(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lucy Gayheart is equally a study of the central character and of the effect that she has on others. The novel opens twenty-five years after Lucy’s death, when her memory is still fondly cherished by the residents of her small hometown: “In Haverford on the Platte the townspeople still talk of Lucy Gayheart. They do not talk of her a great deal, to be sure; life goes on and we live in the present.” This retrospective point of view provides the counterpoint to the dominant point of view in the novel, Lucy’s. Most of the novel takes place during the year before Lucy’s death, when she is in her early twenties and is just beginning to understand herself and to make choices about her future.

Lucy’s hardest choices involve her potential career as a pianist. Encouraged by her father, a watchmaker and music teacher, to study music in Chicago, Lucy has learned to love the cultural opportunities that the city offers. After three years of study with Paul Auerbach, Lucy is not convinced that she has the talent or the stamina to become a concert pianist. Yet her confidence in her ability is increased when she is asked to become a temporary accompanist for Clement Sebastian, a concert singer with an international reputation. Lucy’s sensitivity to mood and musical nuance makes her a talented accompanist, and Sebastian comes to appreciate not only her skill but also her enthusiastic outlook on life. Her enthusiasm enriches his life, which, although aesthetically full, is emotionally barren.

Soon after beginning to play for Sebastian, Lucy returns to Haverford for Christmas vacation. There she represses her new interests and enjoys her old friends and childhood activities, all the while aware that something is missing from her life. At the same time, she appears more interesting than ever to Harry Gordon, the most intelligent and the wealthiest young man...

(The entire section is 769 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian D. Bloom. Willa Cather’s Gift of Sympathy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1962. Considered a classic on criticism of Cather’s works. The Blooms look at this author’s gift of sympathy and skillfully relate it to her thematic interests and technical proficiency. Deals with not only Cather’s fiction but also her poetry and essays, which in themselves form an important commentary on her ideas.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Willa Cather. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. Bloom says of this volume that it gathers “the best literary criticism on Cather over the last half-century.” The criticism selected emphasizes Cather’s novels Sapphira and the Slave Girl, My Ántonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and A Lost Lady. The volume concludes with a study by Marilyn Arnold on what are considered Cather’s two finest short stories, “A Wagner Matinee” and “Paul’s Case.” Contains a chronology and a bibliography. A must for serious Cather scholars.

Fryer, Judith. Felicitous Space: The Imaginative Structures of Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986. Although there are many full-length studies on Cather’s writing, this volume is particularly noteworthy for its examination of Cather using current feminist...

(The entire section is 488 words.)