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Dorothy Canfield, Willa Cather, and the uncertainties of middlebrow and highbrow.

Life began for me when I ceased to admire and began to remember.

--Willa Cather

Gordon Hutner launches his study of "novels that were better than formula fiction but not as good as high art," What America Read, with two questions: "Why are so few novels remembered while so many thousands are forgotten? Is our literary history incomplete without accounting for these books?" (1). The first question is impossible to answer; the processes of canonization are too complex, too variable (sometimes case by case), and too enmeshed in social patterns that may have little to do with literary merit per se--even if we assume such a thing is definable. The second is easy: yes. Partly this is true precisely because of the vagaries of canonization; we cannot assume that a forgotten novel is, of was, of less moment than a remembered one. Certainly we cannot assume that the bases for making such a judgment have remained consistent over the years--they have not. Moreover, incomplete simply means incomplete. If certain novels have fallen out of remembrance, our opportunities for reading pleasure and for thinking are, to that extent, incomplete.

Dorothy Canfield is one of those "better" novelists of the early to mid-twentieth century who have largely been forgotten. (1) What I undertake here can be seen, then, as one more effort, by no means the first, to "revaluate" her and restore this one, among other "modern realist women writers" (Hutner 119), to readerly attention. Much of the writing of women authors has required such reclamation efforts. But renewed evaluation and appreciation are not my central purposes here. In part, my purpose is rooted simply in biographical and literary interest in Canfield and in Willa Cather. By tracing the history of their personal and textual interactions, however, I hope not so much to shine a light on particular novels by Canfield that lie on the darkened side of literary history, in contrast to Cather's now glowingly illuminated place on the modernist bright side, as to insist on the blurriness of the line itself.

More precisely, the line I refer to is that between the middlebrow and the highbrow writer. Both Cather and Canfield insistently constructed their positions on the two sides of the line, Canfield conceiving her broad middlebrow appeal (a status powerfully reinforced by her role on the selection committee of the Book-of-the-Month Club) as a function of her educationist mission, while Cather, who disparaged any sense of mission for fiction as a detraction from its intrinsic value as art, worked hard to identify herself as a writer of high quality. (2) Except incidentally, I do not propose to argue here the merits of middlebrowness itself--though it does have merits; Jaime Harker and others have demonstrated the valuable cultural work performed by middlebrow writers (see Harker, "Progressive Middlebrow"). I do propose to demonstrate how, in this particular instance, the middlebrow and the aesthete remained in conversation and the extent to which, ironically enough, the aesthete Cather borrowed literary ideas from her middlebrow friend.

Willa Cather and Dorothy Canfield met in 1891 at the University of Nebraska, where Canfield's father, James Hulme Canfield, was chancellor. Dorothy was just verging on her teens at the time, while Willa, the elder by six years, was completing a year of qualifying studies before entering the university proper. Their friendship survived the Canfields' move to Ohio State University in 1895, for Professor Canfield to become president, and Cather's more to Pittsburgh in 1896 to accept her first job. In 1905 they fell into a bitter disagreement over a story called "The Profile" that Cather meant to include in her volume The Troll Garden. Essentially this was a disagreement about literary ethics. The main character of "The Profile" was based on a young woman with a disfiguring facial scar to whom Canfield had introduced Cather some two years earlier. Canfield urged her to withdraw the story lest the original of the character recognize herself and be deeply hurt. Cather refused, citing the effort she had put into writing it and the inadequacy of her volume without it. Clearly, even at this early stage in their maturation as writers, their positions reflected very different notions of the purposes and value of fiction. Cather's were aesthetic and careerist, Canfield's moral and humanitarian. The story in question was deleted from the volume after Canfield and her father complained to publisher S. S. McClure at his New York office but was later published in McClure's Magazine nevertheless. (3)

Twenty-nine years later, Canfield gave one of the main characters of her novel Bonfire (1933) a "hideous blue birthmark" (74). She uses the birthmark redemptively, to show how large souls like Anna, the heroine, admit people "to love and to light" without regard to such things. We can scarcely suppose Canfield would have written about facial disfigurement without at some level having in mind Cather's story and their dispute over it. From this and from many other details in their long interaction, it appears that Canfield's creative imagination drew on memory almost as insistently as Cather's avowedly did and that her memories were very much entwined with Cather's writing career.

Mark Madigan, who traces the episode of "The Profile" in "Willa Cather and Dorothy Canfield Fisher: Rift, Reconciliation, and One of Ours" and summarizes it in his introduction to Canfield's Keeping Fires, states that as a result of the dispute over the story the two became estranged and did not reconcile until sixteen years later, when in March 1921 Cather requested Canfield's help "in authenticating the details of the French setting of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours" (Keeping Fires 13; also see Harris). Canfield had been in France during World War I, knew its geography, and was fluent in French. Cather said she was "the only person in the world who could help" her with it (letter to Canfield [24 March 1921]). The long silence between them had actually been broken, however, well before Cather sought help with One of Ours, when Canfield wrote her in 1913 praising O Pioneers! (see Cather's letter to Canfield [21 March 1921]). After receiving a similar letter about The Song of the Lark, Cather suggested that they set a time to meet in New York for a long talk. After this, and certainly after their 1921-22 letters relating to One of Ours, they maintained a long if somewhat sporadic correspondence that shows them to have been keenly conscious of each other's work. (4)

The correspondence between Canfield and Cather is rich in insights. For my purposes here, these are primarily the traces of an extended "conversation" between their novels, beginning with the first novels of both, in 1907 and 1912, and extending to their last, in 1939 and 1940. I have pointed out elsewhere that Cather drew on details from Canfield's World War I stories as she wrote the war portions of One of Ours (see Stout, "The Making"), but the intertwining of their careers as writers extends much further. In what follows, I will trace in some detail both their extensive correspondence about their novels and the textual conversations between their books, seeking (to shift metaphors for a moment) to follow the threads that stitch together this remarkable example of literary colleagueship. (5) On the basis of their current critical standings, we might expect to see that Cather exerted influence and Canfield responded. Actually, it was at least as much the other way around. The border between middlebrow and aesthete was porous. Canfield's role in Cather's career proves to have been much greater than has been recognized.

Early Intimations

My first intimation that Dorothy Canfield's novels might have evoked responses in Cather's (beyond the echoes of her war stories in One of Ours) came when I first read Canfield's The Bent Twig (1915) and recognized that details of its skating scene had resurfaced nineteen years later in Cather's Luey Gayheart (1934). Only when I later read Canfield's Gunhild (1907), her quite rare first novel set in Norway, did I realize that the textual interchange had begun long before. A mountain-climbing scene in Gunhild features elements that are echoed in the mountain-climbing scene of Cather's The Song of the Lark (1915). (6) Aspects of even this far less accomplished work by Canfield had remained in Cather's memory and re-emerged in her literary imagination years later.

