If the tone of Willa Cather seems a bit flat at times, it is because Brown and Crone have sought consistently to withhold their passion for Cather and let readers judge for themselves. This objective portrayal of a remarkable writer is the book’s strongest point and one that will encourage young readers to form their own opinions of Cather.
It should be noted, however, that a sympathy for Cather is clearly evident throughout the book. It is perhaps inevitable that two women writers should feel strongly and positively about a fellow author, especially one who broke ground in publishing so fearlessly. Brown and Crone demonstrate to teenage readers through Willa Cather the trials that must be endured to achieve a desired goal. As a young reporter in Pittsburgh, Cather had to bicycle to work, rain or shine. As a recognized author, later in life, she and Lewis once were lost for the better part of a day and night in a canyon outside Mesa Verde, Colorado. Both incidents only served to strengthen Cather’s intellectual resolve.
The authors emphasize Cather’s determination to surmount, or even ignore, the odds facing her. Her courage and ability to question others were qualities that evidenced themselves in Cather’s childhood and grew to stand the reporter in good stead during her early years in Pittsburgh and New York City. Because of her ability to ferret out information and write accurate portrayals of celebrities, magazine...
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This volume stands out, among the many biographies of such writers as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, as a biography of a strong woman writer—a writer who could be called the American Virginia Woolf. Yet there is a larger message for teenage readers in this book. The authors were not only trying to show the success of a brilliant, if eccentric, woman in the man’s world of journalistic and literary publishing, but also attempting to demonstrate how a person’s eventual greatness might not manifest itself until the latter half of life. Students need to realize that fame may be achieved after forty. In an excerpt from a letter that Sarah Orne Jewett sent to Cather, Jewett admonishes her friend to “find your own quiet center of life,” and Brown and Crone use this phrase over and over to measure the worth of Cather’s writing. Not until Cather reaches middle age do the authors admit her literary achievement, her discovery of a quiet, creative center.
History and literary students alike will appreciate the careful chronological progression of Willa Cather. Interspersed with personal and historical events, and Cather’s reactions to them, are opinions of well-known personages and the writings they sparked in the author. As mentioned before, brief but complete plot summaries of the novels are provided as they appeared in the author’s life; young readers will find these to be valuable, as they give greater knowledge of and insight into a notable American woman writer.