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.
"The Diamond Mine'' begins when the narrator, Caroline, an old friend of the famous opera singer, Cressida Garnet, recounts the voyage where Cressida announced her fourth marriage, to Jerome Brown. When Cressida makes her first appearance, she displays the characteristic energy and attention to detail that have made her one of the most sought-after opera stars.
Caroline notes the presence of Miss Julia Garnet, Cressida's fifty-year-old sister, and Cressida's son, Horace, a bored young man of twenty-two. Caroline sees Miletus Poppas, Cressida's Greek accompanist, and strikes up a conversation with him. Caroline and Poppas walk over to the deck chairs where Cressida is lounging, and she jumps up to greet Caroline. The two women walk to a different part of the ship, where they talk about her recent engagement to Jerome Brown. Cressida says that with the exception of her son—who Caroline secretly notes can be easily bought—nobody else is supporting the marriage.
Caroline notes Poppas, Miss Julia, and Horace sitting in the deck chairs, and speculates how the latter two would hurt Cressida—the financial and emotional hand that feeds them—if they had the chance. Caroline thinks about the other Garnets in Cressida's family, and how they try to capitalize on Cressida's fame by putting on airs in their native Columbus, Ohio. Caroline also notices how their constant notes requesting money from Cressida strain the singer very much, and how their envy for her is so much that they want to be Cressida.
One evening on the voyage, Cressida talks to Caroline in more detail about Jerome Brown. At this point, Caroline briefly remembers Cressida's first husband, Charley Wilton, an organist who died from tuberculosis. Wilton was Horace's father and Caroline's cousin. Cressida says that she's marrying Brown because she has always been able to count on him, and he has never pushed her, unlike others have. They talk about Cressida's family, who are jealous that the singer is the only talented one.
Cressida's First Two Husbands
Caroline remembers meeting Cressida when they were both girls in Ohio, and starts thinking about Cressida's past husbands, beginning with Wilton, who was her first music teacher. Her second husband, Ransome McChord, did not approve of Cressida's close friendship with Poppas and forced her to choose between them; she chose Poppas. Their association has been mutually beneficial, as Poppas has helped her to develop her singing skill, while she has made Poppas a rich man in the process. This is a constant worry to the rest of the Garnets, who feel that Poppas is getting money that should be theirs.
Caroline notes that it is Cressida's stability and professionalism that win singing jobs, often over others who are more talented but difficult to deal with. Cressida only strayed from this strength of character once with Blasius Bouchalka. Caroline remembers back to the evening that she and Cressida first met Bouchalka, a Bohemian, when the two women were walking around New York and...
(The entire section is 1282 words.)