The climbing scene in Gunhild has the American hero, Harry, and a fashionable young woman, Caroline, compete in climbing a steep trail to the saeter, of high pasture, belonging to the strong, beautiful Norwegian-American woman Gunhild. She tells them to go slow at the start of they will tire out, but Caroline calls back "Not I" and
   darting past her on the tops of the large stones was far ahead of
   them in a moment, [as] Harry, looking up, noted the steel-like
   strength that must underlie her slender grace. ...

   "I'm after you!" he shouted, forgetting the peasant girl by his
   side. Caroline called some laughing and unintelligible challenge
   over her shoulder as she increased her speed.

She disappears around a turn. When Harry catches up and finds her sitting on a rock, he "fl[ings] himself at full length beside her, panting" (120-21).

In the parallel scene in The Song of the Lark, Cather's heroine, Thea-also Scandinavian-American, but Swedish rather than Norwegian--has noticed some cliff dwellings high above a canyon where she is spending a vacation in the Southwest and has suggested to her aspiring lover, Fred, that they climb up to them. As she starts up the trail ahead of him, he looks up and, like Harry, assesses her body, observing that she apparently does not wear stays and commenting on her need, as a singer, for a strong, flexible torso. She "sw[ings] round a turn" and momentarily disappears. Catching up to her on a rocky platform, Fred, like Harry, stretches out on the ground to test. When Thea continues toward the cliff dwellings higher up, he stays where he is, thinking about her vigor in terms of long-ago "peasant girls" in Germany with "no sag in them either" (285-87). The parallels are not quite as precise as those between the ice-skating scenes, but perhaps more compelling. (7)

We have no external evidence that Cather read either of Canfield's early novels, Gunhild or The Squirrel Cage (1912), nor do we know that Canfield read Cather's first novel, Alexander's Bridge (1912). Yet both their previous friendship and their subsequent pattern of attentiveness to each other's books make it likely that they did. Faint echoes of The Squirrel Cage as well as Gunhild in Cather's subsequent work seem to bear out her reading, at any rate, of the early Canfield. Even before this textual conversation began, however, Canfield may have been thinking of Cather as she wrote her second novel, as well as her first. In making reference in The Squirrel Cage to the "lighter pieces" (songs) of Ethelbert Nevin (188), she must have remembered that Cather had introduced her to the composer himself in late 1897 of early 1898, in Pittsburgh. (8) Too, a passage in The Squirrel Cage about a "Women's Literary Club" echoes the satiric tone taken toward such organizations by the brash young Cather both during her university days and as a novice journalist--a kind of spouting off that she acknowledged in a letter to Canfield of 21 March 1921, where she joked, "I'm not at all fierce anymore--unless you bring a clubwoman!" Moreover, Canfield used the feminine form of Alexander, Alexandra, for a minor character in The Squirrel Cage, published the same year as Cather's Alexander's Bridge. The only apparent connection between the two novels was made by a reviewer who wrote that Alexander's Bridge had "more artistic quality" than The Squirrel Cage (O'Connor 37). But the following year Cather would use the name Alexandra for her heroine in O Pioneers!

We already know, of course, from Cather's expression of thanks for her congratulatory message, that Canfield read O Pioneers! Many years later, in Seasoned Timber (1939), she would echo a passage where the oracular Ivar tells Cather's innovating farmer, Alexandra, that "hogs do not like to be filthy" (47). On that basis, she has the family's pigs moved to fresh ground. Canfield's response has an important minor character make the unlikely remark, "A pig that's had room enough to be clean in, ain't one quarter as dirty as a horse" (335).

Such echoes, responses, and reprisals are too numerous to go through with any comprehensiveness, even if one could. Instead, I will trace those involving particular nodes of interrelation of major themes or motifs common to both Canfield and Cather, such as "domestic ritual" (to use Ann Romines's term in The Home Plot), war, and social class.

Negotiating Reconciliation

After years of estrangement and gradually lessening coolness following the "Profile" standoff, 1915 saw the publication of both Cather's The Song of the Lark and Canfield's The Bent Twig. It had been ten years since their conflict over "The Profile," and reconciliation would not come easily. Both in textual echoes and in a series of letters, they would return not merely to the story that had led to their estrangement but to the 1902 visit to Paris during which Canfield introduced Cather to the young woman who became the model for the scarred woman in the story. Canfield reaches back to that 1902 visit--a segment of Cather's first trip to Europe during which she was escorted around Paris by the thoroughly Europeanized Dorothy and Dorothy's mother--by way of an extended view of the Ste. Genevieve murals by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes in the Pantheon (421-22). If the passage includes specific references to their viewing of the murals, these elude identification, but the murals themselves and Puvis de Chavannes's work more generally subsequently took on great importance for Cather. She later explained her conception of Death Comes for the Archbishop and its style as an approximation of the style of the Ste. Genevieve frescoes. Paris and the frescoes in the Pantheon become, then, important both in the story of Cather and Canfield's friendship and in Cather's subsequent work. In both ways, their implications draw on Cather's feelings of familial cultural inadequacy in comparison to the Canfields' sophistication. The heroine of The Bent Twig, Sylvia, grows up in the strikingly unpretentious household of a professor father and a pianist mother. Indeed, both parents are outstanding amateur musicians, and their home is the setting for numerous parlor concerts attended by "students of younger professors" who carry on "perpetual discussions ... in acrimonious terms which nevertheless seemed not in the least to impair the good feeling between them" (27). A similar household, that of the Ehrlichs, would appear in Cather's One of Ours (1922), while aspects of the European scene of The Bent Twig are echoed in both My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop. We can scarcely suppose that Canfield realized, until long afterward when she received Cather's explanatory letters, how profoundly her friend would respond to the novel's invocation of contrasts between culturally rich and culturally deprived family homes and, more largely, between sophisticated European culture and defensive Americanism.

The visit to Paris in 1902 to which Canfield refers by way of the Ste. Genevieve murals was a painful time for Cather, during which she was provoked to behaviors that might well have damaged her friendship with Canfield even before the "Profile" episode. Dorothy and her mother were both fluent in French and well-seasoned in European travel; Cather was raw, inexperienced, and tongue-tied by French. As they explored the city's cultural heritage, she became acutely aware of her own limitations. Dorothy, moreover, was a doctoral student at the Sorbonne and came from a family background of academic leadership and artistic achievement (her mother was a painter). Cather felt her own family origins among farming and land-investing people as a social impediment. In this context, Dorothy was the highbrow and she the "roughneck"--the opposite of their later literary roles.

