieve things or draw closer to the ideal state of reality, and the struggle necessary

to such accomplishments. In the stories dealing primarily with pioneers, such as in

“Peter,” “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” and “A Wagner Matinee,” music is depicted as a

means bridging the unsatisfactory situation of the reality with the desired places, states

of mind or memories from the past. Next, music also brings about the awakening of the

characters who had once abandoned the world of music and now regret their choice as

showed in “A Wagner Matinee” and “The Garden Lodge.” In the two novels, The Song

of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart, Cather renders a story of a woman attempting to

achieve a professional career as a musician. However, this requires determination and

great talent which is to be found only in individuals capable of total commitment to

their vocation.

   In all the works mentioned, Cather demonstrates the role that both the inborn powers

and external influences play in one’s life. On the one hand, there is one’s strength,

perseverance, endowments, and dispositions, on the other hand, the other decisive

elements include luck and the living conditions. As Peter Sadelack is weak and unable

                                               - 50 -
to overcome the bleak circumstances of his life, he commits suicide and thus is

defeated. Eric Hermannson was born with exceptional endurance which helps him to

survive on the frontier, nevertheless, the reasoning of the puritanical religion makes him

unsure about his acts and thus he thinks of his fate as unresolved. In her later stories

within the Troll Garden, Cather views art as dangerous, luring one away from ordinary

life. Georgiana Carpenter and Caroline Noble renounce their involvement with music to

devote themselves to marriage. While Georgiana ends up anguished after her reunion

with the world of music, Caroline resists and finds again her strength in human


   It is in her early works that Cather considers the life of a woman incompatible with

the life of an artist. The social expectations of females in the nineteenth century

America included total commitment to the family and household duties. Therefore,

pursuing a career or one’s own desires was viewed as inappropriate and women’s self-

awareness was suppressed. However, as Cather herself gradually developed as a

successful artist independent from the masculine world, she reconciled the role of a

woman with the role of an artist in her fiction. In her earlier works, “A Wagner

Matinee” and “The Garden Lodge,” the heroines give preference to marriage over their

own self-realization. Later on, in the two novels discussed in this thesis, Cather comes

to depict young women who go out into the world in quest of their interests and


   In addition, there is one more shift in Cather’s attitudes to be noticed in her novels,

this time concerning her relation to art and life. While in her early novel, The Song of

the Lark, the plot is influenced by Cather’s stage of artistic growth, her later novel, Lucy

Gayheart, expresses rather Cather’s growth as a human. Taken this into consideration,

in the story of Thea Kronborg, life is subordinated to art. Thea isolates herself from

                                                - 51 -
other people and sacrifices her personal life to her artistic career bringing her

satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is in her penultimate novel that Cather re-evaluates her

priorities and exemplifies them in the story of Lucy Gayheart. Here, Cather depicts

artistic and all other kinds of accomplishments in one’s life as secondary to life itself.

For this reason, it might be concluded that Cather gets over her heroic portrayal of

artists and reaches a more humanistic perspective in her writings.

                                               - 52 -
                                     6. WORKS CITED

Brown, E. K. Willa Cather: A Critical Biography. NY: Knopf, 1953. Print.

Cather, Willa. “Amusements.” Nebraska State Journal. Nov. 23, 1893. The Willa

   Cather Archive. Ed. Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

---. “As You Like It.” Nebraska State Journal. Dec. 16, 1894. The Willa Cather

   Archive. Ed. Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

---. Courier. May 12, 1900. The World and the Parish: Willa Cather’s Articles and

   Reviews, 1893-1902. Ed. William M. Curtin. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970.

   Google Books. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

---. Courier. Sept. 7, 1895. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles and

   Critical Statements 1893-1896. Ed. Slote and Willa Cather. Lincoln: U of Nebraska

   P, 1966. Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

---. Courier. Sept. 25, 1895. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles and

   Critical Statements 1893-1896. Ed. Slote and Willa Cather. Lincoln: U of Nebraska

   P, 1966. Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

---. “Emma Calve.” The Home Monthly. Jun. 6, 1897. The Willa Cather Archive. Ed.

   Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

---. “Eric Hermannson’s Soul.ˮ Comp. Sharon O Brien. Cather: Stories, Poems, and

   Other Writings. N.Y.: Lib. of America, 1992. Print. 22-45.

---. The Garden Lodge. Comp. O Brien. Cather: Early Novels and Stories. N.Y.: Lib. of

   America, 1987. Print.

---. Lincoln Daily Star. Oct. 24, 1915. Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches,

   and Letters. Ed. L. Brent Bohlke. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986. Questia. Web. 13

   Apr. 2012. xv-202.

---. Lucy Gayheart. Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1936. Print.

                                              - 53 -
---. Nebraska State Journal. Dec. 9, 1894. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First

   Principles and Critical Statements 1893-1896. Ed. Slote and Willa Cather. Lincoln:

   U of Nebraska P, 1966. Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

---. Nebraska State Journal. Feb. 16, 1896. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First

   Principles and Critical Statements 1893-1896. Ed. Slote and Willa Cather. Lincoln:

   U of Nebraska P, 1966. Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

---. Nebraska State Journal. Sept. 30, 1894. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First

   Principles and Critical Statements 1893-1896. Ed. Slote and Willa Cather. Lincoln:

   U of Nebraska P, 1966. Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

---. “The Novel Démeublé.” Cather: Stories, Poems, and Other Writings. Comp. Sharon

   O Brien. N.Y.: Lib. of America, 1992. Print. 834-837.

---. “The Passing Show.” Mar. 1, 1896. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First

   Principles and Critical Statements 1893-1896. Ed. Slote and Willa Cather. Lincoln:

   U of Nebraska P, 1966. Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

---.“Peter.ˮ Comp. O Brien. Cather: Stories, Poems, and Other Writings. N.Y.: Lib. of

   America, 1992. Print. 5-7.

---. “Plays and Players.” Nebraska State Journal. Feb. 11, 1894. The Willa Cather

   Archive. Ed. Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

---. “Shakespeare and Hamlet [Part 2].” Nebraska State Journal. Nov. 8, 1891. The

   Willa Cather Archive. Ed. Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr.


---. The Song of the Lark. London: Traveller’s Lib., 1932. Print.

---. A Wagner Matinée. The Willa Cather Archive. Ed. Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of

   Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

                                               - 54 -
Cather, Willa, and Bernice Slote. The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather’s First Principles

   and Critical Statements, 1893-1896. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1966. Questia. Web.

   13 Apr. 2012. i-489.

Fay, Marion. Making Her Work Her Life: Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction. Ed. Michael

   J. Meyer. NY: Rodopi, 2002. Google Books. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Flannigan, John H. “Words and Music Made Flesh in Cather’s Eric Hermannson’s

   Soul.” Studies in Short Fiction 32.2 (1995). EBSCO Discovery Service. Online

   Database. Masaryk U, Czech Rep. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Giannone, Richard. Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1968.

   Questia. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. vii-254.

---. “Music, Silence, and the Spirituality of Willa Cather.ˮ Renascence: Essays on

   Values in Literature 57.2 (2005): 123-49. EBSCO Discovery Service. Online

   Database. Masaryk U, Czech Rep. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Kramer, Lawrence. Why Classical Music Still Matters. Berkeley: U of California P,

   2007. Print.

Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather: Living. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1976. Print.

Music With Ease. “The Plot of Tannhäuser.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012.


Old and Sold. “Richard Wagner 1813-1883.” Web. 13 Apr. 2012.


Rosowski, Susan J. The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather’s Romanticism. US: U of

   Nebraska P, 1986. Google Books. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Ruotolo, Cristina. “'Savage Blonde': Willa Cather and the Making of an American

   Musician.” Literature Compass (2007): 369-83. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

                                              - 55 -
Stouck, David. “The Song of the Lark: A Künstlerroman.” Ed. Linda Pavlovski. “Willa

   Cather’s Imagination.” Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Online

   Database. Masaryk U, Czech Rep. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

---. “Willa Cather’s Last Four Books.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 7.1 (1973): 41-53.

