Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

When ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ was published, it was greeted with generous enthusiasm. Henry Seidel Canby pointed out in the Saturday Review of Literature that ‘‘Cather’s achievement . . . lies in her discovery and revelation of ‘great souls’ inside the commonplace human [being] called . . . Neighbour Rosicky.’’ Clifton Fadiman, writing in the Nation, found ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ a fine example of Cather’s subtle craftsmanship. By contrast, Peter Quennell, writing for the New Statesman and Nation, found the story sentimental and unimpressive. Another interesting exception to the story’s generally positive reception was Granville Hicks’s essay ‘‘The Case against Willa Cather,’’ which appeared in the English Journal in 1933. Because he supported the kind of literary realism that ‘‘examine[s] life as it is,’’ Hicks found that the romantic and nostalgic aspects of Cather’s work ‘‘isolated [her] from the social movements that were shaping the destiny of the nation.’’ In writing about ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ in particular, Hicks argued that Cather ‘‘exaggerates the security of the country’’ in her depiction of Anton Rosicky’s devotion to the land. Hicks’s essay represented a point of view held especially by the social realists of the American left in the 1930s, who believed that writers should directly represent social and economic issues.

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While Hicks criticized Cather’s literary treatment of the land, commentators writing in the post- Depression years have generally applauded it. Writing about ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ in 1951, David Daiches argued that its ‘‘earthiness almost neutralizes its sentimentality, and the relation of the action to its context in agricultural life gives the story an elemental quality.’’ In ‘‘‘Land’ Relevance in ‘Neighbour Rosicky,’’’ Sister Lucy Schneider suggested that the land symbolizes the possibility of transcendence; writer Hermione Lee praised Cather’s ‘‘celebration of old-fashioned American agrarian values . . . and [her] belief in land-ownership as better for the soul than urban wage-earning.’’ Other critics, like Kathleen Danker and Dorothy Van Ghent, focused on Cather’s pastoralism, which Danker defined as the ‘‘retreat from the complexities of urban society to a secluded rural place such as a farm, field, garden, or orchard, where human life is returned to the simple essentials of the natural world of cyclical season.’’

Many commentators on this story have noticed the special affinity between Rosicky and the earth. In an article from 1979, Edward J. Piacentino noticed how Cather uses imagery to connect Rosicky to the land. He pointed out that even Rosicky’s triangular-shaped eyes suggest the shape of a plow. In her book The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather’s Romanticism, published in 1986, Susan J. Rosowski linked ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ to the nineteenthcentury American poet Walt Whitman, whose poem cycle ‘‘Leaves of Grass’’ influenced many American writers, including Cather. Rosowski maintained that

‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ is as Whitmanesque...

(The entire section contains 716 words.)

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