In My Antonia (1918), three years after The Bent Twig and The Song of the Lark, Cather built on her beginning in O Pioneers! to elevate the Great Plains to the status of a fit setting for heroism. It would be greatly overreaching to claim that she did so entirely as a compensatory maneuver for her chagrin at feeling like a cultural primitive during the 1902 visit to Paris. Yet it is entirely easy to believe that such a compensatory impulse, long after the fact, might have played a role in her heroizing of her own cultural origins. In fact, the image that famously asserts the heroic nature of Plains agriculture, the plow on the horizon, is a revisionary reprise of an image in The Bent Twig. During a sequence in which Sylvia is in Paris with her aunt, she notes that a distant line of carriages outside the Louvre is "dominated by the upward sweep of the Arc de Triomphe, magnified to fabulous proportions by the filmy haze of the spring day" (401). The seeming enlargement of a distant object by effects of light becomes Cather's emblematic though improbable image of the plow against the sun:
   Presently we saw a curious thing: There were no clouds, the sun was
   going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of
   the red disc rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great
   black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. ... On some
   upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun
   was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the
   horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly
   contained within the circle of the disc; the handles, the tongue,
   the share-black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in
   size, a picture writing on the sun. (237)

Another passage from The Bent Twig relating to the European setting turns up later in the prologue of Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927). The setting in which Sylvia becomes engaged is "the view across the Campagna from the terraces at Rocca di Papa" (430). The prologue to Archbishop is set in "the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome" with a "fine view from its terrace" of a "soft and undulating" landscape--the Campagna--with "nothing to arrest the eye until it reached Rome itself" (3).

But Cather would take up details from Canfield's 1915 novel sooner, in One of Ours. Claude, the central character, is sent to a narrow religious college in Lincoln, where he envies the young people who get to attend the state university. When he manages to take a history course there, he becomes acquainted with a lively German family, the Erlichs, who resemble Sylvia's family in The Bent Twig. Their home, like hers, often has music and always conversation, sometimes rising to lively debate. Claude is taken aback when if people "asked him about a play of a book and he said it was 'no good,' they at once demanded why" (68). The Erlichs become a talisman for enlightened living when he is summoned home to enter a life of repetitive daily toil and a cold marriage.

Three years after My Antonia, Canfield achieved her first major bit with The Brimming Cup (1921), now little-read but at the time second on the bestseller list for the year behind only Sinclair Lewis's Main Street. On 5 November, eight months after the novel's publication, Cather wrote to say that she was glad Canfield was "out of the woods" after an illness and could "take [her] own sweet time to recover, with 'The Brimming Cup' hitting it up like this and doing [her] work for [her], as the Gold Dust [cleaning product] ads used to say!" She returned to the subject of Canfield's commercial success with the novel on 6 February 1922, admitting that she herself was "a slowselling author" by comparison and insisting, "Now, I am NOT, with tightly compressed lips, throwing your magnificent sales in your face!" But of course she was doing just that. Her implication was, the greater the popularity, the lesser the artistry. Even so, she drew on Canfield's novel in both incidental and important ways in One of Ours.

The Brimming Cup was the novel in which Canfield most fully explored the possibilities and limitations of a woman's delight in housekeeping. It was a theme Cather had also addressed. In neither her November 1921 nor her February 1922 letter did she directly address the novel's themes or characters, but her letters do indicate that she read the book, and in several of her novels we can identify reverberations of details from The Brimming Cup. Canfield's heroine, Marise, sees her soon-to-be husband, Neale, as a "great rock" (19) of reliable strength. The image would reappear on a massive scale a decade later as the dominant image in Cather's novel of Quebec, Shadows on the Rock--where she too explored a character's delight in housekeeping. (The rock image passed back to Canfield two years after Shadows in Bonfire, where the heroine, Anna, gains reassurance by sitting and leaning against the "unshakeable steadfastness" of a large rock in her yard.) The name Neale, differently spelled, reappeared in Cather's 1923 A Lost Lady. But her most important novelistic response to The Brimming Cup came even sooner, in One of Ours.

In March 1922, one year after the March 1921 publication of The Brimming Cup, Cather sent Canfield a set of the galley proofs of One of Ours to review for errors of fact (Harris 623). From then until its September publication that year the two were in close correspondence. Canfield reviewed the novel in the New York Times of September 10, pleasing Cather enormously by insisting that the novel was not "about'" the war but about the character Claude Wheeler who went to war. She called it an "amazingly rich" book written in a style of "massive sincerity" (O'Connor 119-20). One of Ours was also a book that sold--some 76,000 copies in fifteen months (Harris 664). Although Cather was bruised by the negative assessments of many of the other reviews, she would never again be able to claim that her books did not enjoy the commercial success she in fact very much wanted. (9)

One detail in One of Ours that echoes The Brimming Cup relates to quack medical cures (a subject Canfield would take up again and develop more fully in Her Son's Wife). The morally and physically healthy Marise has no time for "the latest fads in cures" (45). But Claude's wife, Enid, does. Every summer she accompanies her mother to a sanitarium in Michigan where they "live on nuts and toasted cereals" (169)--a reference to the Kellogg sanitarium in Battle Creek, certainly a fad in cures. As Harris explains, Cather's mentor, S. S. McClure, often went to Battle Creek (712), and in fact the wife and motherin-law of Cather's cousin Grosvenor Cather, who served as the model for Claude, also frequented the sanitarium. It may be that the "fads" reference in The Brimming Cup played no role in One of Ours at all. Yet in both novels the motif is interwoven into a larger theme of wholesome and joyful domesticity of its lack (Enid is a woman who emphatically does not relish the home life). Still, this is a minor link. A major link is their shared theme of postwar disillusionment.

The idea enters The Brimming Cup in a passage in which Marise struggles to understand why she is feeling melancholy or depressed. One reason is a sense of aging, but the recently ended war is another. "We were so terribly fooled in our idealistic hopes about the war," she thinks, and "who knows but that we are being fooled again when we try for the higher planes of life?" (103). In One of Ours a variant of the same idea becomes a key element in Cather's characterization of her hero. The insecure Claude has from adolescence been "terribly afraid of being fooled" (54). He does not survive the war to experience the disillusionment that Marise does; he dies on the battlefield still believing it a heroic enterprise as well as a release from the dreariness and failures of his earlier life. In his last moments, however, he is indeed fooled when his subordinates let him believe his friend David Gerhardt will soon be returning to the line, whereas David has actually been "blown to pieces" (598). It is a merciful fooling, and after Claude's mother receives word of his death, she comforts herself that it too was merciful, since he did not have to learn that "nothing ... [came] of it all but evil." And she adds the key pronouncement: "he, who was so afraid of being fooled!" (604).

In the same year as One of Ours and only a year after The Brimming Cup, Canfield's novel Rough-Hewn even more richly elicited Cather's attention and response. Canfield conceived of writing the "opposite of" a sequel" to The Brimming Cup--or as we have come to call such books or movies, a "prequel"--while the first book was still in draft (Keeping Fires 90). She quickly produced Rough-Hewn, which follows the childhood years of Neale and Marise in parallel increments, he in America and she in France, until their lives converge in Italy. In the last chapter, which duplicates the first chapter of The Brimming Cup, they become engaged. It was an innovative structure for a novel, and we can guess that Cather, with her well-established interest in form, took note. Primarily, however, she was interested in the character of Neale, despite considering Canfield's development too exhaustively detailed.

