Willa Cather Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

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.