   JSTOR. Online Database. Masaryk U, Czech Rep. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

The Willa Cather Archive. Ed. Andrew Jewell. Lincoln: U of Nebraska. Web. 13 Apr.


The Willa Cather Foundation. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://www.willacather.org>.

Woodress, James. A Literary Life. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987. The Willa Cather

   Archive. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Woodress, James. Willa Cather: Her Life and Art. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970.


Youens, Susan. Retracing a Winter’s Journey: Schubert’s Winterreise. NY: Cornell UP,

   1991. Print.

                                            - 56 -

This diploma thesis discusses the role of music in the fiction of Willa Cather, one of the

greatest authors of twentieth-century America. As music played a vital role in her life,

Cather very often incorporated music and music-related concerns into her short stories

and novels. However, music was not a mere interest of Cather’s, but rather a lifelong

devotion, to which she paid her tribute by means of her own art. The major finding of

this thesis represents the fact that the role of music in Cather’s fiction and her view on

art substantially changed. While in her early works she usually used music just to

augment her themes, in her later works music became the core. Moreover, despite her

strong belief in the importance of art and artistic vocation at the beginning of her life,

she reassessed her opinions towards the end of her life and came to view art as

subsidiary to life itself.

    The objective of the thesis is to provide a deeper insight into the ways in which

Cather made use of music in the works chosen for the analysis. Taking into

consideration that her fiction has biographical implications and that her views on art so

often embodied in her stories and novels are based on the principles established within

her journalistic output, the thesis has also an introductory part dealing with the crucial

moments and formative influences in Cather’s life. This section includes a short

analysis of Cather’s artistic growth, an overview of her aesthetic theories relevant to her

fiction, and a summary of the ways in which music is utilized in the next part of the

thesis focusing on particular works. Then, individual short stories and novels are

discussed, “Peter,” “Eric Hermannson’s Soul,” “A Wagner Matinee,” “The Garden

Lodge,” and The Song of the Lark and Lucy Gayheart respectively.

                                               - 57 -

Tato diplomová práce se zabývá postavením hudby a jejím využitím ve fiktivní tvorbě

Willy Catherové, jedné z nejvýznačnějších spisovatelek Spojených Států Amerických

dvacátého století. Jelikož byla hudba nepostradatelnou součástí autorčina života,

objevuje se hudba a náměty s ní spjaté v jejích povídkách a románech v nejrůznějších

podobách a podáních. Nutno ale zdůraznit, že hudba nebyla pouze její zálibou, nýbrž

celoživotní vášní, a tudíž to, že ji využívá ve své tvorbě, je jejím projevem nejvyšší

oddanosti. Jedním z nejzásadnějších zjištění této diplomové práce je to, že se v průběhu

tvorby Catherové mění jak role hudby v jejích dílech, tak i její názory na umění.

Zatímco raná díla jsou hudbou pouze obohacována, v pozdějších se hudba stává

hlavním centrem. Další změnou je také to, že ke konci svého života Catherová

přehodnocuje své dřívější přesvědčení o důležitosti umění a životního poslání umělce a

přichází k závěru, že umění je ve srovnaní s životem samotným pouze druhořadé.

   Cílem práce je popsat a objasnit to, jakými způsoby Catherová využívá hudbu

v dílech, která jsou v této práci řešena. Vzhledem k tomu, že fiktivní tvorba Catherové

odráží skutečnosti z jejího života, a že její názory na umění, které jsou tak často

začleňované a zpracovávané v jejích povídkách a románech, mají původ v dřívější

autorčině tvorbě novinářské, obsahuje tato práce také úvodní část věnovanou těmto

otázkám. Konkrétně tato část obsahuje krátký rozbor uměleckého vývoje Catherové,

přehled jejích estetických teorií, které Catherová ve své fikci uplatňuje a souhrn

způsobů, jak Catherová využívá hudbu v dílech rozebíraných v této práci. Další část pak

tvoří analýza jednotlivých povídek a románů v následujícím pořadí - Peter, Eric

Hermannson’s Soul, A Wagner Matinee, The Garden Lodge, The Song of the Lark a

Lucy Gayheart.

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