Cather apparently saw an excerpt from Rough-Hewn in the spring of 1922, six months prior to its October publication. She had written to thank Canfield for her scrutiny of the proofs of One of Ours and had explained how closely Claude's encounter with a highly developed culture reflected her own in 1902, when she felt so culturally deficient in Paris. Claude's feeling of" inadequacy when his friend David Gerhardt plays the violin, she wrote,
   was the way you made me feel when we were in France together that
   time; and that was the way that I made my poor cousin feel. You
   never meant to, you couldn't know it? Neither could David!
   neither could I, when Grosvenor's lips used to twitch and curl.
   It's the way helpless ignorance always feels. ... This book
   gathered up everything; even you did not escape, you see.

Soon afterward, Cather added that she was glad she had led Canfield to realize
   what the roughneck, the sensitive roughneck, really does feel when
   he's plunged into the midst of--everything. It's not only his
   vanity that suffers-though that very much--; he feels as if he has
   been cheated out of everything, the whole treasure of the ages,
   just because he doesn't know some language or play some instrument
   or something. (Letter to Canfield 17 April 1922])

Canfield apparently responded by sending her an excerpt from Rough-Hewn.

After reading the "sketch about the University boy," Cather wrote again (probably on 8 May 1922) associating Neale with Claude and with herself.
   I'd love to talk to you about being a roughneck in France--which
   you never were! ... because you grew up in a college atmosphere,
   and because your father and mother were intellectual people. Yes,
   in a way, it is an old misunderstanding, and surely we're old
   enough to thrash it out. You never understood why I was always
   suffering so, but maybe now, with Claude as an opening wedge, you
   can get what was the matter. It's long past, because I'm
   not so vain any more, but it explains a good deal of my

The sketch of Neale's maturation had evoked a powerful emotional response.

In addition to attracting Cather's interest in Neale, Rough-Hewn also continued the textual conversation reaching back to The Squirrel Cage and O Pioneers! about housekeeping. In a letter probably written on 23 October 1922, but in any event within days of publication of the novel, Cather took humorous notice of a detail most readers might pass over: "All the servants ate good, and the rags under the sink, Oh Lord! They're under mine, at this moment. It's the one thing I can never change." The rags in question appear in the section about Marise's childhood in Paris. Literally, they show the limits to even the Basque housekeeper Jeanne's devotion to household perfection: "And how Jeanne did carry on about the house being neat, the part that is, where company could come; (under her kitchen sink it smelled awfully and was full of greasy rags) and yet she'd shine up the salon floor over and over when it was already shiny, and never think of those rags" (42). But their meaning extends further to Jeanne's culturally ingrained standards of propriety in public; to her willingness to tell small lies for what she considers useful purposes, so that Marise also learns from her example the habit of telling small lies to keep things pleasant; and finally to old Jeanne's attempt to tell the police a story just close enough to the truth to be believed, to protect the family from disgrace when Marise's mother brings scandal upon them with a younger man. In loading all these implications onto the homely detail of the dish rags, Canfield was using much the same fictional method as Cather.

The rags under the sink in Paris would turn up, whole and nicely laundered, in French Quebec as Cecile, in Cather's Shadows on the Rock, scrupulously leaves the "dish-towels hung to dry on a wire above the stove" at night (20). As Ann Romines writes, "no detail is too small for attention" (153). After Cecile returns home from a visit to a family whose standards of housekeeping she finds repellently slovenly, she gazes with pleasure on her kitchen tools, including the dish-cloths, which now hold greater significance: "These coppers, big and little, these brooms and clouts and brushes, were tools; and with them one made, not shoes of cabinetwork, but life itself" (227). Nine years had passed between Canfield's Rough-Hewn and this echo. But another echo had come much sooner. In Cather's A Lost Lady (1923) deterioration in the quality of housekeeping becomes a measure of the personal decline of the charming Marian Forrester.

A Lost Lady resounds with echoes of Rough-Hewn. Not only does Neale's name reappear, but also his rambling with neighborhood boys, as the opening scene of Cather's novel reprises (to very different effect) the opening scene of Canfield's. As a boy and then a young man, Niel provides the central narrative perspective on the beautiful and gracious Mrs. Forrester--from an admiring distante. Niel and Neale also share attributes of what Cather called a "roughneck." Just as Neale "despair[s] at his dumb helplessness before the inert resistance of social relations" (450), Niel feels stigmatized by the inelegance of his home environment, where the "poor relation" who keeps house for him and his father tends to leave things lying about and beds unmade (26-27). The initial fascination that Mrs. Forrester holds for him is the contrast between her ways and those he sees at home. The sharing of the "roughneck" designation does not mean that Canfield's Neale (or that Cather herself, certainly) had grown up in a slovenly household. It does mean that the emotion felt by Cather in 1902 when she was in Europe, and by Neale, and then by Claude, is reconstituted in Niel as defensiveness over shabby domestic ways. He is greatly concerned to learn to behave with social polish to compensate for his origins.

Another thread tying One of Ours, Rough-Hewn, and A Lost Lady together relates to sexuality. Since One of Ours was well known to Canfield from proofs early in 1921, the fact that it and Rough-Hewn were published in the same year does not rule out the possibility that she was responding to Cather's book. Notoriously, Enid shuts Claude out of her train compartment on their wedding night and, though the novel does not quite say so, apparently never consents to sex. Neale's fiancee in Rough-Hewn (before he goes to Europe and meets Marise) breaks off their engagement by confessing a revulsion toward sex, of as she says a fear of "shrink[ing] away from" him (305-06). As Neale walks the streets after this revelation, "devoured by restless uneasiness" and wondering what to do with himself, he begins to hear echoes of a concert he had attended at Camegie Hall: "shouts of the brass, the long sweet cries of the violins" as "call[ing] his name over and over ... to summon him out, up, to some glory" (310). Claude had similarly felt the war as summons to search for "something splendid."

In Rough-Hewn, Marise also endures sexual anxiety that has to be overcome before she can marry Neale. Having been all too aware in childhood of her mother's infidelity, leading to a suicide--the scandal from which Jeanne tries to protect her by lying to the police--and having no one to talk to her and explain these things (of even the behavior of a female cat in heat), she resorted to denial of what she dimly knew. But denial proves destructive. She develops an irrational conviction that if she ever becomes sexually awakened she will repeat her mother's transgressiveness out of some kind of biological inheritance. Rough-Hewn, then, explores more deeply the crisis over sex in One of Ours. In doing so it adds a detail that is elaborated upon when Cather continues the textual conversation in A Lost Lady. On the night the young man became her mother's lover, Marise saw him from her bedroom window, standing across the street with a rose in his hand before coming to ring the doorbell. The next morning when the servants find a "wilted, white rose-bud ... on the floor by the sofa" (171-72) and puzzle over where it came from, she conceals her knowledge by claiming that a schoolmate had given it to her the day before. In A Lost Lady the "spoiled" rose tossed into the trash becomes a bouquet of wild roses that the devoted but naive Niel brings to Marian early one morning, only to hear her lover's voice through the open window of her bedroom. Slipping away, he throws the "prickly bunch of wild roses" into a mud hole trampled by cattle and mutters melodramatically, from Shakespeare's Sonnet 94, "lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds" (82).

On the Two Sides of the Divide

Their careers firmly established by the mid-twenties, Canfield and Cather were also--for no reason relating to intelligence, education, or imaginative depth--firmly placed on opposite sides of the literary divide between middlebrow and highbrow. Now well established with the house of Alfred A. Knopf, "legendary for publishing only what was best" (Turner 83), and having won the recently-established Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, Cather increasingly turned to experimental novelistic forros. In 1931 she was awarded the Prix Femina Americain. Canfield, meanwhile, maintained her domestic roles, continued her long involvement in educational issues, published stories for children, and in 1926 accepted a position on the inaugural Book-of-theMonth Club board. Yet the differences between the two were not so stark as this summary hints. Cather enjoyed the commercial rewards of authorship with a deplorable Warner Brothers film of A Lost Lady in 1924, lucrative serializations in popular magazines, and royalties on her 1925 The Professor's House at a level that yielded her a mink coat. At the same time, Canfield achieved higher-brow distinctions. Both received an array of honorary doctorates, and both were elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters--Cather in 1929 and Canfield in 1931. The borderline between middlebrow and literary elite, as they represented it, remained blurred, and their textual conversations across that line continued.

During the three-year period 1924-1926 Canfield and Cather published two novels each, all four considerably darker in tone than their previous work.

In The Brimming Cup Canfield had written of housekeeping as a kind of art (162). Soon afterward, in a November 1921 interview, Cather also insisted that a woman who managed her home well and graciously enacted a kind of artistic creativity. But she added an important qualifier: "The farmer's wife who raises a large family and cooks for them and makes their clothes and keeps house and on the side runs a truck garden and a chicken farm and a canning establishment, and thoroughly enjoys doing it all, and doing it well, contributes more to art than all the culture clubs." Such a woman, "with all the appreciation of the beautiful bodies of her children, of the order and harmony of her kitchen," possesses "the real creative joy" that "marks the great artist" (Bohlke 47, emphasis added). In The Home-Maker (1924), Canfield exposed the plight of a woman who seeks to carry out her domestic responsibilities well but most emphatically does not "take joy" in them--a kind of Enid denied an escape to the mission field. Out of this situation Canfield developed an argument for flexibility in gender roles so direct and unmistakable that readers found it startling. The novel elicited numerous letters from readers on both sides of the public issue it raised--a response Canfield called "promising" because "if only people will find it interesting enough to disagree about violently, they may do some real thinking" (Keeping Fires 114, 119). Never so overtly feminist as Canfield, Cather had asked rhetorically in her 1921 interview, "As for the choice between a woman's home and her career, is there any reason why she cannot have both?" (Bohlke 48). How likely Canfield was to have seen this (it was published in the Lincoln Sunday Star) is debatable. Possibly Cather sent her a copy. In any event, she reiterated both key ideas in The Home-Maker and pushed them further, applying them also to men in the workplace--or not. The directness of her engagement with the gender issue, in contrast to Cather's guardedness, reflects their differing conceptions of the role of the literary writer.

The following year, 1925, Cather published her somber, enigmatic novel The Professor's House, which Canfield apparently called "middle-aged" in tone. Writing to her on 22 October, about six weeks after publication, Cather professed to be amazed the book was selling so well and wondered if reviewers had led readers to take it as a kind of "cross-word puzzle." Conceding the accuracy of Canfield's description of it as a "'middle-aged' novel," and asking whether everyone did not have that feeling sometimes, she may well have been implying that the term could also be applied to The Home-Maker.

It applied even more to Canfield's 1926 novel Her Son's Wife, which was not only middle-aged but, as Canfield herself told her agent, "made up of thoroughly tiresome and disagreeable people, till towards the very end" (Keeping Fires 163). About two months after its August publication, Cather wrote saying that she admired the book but did not like it. "Lord, it's a grim one," she exclaimed, and observed that Dorothy had now "gone and done the same thing, surely, surely!" that she had reacted to in The Professor's House the year before. Identifying the theme of Her Son's Wife as "the final and fateful claim of blood, the thing that comes out in the second or third generation," Cather likened it to that of "most of the Greek tragedies--what is handed down" and sighed that she had seen this "over and over in Red Cloud," where "as soon as the baby is born the story operates itself entirely, without a push." She read the book, that is, as a statement of hereditary determinism. In this, I believe, she was greatly mistaken and showed an egregious inability to understand her friend's driving motivations.

The central issue of Her Son's Wife involves a competent, rather selfrighteous schoolteacher, Mrs. Bascomb, of impeccable taste as well as impeccable housekeeping, whose son marries a young woman of lower-class origins whom he scarcely knows. Lottie appalls her mother-in-law at every turn, wearing cheap, faddish clothes, never clearing up after herself in the kitchen, and after she and Ralph have a baby, never keeping the child clean of properly fed. For a while Mrs. Bascomb takes a job in another town and leaves them to their own devices, but after she chances to see her grandchild, Dids, in the care of a loud-mouthed teenager and realizes she is growing up to be as unkempt and crude as her mother, she develops a plan for undermining Lottie's influence. Playing on the daughter-in-law's laziness, hypochondriacal susceptibility to fad cures, and wish to be catered to, she systematically fattens and immobilizes her, reducing her to a state of invalidism and taking over the child's rearing.

Canfield did seem to have meant Her Son k Wife to show that people should understand what lies behind the behavior of others before judging them and that such understanding can overcome a great deal of class hostility. But she was surely not pointing to biology as an explanation. Rather, her faith was pinned to education.

Near the end of the novel and the end of his own days, Lottie's decrepit father enters. In her letter of October 1926 Cather praised the characterization of "old Hicks" as being "so good and so real." But it is precisely this shabby, ungrammatical old man, who might have been offered as the proof of heredity's power, that seals the case against it. When Mrs. Bascomb takes him in, she not only pities him but also listens to him. Not prevented by his deficiencies from recognizing how well she has raised their mutual grandchild, he expresses a wish that he had been able to provide Lottie a better environment as well. "She never had no chance, my poor girl hadn't. If she'd a-been looked out for, the way you've looked out for Dids ..." The unspoken conclusion is, she might have been a different person. "But we didn't know no better, her mother and me.... Nobody ever learned us any better" (297). The emphasis is on upbringing and what people of any origin may accomplish if somebody teaches them. As Mrs. Bascomb guiltily thinks of what she had done to Lottie, he also reveals that Lottie has told him how much she loves her mother-in-law. Now understanding how Lottie's upbringing made her the vulgar being she was, Mrs. Bascomb begins to love her in return.

