A Wagner Matinee Questions and Answers
by Willa Cather

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What does Aunt Georgiana's appearance upon her arrival in Boston tell you about her life in Nebraska in "A Wagner Matinee"?

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The once attractive Georgiana has become stooped and misshapen from having lived a harsh life on the prairie as a farmer's wife.

When Georgiana arrives in Boston from the small Nebraska village where she has lived for many years, Clark is shocked by his aunt's appearance. Her figure is "at once pathetic and grotesque." Although she was slightly stooped years ago, her shoulders are now practically bent together over her bosom. She no longer wears a girdle, and her stomach protrudes under her cheap woolen dress. She has ill-fitting dentures, and her face is weather-beaten from its exposure to the wind and sun for so many years.

In addition to her harsh life as a farmer's wife, Aunt Georgiana, who once taught the narrator his scales on the piano, suffers from having been deprived of the culture she once enjoyed in the life she left behind. For instance, when Clark takes her to the concert hall in Boston, he realizes that her experiences have isolated her from everything but the mundane operation of the farm on which she now lives.

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The appearance of this "misshapen figure" when she arrives at Boston from Nebraska clearly indicates the way that toil and country living have ground down this former music teacher into a shadow of the person that she was. Note the way that the narrator describes his Aunt when she descends from the train:

She had come all the way in a day coach; her linen duster had become black with soot and her black bonnet grey with dust during the journey. When we arrived at my boardinghouse the landlady put her to bed at once and I did not see her again until the next morning.

Note the way that Aunt Georgiana is made to appear dazed, bewildered, timid and unassuming. The narrator then goes on to compare his aunt's appearance to the battered bodied of explorers, suggesting that her life in Nebraska has been full of deprivations and harships, one that has stunted her and one that is not suitable for who she is as a person.

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