Critical Context

Lucy Gayheart was one of Willa Cather’s last four books, all of which have been criticized as less interesting than her earlier work. It has been suggested that the structure is contrived and the tone sentimental. Perhaps the most accurate criticism of the novel is that the characters are not fully developed. Strongly identified with commerce, Harry Gordon never manifests the keen intellect with which he is credited; his successes at the bank are not described and seem easy achievements. Clement Sebastian, as the representative of the aesthetic world, is emotionally aloof; his motivations are unclear, and even his love for Lucy seems an artistic rendition of emotion, rather than a humanizing action. Much of this may be attributed to the fact that Cather was trying to characterize the sense of life as much as any individual; nevertheless, this theme is developed at the expense of complexity of character and of structure.