While praising Her Son's Wife as "a fine book" (cultural arbiter William Lyon Phelps called it a "masterpiece"; Keeping Fires 5), Cather made it clear that she considered it "too grim." Yet the same month as that letter she published a grim book of her own, the brief My Mortal Enemy. In this case, there is no possibility of direct conversation between books; the two were published only two months apart, and there is no evidence that either author read the other's proofs. As if their creative imaginations were operating in tandem, however, she and Canfield nevertheless continued their textual back-and-forth. Perhaps both were still pondering the word Canfield had applied to The Professor's House, "middle-aged." Certainly the term fits My Mortal Enemy, which relates Myra Henshawe's regrets for having abandoned her inheritance and eloped in a flurry of infatuation, then follows the couple's descent into real poverty and their falling out of love. Myra too has a disagreeable encounter with people of lower-class habits and manners toward the end, though a far briefer one than Mrs. Bascomb's. The people who live upstairs in the inexpensive rooming house to which she and Oswald have been reduced are in her judgment "the palavery kind of Southerners" with "no sensibilities at all." They "tramp" back and forth above her ceiling "like cattle," she complains, intruding their "stupid, messy existence" on her "all day long, and hall the night" (56). A disagreeable character in many ways, though also an impressive one, Myra appears all the more self-centered and less morally educable when measured against Mrs. Bascomb.

Historical-Mindedness in the Late Novels

During the long final stage in their careers from 1927 to 1940, Canfield and Cather published, between them, seven novels. Five of these share an increased engagement with history.

In 1927 Cather published what is sometimes considered her finest work, Death Comes for the Archbishop. In August, shortly before publication, Canfield wrote to Alfred Knopf expressing her admiration for the "exquisitely beautiful book" and her regret that the Book-of-the-Month Club Committee, then in existence only one year, had not chosen it as the September selection. Her explanation was that some board members had, in essence, felt that it lacked the common touch: that it lacked sufficient "action" to have wide appeal (Keeping Fires 129). She had already written, she said, to express her "unbounded pleasure" in the book, but feared she had not used a valid address. The letter did reach Cather, however, and on 17 August she replied from Nebraska that she was happy to have been able to make Canfield "see a little of what has bewitched me [in the Southwest] for so long."

Three years later, Canfield's The Deepening Stream, based on her family's time in France during the war, became another important node of novelistic relations between the two colleagues. Returning to the method of The Song of the Lark and Rough-Hewn, the novel builds slowly, by way of a detailed exploration of her childhood, toward the heroine, Matey's, understanding of the war and of war itself. Connected by its topic to One of Ours, it also, in a sense, connects with The Professor's House. Cather had apparently drawn on her acquaintance with Canfield's parents for Godfrey St. Peter and his chilly manner toward his wife and daughters, as Canfield does herself in The Deepening Stream. On 18 November, about a month after publication, Cather wrote saying that she had just returned to New York and found her copy in a large accumulation of books. She said she would read it first of all, and must indeed have done so. On 1 December she wrote again to say she liked it "immensely," some parts more "specially" than others. "Best of all" she liked Matey's supercilious professor father, who had "such distinction ... in spite of his littlenesses." She called both the character himself and his relationship with his wife "splendid," apparently meaning splendidly done. Canfield told a friend that Cather had gone on at such length about the "portrait of you-know-who" that it made her "sort of nervous" (Keeping Fires 158). But if Cather recognized Dorothy's father in the fictional Morris Gilbert, she did not say so, nor did she mention his striking resemblance to her own Godfrey St. Peter five years earlier. Most surprisingly, she did not so much as mention Canfield's treatment of the war--the part of One of Ours on which Dorothy had helped her.

In The Deepening Stream Canfield directly involved herself in anti-war politics. The anxiety-ridden nature of Matey's childhood, like Canfield's own, arises from the continual friction between her parents (Madigan, Introduction 1). This, as Canfield develops it, is directly pertinent to her war experience. Even the opening incident, in which a six-year-old Matey and her older brother and sister lose their way in a vast field in the Pyrenees, provides a pointed analogy to war in that the tall broom looks like "soft gold velvetiness" from a distance, but up close is "made of something just the opposite, prickly and rough and dark" (6). For some people, those infatuated with heroism and excitement, war is like that: glorious from afar but ugly and senseless up close. Matey and her husband, Adrian, are in a sense among those, because they went to France convinced of the need to help defend France even though Adrian, as a Quaker, would not fight. After "living in the midst of it" for four years, and having seen the ugliness quite well, both are less sure of their original impulse. But it is only when Matey then gains distance and time to reflect that she is able to "look at war"--not at the war, but at war itself--and see its root as the same "will to hurt" she had witnessed in her parents' "bitter little comedy" (19, 61). The middle section of the novel, in which she falls in love with Adrian and becomes a mother, is also pertinent to her view of war both in showing the happiness they will sacrifice in order to do what they believe to be their part and in establishing the Quaker principles of Adrian's family, which will serve as Matey's (as they did Canfield's) standard by which to judge war.

The Deepening Stream responds to Cather in an abundance of details. The family life of Matey's teachers during her childhood in Paris recalls the Erlichs in One of Ours, who themselves had recalled the family in The Bent Twig: they "disagreed to the point of squabbling" over things like "the reading which had been given of some Sonata or other at a concert" (41). The war profiteering of Matey's brother and a woman her family had known in a town named Hamilton (also the name of the town where Professor St. Peter teaches in The Professor House) echoes Mr. Wheeler's eagerness in One of Ours to profit on his wheat when rumors of war begin. The war first intrudes into Matey's and Adrian's lives in the form of a newspaper that Adrian's father carries in and shows them, just as Mr. Wheeler arrives "with a bundle of newspapers under his arm" to show Claude and Mrs. Wheeler. In its tracing of the early stages of the war, too, from an initial belief that it is just a "scare" to the Battle of the Marne, Canfield's war novel moves in parallel with One of Ours, and does so even in similar language--for example, the "wiping out" of Louvain in One of Ours, Louvain "wiped out" in Deepening Stream. To be sure, Cather and Canfield would both probably have remembered this sequence of events of could easily have looked it up, but the closeness of the parallels hints that Canfield drew on One of Ours. Both novels have characters with previous knowledge of war, and most strikingly, both include a baby born to a French or Belgian girl by a German soldier. In One of Ours it is seen as an obnoxiously fat but "pale and sickly ... Boche" (475) that Claude regards with "loathing" (477); in The Deepening Stream, as a genuine love child (265). (10)

