ENG 303 Seminar: American Literature: Willa Cather's Fiction

Richard Millington, Th 7:30 PM-9:30 PM

This seminar will explore the fiction of Willa Cather—after Faulkner, the most distinguished American fiction writer of the twentieth century.  We will work chronologically, starting with a few of her earlier stories, but devoting our attention to the astonishingly diverse sequence of novels that unfolds between 1913 and 1940.  While Cather has, after a period of critical underestimation, been more and more fully acknowledged as an indispensable American writer, one could argue that Cather criticism—though full of interest—has not fully captured the qualities and ambitions of her work.  That will be our job:  we’ll work to track the shape of her career; to explore her emergence as the creator of a distinctive, lucid, and obliquely revolutionary American modernism; and to enter the lively, impassioned critical conversation that surrounds her work.  We’ll supplement our reading of the fiction with material from the just-released volume of Cather’s Selected Letters.

 Here are the works we’re likely to engage (though the list may need a little trimming):

 “Paul’s Case,” and other early stories of artistic ambition

 O Pioneers!  (1913)

The Song of the Lark (1915)

My Antonia  (1918)

A Lost Lady (1923)

The Professor’s House (1925)

Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)

Shadows on the Rock (1931)

“Old Mrs. Harris” (1932)

Lucy Gayheart (1935)

Sapphira and the Slave Girl  (1940)

 As in all seminars, your thoughtful and active participation in the class will be crucial.  I’m still deciding on the written work I will require, but here’s one likely scenario:  three ‘mini term papers,’ each 7-8 pages long, engaging the critical and cultural debates we’ll explore in class (the first two essays will undergo a formal draft and revision process).  There will also be some shorter, informal writing, linked to our class discussions or to critical essays.