A Wagner Matinee Questions and Answers
by Willa Cather

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Does Aunt Georgiana find that pleasure is worth the pain of longing in "A Wagner Matinee"? Does Aunt Georgiana find that pleasure is worth the pain of longing in "A Wagner Matinee"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is not a light and trivial question easily answered. On the one hand, Aunt Georgiana will now and always have a beautiful, though torturous, memory to find new music in whenever she turns to it (new as opposed to long dead and pushed aside). It may indeed cause a new blooming of her soul and a redirection of her path--but that is speculation. On the other hand, her experience might so overwhelm her soul that she is removed psychically from life and her body soon betrays her. Is there something that may be in common in each scenario? In both possibilities, she experienced inextinguishable joy through the font of beauty of music and, I would wager, she found it worth it.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think this is an example of the idea that you can't go home again.  In other words, there are some experiences that transform us so much that we literally cannot go back to the life we were living.  It is painful, but are we better off never experiencing the pleasure so we never experience the pain?

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is a sense in which Aunt Georgiana would have been happier if she had never been to the concert. The way that she slowly responds to the music before her, starting off responding "mutely" and "silent," so much so that her nephew wonders if she had "enough left to at all comprehend this power which had kindled the world since she had left it," seems to indicate that she has forgotten or tried to forget the tremendous power of music that is brought to life in this story. However, the intense emotional reaction that she then gives to what she hears clearly indicates both her memory of what music can do for us as humans but also the grief that she has experienced at being separated from music for so long. Note the following quote:

From the trembling of her face I could well believe that before the last numbers she had been carried out where the myriad graves are, into the grey, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope has lain down with hope and dream with dream, and, renouncing, slept.

Aunt Georgiana experiences once again the ability of music to transport us and to connect with our soul, but it is clear that this is a tragic experience. Note the reference to images of burial grounds and silence and renunciation. The tears and pleas of Aunt Georgiana at the end of the story, when she begs to not have to go back to her barren existence, indicates that the pleasure that has been reawakened within her must be renounced yet again, with the same pain and grief as before.

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