While Matey is in France doing wartime assistance work, she happens to tell her old friend and teacher Mme. Vinet about the absence of priests in Quaker observances, prompting an exclamation that even she "might like a religion that nobody made his living out of" (151). Considering Canfield's attentive reading of Cather's serene book about not one but two priests, not long before, the exchange seems scarcely incidental. I would not suggest that Mme. Vinet's skepticism toward the Catholic Church in turn prompted Cather's celebratory treatment of the Church in Shadows on the Rock the following year. She already had abundant stimulus in her love for Quebec--which she told Canfield in June 1931 "always gives me that sense of loyalty, of being faithful to something." But we know that she was still working on proofs in April 1931, making it entirely possible for the expression of anti-clericalism in The Deepening Stream to prompt small revisions in counter-response. As to Canfield's opinion of Shadows, all we know comes from a letter she wrote to novelist Ruth Suckow, saying that her "men-folks found Shadows on the Rock too dim even to see" but distancing herself from that verdict with an insightful comment on technique, the kind of analogy with visual art that Cather also often used. She saw it, she said, as an effort to "write something in pastels instead of oils" (Keeping Fires 162).

Canfield's final novel, Seasoned Timber (1939), written as World War II was approaching, addresses contemporary events with a level of anxiety and grief that Cather's letters were also expressing. Their emphases, however, were very different. Canfield's were directly political: she denounced the antiSemitic practices of the Nazis and their echoes in American society. Cather most often bemoaned war's destruction of cultural artifacts, and as late as 1938 sought to palliate the evil being enacted in Europe by telling the sister of her friend Isabelle McClung Hambourg that she believed "Mussolini's aim in expelling a great number of Jews from Italy" was to preserve jobs for "native Italians"--in other words, that the expulsion seemed to "arise from the unemployment situation, rather than from personal hatred as it unquestionably does with Hitler" (letter to Edith McClung [26 September 1938]). It is an explanation utterly foreign to Canfield's treatment of the issues.

The central character in Seasoned Timber is a principal at a small-town secondary school who makes a stand against proposed anti-Semitic policies. In doing so, he compares the virtue of resisting such policies to the virtue shown during the Civil War by Vermonters who fought for emancipation (334)--a rhetorical strategy common in the 1930s, when the public virtues of the Civil War were widely accepted as a model for emulation. The novel has an intersecting love plot, but its weight rests on the twin issues of racism and public responsibility. On 8 November of the year of its publication, Cather wrote to Canfield recognizing "Seasoned Wood" as a "thoughtful book" that she had been glad to have "up on the Island this summer" where she had "time to think." She pronounced the characterization of Mr. Hulme "awfully good," though she was surprised Canfield had used her father's name for him, but said her favorite characters were "Aunt Lavinia, and Miss Peck!"--especially Miss Peck's "laconic inscriptions" (which she posts on a board outside her door). Perhaps these "laconic" writings helped shape the equally laconic speech of the abolitionist postmistress in the following year's Sapphira and the Slave Girl, who remarks tersely that copies of the anti-slavery New York Tribune may be "handy to start a tire with" (146).

As if the misquoting of titles were contagious, Canfield wrote to Cather on 9 October 1940 that what she felt after reading "Sapphira and the Slave-Maid" was not so much an impulse to shout "hurrah!" as "just heart-felt thanks" because the "lovely little book is a priceless gift to our gloomy anxious times" (Keeping Fires 209). Cather replied rather sharply that she had felt ashamed of having called Seasoned Timber "Seasoned Wood" but now they were "quits about titles." After this sniff, she expressed "very special pleasure" that Canfield "really like[d] the book" but wondered in what stage she had seen it, since she was just then returning the galley proofs. The answer would have been that she read uncorrected galleys sent by Knopf for Book-of-the-Month Club purposes.

Although Sapphira and the Slave Girl is a novel deeply rooted in personal memory, it is also perhaps Cather's most powerfully motivated tribute to a sense of social justice. Her letter of 14 October 1940 calls attention to the auditory merits of her title and explains that the sometimes-questioned epilogue was "where I was going" all along. She goes on to tell Canfield that
   it was from the long talks between my grandmother and [ex-slaves]
   Till and Nancy, that I got my strongest impressions of how things
   had been in the old days before the war. This grandmother was
   really a "Rebel," since she lost two sons in the Confederate
   Army. But she was a lover of justice. In a beautiful old map in the
   Society Library, made in 1821, I found the actual ferry by which
   my grandmother took Nancy over the Potomac River.

Her reference to her grandmother's love of justice is a powerful underscoring of the novel's theme of the injustice of slavery.

Both of these last novels, then--Seasoned Timber and Sapphira and the Slave Girl--are centrally concerned with racial justice. This is not to say that Cather purposely replied to Canfield's concern with anti-Semitism by expressing her own concern about African-American slavery; she had been working on Sapphira and the Slave Girl for some time prior to the publication of Seasoned Timber. But Canfield's longtime stand on racism (including, as far back as The Brimming Cup, prejudice in the Jim Crow South) may have contributed to her desire to write about slavery and the black people she remembered from her childhood in Virginia. Mr. Hulme, in Seasoned Timber, insists that personal liking of not liking of Jews is irrelevant to the principle of fairness. Similarly, the central moral conscience of Sapphira, Mrs. Blake, who arranges for Nancy to get away to Canada, understands that it is the principle that is wrong--" the owning ... the relation itself"--regardless "how convenient or agreeable," kind or cruel, it might be in a particular case (138). When Canfield reviewed Sapphira and the Slave Girl in December 1940, she characteristically pulled it into the political context of the moment, writing that as "helpless spectators of the horrifying spread of human slavery" in Europe under fascism, Americans would find the novel "a lovely story of escape from human slavery" that "bids us have faith" (O'Connor 502).

The careers and reputations of Dorothy Canfield and Willa Cather followed very different trajectories. Although Canfield was the more widely read during their lifetimes, Cather's literary reputation, after an initial period of eclipse in the 1930s and neglect after her death in 1947, has soared until she is now recognized as a major writer. Canfield's has sagged into such near-obscurity that she can be spoken of as "a voice from the past" (Rubin 123). True, Canfield's novels have a Victorian flavor in the fullness and leisureliness of pace, but her attention to contemporary issues and her matter-of-fact recognition of women's sexuality show that she was very much a woman of the twentieth century. Fully committed to democracy and the maintenance of democratic values, she left her readers no room for doubt as to her liberal and humanitarian stand on such issues as inequality of race, social class, and gender of the evils of war. Even while retaining her popularity, she often voiced socialist ideas, which she found congenial in their commitment to both fairness of distribution and pacifism. This note in her work reflects a kind of activism that is never found at, or even very near, the surface of Cather's. It represents her willingness to engage in the kind of "cultural interventions" (Harker, "Progressive Middlebrow" 111) we often expect in serious middlebrow writers.

