In "The Wagner Matinee," why does Aunt Georgiana move to Nebraska in the first place?

2 Answers

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

"The Wagner Matinee" by Willa Cather, the narrator named Clark receives a letter from his Uncle Howard informing him that his Aunt Georgiana will soon be arriving from Nebraska. It seems that Georgiana has received "a small legacy by a bachelor relative who had recently died," and she must go to Boston in order to settle the estate. Clark has been called upon to meet her at the train station and to attend to whatever she needs.

When Aunt Georgiana arrives, Clark is a little shocked at her dowdy appearance. For, she seems to have little sense of fashion or appearance from having lived on the plains. Having arrived in Boston, she is slightly dazed by the urban setting; for, she has spent many years on the plain. But, on the next morning after she has arrived, Clark asks her if she has heard any of the Wagnerian operas. When he takes her one evening, Aunt Georgiana hears Tannhauser, Wagner's opera about German minstrels, and Clark realizes that

...it never really died...the soul that can suffer so excruciatingly and so interminably, it withers to the outward eye only; lie that strange moss which can lie on a dusty shelf half a century...She wept so throughout the development and elaboration of the melody.

This reawakening of her emotions with the Wagnerian melodies awakens her from forgetfulness.

Sources:
kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

In "The Wagner Matinee," Aunt Georgiana moved to Nebraska for the purpose of an elopement. When she was younger she worked as a music teacher in Boston but spent one summer in a small village in Nebraska, where she met Howard Carpenter. The pair instantly fell in love: the narrator describes their relationship as one of those "absurd" and "extravagant passions" which a young, handsome country boy might inspire in an older, more conservative woman.

When the summer was over, Aunt Georgiana returned to Boston with Howard but, as their love intensified, they eloped to Nebraska, where they took a homestead in Red Willow County. Aunt Georgiana's family and friends were hugely disapproving of this move, but the pair made a successful marriage.

Over the course of the next thirty years, Aunt Georgiana has not spent more than a day away from her Nebraska homestead. So, for her, arriving in Boston after all this time is a strange yet vaguely familiar experience. 

Sources: