There are several important settings in One of Ours. The first is the Wheeler farm on Lovely Creek. Although Claude yearns to visit other places, he is formed by the farm and by the people and animals on it. He knows it so well that he can name the individual injuries of the horses. Once Claude is in charge, the farm becomes his identity, almost his heart; he is aware of every change on it, even if others are not. Cather’s portraits of the farm community are thus lovingly detailed.
Most of the lesser settings work simply to alienate Claude. When Claude goes to Frankfort, even though it is nearby, he feels out of place. He is also out of place in Lincoln, and even more so when he visits Colorado.
The next major, and heartbreaking, setting is the house Claude builds for his new life with Enid. He lavishes energy on it, trying to make the design and the garden perfect. The reality is that it ends up hollow, and he abandons it without looking back once Enid leaves.
Two further complex settings define the novel and Claude. The first is the Anchises, the ship that takes Claude to France. It is not described with either the focus or the detail that the farm is, but two elements come through with amazing intensity: the sense of the sea as an alien environment, and the community of soldiers aboard the ship.
The other setting, which is both glorious and hideous, is the war itself. There are moments of near paradise, like the week in Beaufort, that are described in a series of lovely verbal snapshots; these are the moments of heightened intensity the men carry to sustain themselves. Then there are the moments of almost unmatched horror and degradation. The best example of this is the Boar’s Head. The soil shifts because it is full of bodies that are decaying, and a swollen dead hand sticks out of a wall. The earth that was so loving back in Nebraska is now acting like a horror-movie monster, pulling the men to their deaths.
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 thinking. Fryer explores Cather’s fiction in terms of the “interconnectedness between space and the female imagination” and cites her as a transformer of social and cultural structures. A thorough and interesting study, recommended for its contribution to women’s studies in literature. Includes extensive notes.
Gerber, Philip. Willa Cather: Revised Edition . New York: Twayne, 1995. Incorporates discussion of new materials and criticism that have appeared since 1975 edition. Rather than calling Cather a “disconnected” writer, as have some critics, Gerber takes the view in this study that there is unity in her writing. Gerber demonstrates the development of her artistry from one novel to the next. Includes a...
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