Cather was fully aware of the hierarchic implications of popular readership and also, I believe, of her own self-elevating undertones when commenting on Canfield's "magnificent sales" and her own "slow" ones. Although it is clear from much of her other correspondence that she very much wanted to increase her sales, it is also quite obvious that she was assuming, and was expecting Canfield to understand, that fewer sales might mean higher art because fewer people might be qualified to appreciate excellence. She worked hard, in interactions with her publishers, to position herself among the literary elite and to keep the physical properties of her books "fine" and their prices high in order to avoid appealing to an unworthy readership. Notably, however, when she did enjoy surprisingly high sales with The Professor's House (1925) and Shadows on the Rock (1931) she did not take that to mean they were poor artistic achievements.

Despite these sharp differences, it is obvious that Cather and Canfield took a keen interest in the other's work and sought each other's good opinion. These feelings are evident in their letters. But a deeper indication of their importance to each other's careers and individual works is found in their novels, which demonstrate that the distinction both, in essence, cultivated between middlebrow and aesthete did not constitute a hard line. Both crossed that line in an extended textual conversation over a period of more than thirty years. It is especially notable that the self-constructed highbrow, Cather, was glad to reach across the line and borrow from her middlebrow colleague.


Bohlke, L. Brent, ed. Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986.

Canfield Fisher, Dorothy. Keeping Fires Night and Day: Selected Letters. Ed. Mark Madigan. Columbia: U Missouri P, 1993.

Cather, Willa. Letter to Edith McClung. 26 September 1938. Susan J. and James Rosowski Collection. Love Library, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

--. Letter to Mariel Gere, 10 January 1898. Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection, Nebraska State Historical Society.

--. Letter to R. L. Scaife, 30 September 1919. Houghton Mifflin Collection. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

--. Letters to Dorothy Canfield Fisher. 15 March 1916:2 September 1916; 21 March 1921:24 March 1921; 5 November 1921; 6 February 1922; prob. 7 April 1922; [8 May 1922]; prob. 23 October 1922; 22 October 1925; [March 1927?]; 18 November 1930: 1 December 1930; approx. 10 June 1931; 8 November 1939; 14 October 1940. Dorothy Canfield Collection. Bailey / Howe Library, University of Vermont.

--. On Writing. 1920. rpt. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1988. Harker, Jaime. America the Middlebrow: Women's Novels, Progressivism, and Middlebrow Authorship Between the Wars. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2007.

--. "Progressive Middlebrow: Dorothy Canfield, Women's Magazines, and Popular Feminista in the Twenties." Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s. Ed. Lisa Botshon and Meredith Goldsmith. Boston: Northeastern UP, 2003. 111-34.

Harris, Richard. "Historical Essay." One of Ours. By Willa Cather. Scholarly ed. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2006. 613-75.

Hoover, Sharon, ed. Willa Cather Remembered. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2002.

Hutner, Gordon. What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920-1960. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2009.

Madigan, Mark J. Introduction. Keeping Fires Night and Day: Selected Letters of Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1993. 1-22.

--. "Willa Cather and Dorothy Canfield Fisher: Rift, Reconciliation, and One of Ours." Cather Studies I. Ed. Susan J. Rosowski. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990. 115-29.

O'Connor, Margaret Anne. ed. Willa Cather: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Romines, Ann. The Home Plot: Women, Writing, and Domestic RituAl. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1992.

Rubin, Joan Shelley. The Making of Middle-Brow Culture. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1992.

Stout, Janis P. "The Making of Willa Cather's One of Ours: The Role of Dorothy Canfield Fisher." War, Literature & the Arts 11.2 (1999): 48-59. --. "Willa Cather and Her Public in 1922." Cather Studies: Willa Cather as Cultural Icon. Ed. Guy Reynolds. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2007. 27-45.

Turner, Catherine. Marketing Modernism Between the Two World Wars. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2003.


(1) I refer to Canfield as Dorothy Canfield, not Dorothy Canfield Fisher, because she herself used her married name only for business and on nonfiction, not on her fiction. Since it is her fiction that is my primary interest here, I follow her own example.

(2) The extent to which Cather served as a movable counter, sliding back and forth between categories of highbrow and popular, is illustrated by an ad for Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain run by Alfred A. Knopf in the New York Times Book Review on 1 May 1927. While claiming for Mann's turgid book a share in the rank of "greatest piece of fiction I could expect to see under the Borzoi imprint," alongside Nobel Prize winner Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil, the ad refers by title only (not author names) to five other Knopf publications, including Cather's Youth and the Bright Medusa. Presumably indicators of literary distinction and thus guarantors of the worth of The Magic Mountain, the group actually contextualizes Mann's work more ambiguously. It includes one, Java Head, notable for its popularity and for having been made into a movie. Cather's significance, then, is also ambiguated. See Catherine Turner, Marketing Modernism, 100.

(3) "The Profile" was replaced in The Troll Garden by a story called "Flavia and Her Artists," apparently a satiric portrait of Canfield's mother, whose name was Flavia.

(4) For the most part, we have only Cather's side of the correspondence, since Canfield kept the letters she received but Cather usually did not.

(5) I confine myself to the novels only because both Cather and Canfield were so very prolific. Treatment of their short stories must remain beyond the bounds of this essay.

The primary reason for the Norwegian setting of Gunhild is biographical; Canfield spent considerable time there in 1905 and became fluent in Norwegian. In making her central character a Norwegian-American who has returned to her parents' country, however, she may also have been remembering that Cather had written about Scandinavian immigrants while both were at the University of Nebraska. She would later identify the effects that "our new country has on people transplanted to it from the old traditions of a stable, complex civilization" as Cather's "one real subject" (Hoover 90-96).

(7) Cather would also echo Gunhild in My Antonia (1918), where Marek, the Shimerdas' mentally disabled younger son, greatly resembles the rather demonic younger brother Gunhildcates for and supports by working as a laundress.

(8) In a letter to Mariel Gere, 10 January 1898, Cather mentions a dinner honoring Nevin held during a visit to Pittsburgh made by Dorothy and Flavia Canfield.

(9) Regarding the complexity of Cather's attitude toward popularity in the literary marketplace, see Stout, "Willa Cather and Her Public in 1922."

(10) Three years before The Deepening Stream (letter of March 1927) Cather urged Canfield to read J. W. N. Sullivan's biography of Beethoven. It is not clear whether this affected Canfield's decision to scatter musical staffs with the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony through the text.


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Author:Stout, Janis P.
Publication:Studies in the Novel
Article Type:Essay
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Date:Mar 22, 2012
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