Willa Cather's short story ‘‘The Diamond Mine’’ was first published in McClure's magazine in 1916, although it almost was not published at all. The story was a blatant, fictionalized account of the life of Lillian Nordica, an American soprano, and publishers feared a lawsuit. The story was reprinted four years later in the collection Youth and the Bright Medusa, which featured other stories about the lives of artists in the early twentieth century. At the time the story was written, the worldwide popularity of opera singers and other artists was increasing, and many stars, including women, were becoming rich and celebrated. However, as Cather illustrates with her opera singer, Cressida Garnet in ‘‘The Diamond Mine,’’ the money and success can inspire envy and hatred in an artist's family and friends. This, along with the emotional toil inherent in a publicized art career, can drain a person. Critics have interpreted the story as a reinforcement of Cather's belief that art should be done for art's sake, and not for fame or money.
This art theme is prevalent in many of Cather's other works, including three other stories in Youth and the Bright Medusa: ‘‘A Gold Slipper," "Scandal,’’ and ‘‘Coming, Aphrodite!’’ In addition, ‘‘The Diamond Mine’’ is often compared to Cather's novel, The Song of the Lark (1915), which also concerns an opera singer.
Although many critics have praised her stories that deal with artists, Cather is best-known for her stories about life on the Nebraska prairie, including her 1913 novel, O Pioneers! and One of Ours (1922), the latter of which earned the Pulitzer Prize. A current copy of ‘‘The Diamond Mine’’ can be found in Cather's Collected Stories, published by Vintage Classics in 1992.