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Title:Willa Cather and the Classics
Author(s):Ryder, Mary Ruth
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:Throughout her works Willa Cather incorporated references to classical literature, history, and especially myth as a means of confronting personal and societal crises and of expressing the universality of human experience. In turning to the Classics, Cather reinforced her belief that only two or three human stories go on repeating themselves.
Cather's works fall into three periods in which her classical emphasis changes. Her earliest works, April Twilights and The Troll Garden, reveal concern for the fast-disappearing Greek spirit in a world deserted by Apollo and worshipping false gods. In the first period (1912-1918), Cather's mood and classical focus change. Alexander's Bridge reworks the tradition of the Homeric hero who tries to reconcile personal freedom and societal demands. In O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and The Song of the Lark, Cather celebrates the eternal feminine, as mythic earth mothers triumph in their struggle against an Olympian order inimical to art and classical ideals.
The Georgic mood of this period changes in Cather's post-war works. Cather depicts growing materialism as a struggle between Aphrodite and Artemis. Lone questers of artistic purity, Niel Herbert and Claude Wheeler, become Hippolytean figures and find Artemis changed into a victimized Medea, an Aphrodite Pandemos, or a destructive Medusa. Cather's pessimism surfaces in The Professor's House, where attempts to recover the strong time of Olympian patriarchy also fail. In the bitterest of her works, My Mortal Enemy, Cather shows a world broken in two and unresponsive to beauty. Myra Henshawe, an aging Hera, learns to live without joy, having failed in her loyalty to Artemis and having found Aphrodite's gifts destructive.
In the final phase of her work, though, Cather seems to recover from her disillusionment, finding comfort in a Christian mythos. Archbishop Latour and Euclide Auclaire embark on Aeneas' quest but bring a new god into their countries. In Lucy Gayheart and Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Cather makes a truce with her world, finding that the Christian rock, like the Greek Parnassus, serves as a defense against the distortion of values and the decay of civilization.
Issue Date:1987
Description:390 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1987.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8721750
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1987

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