Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and the Place of Culture
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Edith Wharton and Willa Cather wrote many of the most enduring American novels from the first half of the twentieth century, including Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence, and Cather’s O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. Yet despite their perennial popularity and their status as major American novelists, Wharton (1862–1937) and Cather (1873–1947) have rarely been studied together. Indeed, critics and scholars seem to have conspired to keep them at a distance: Wharton is seen as “our literary aristocrat,” an author who chronicles the lives of the East Coast, Europe-bound elite, while Cather is considered a prairie populist who describes the lives of rugged western pioneers. These depictions, though partially valid, nonetheless rely on oversimplifications and neglect the striking and important ways the works of these two authors intersect.
The first comparative study of Edith Wharton and Willa Cather in thirty years, this book combines biographical, historical, and literary analyses with a focus on place and aesthetics to reveal Wharton’s and Cather’s parallel experiences of dislocation, their relationship to each other as writers, and the profound similarities in their theories of fiction. Julie Olin-Ammentorp provides a new assessment of the affinities between Wharton and Cather by exploring the importance of literary and geographic place in their lives and works, including the role of New York City, the American West, France, and travel. In doing so she reveals the two authors’ shared concern about the culture of place and the place of culture in the United States.
Julie Olin-Ammentorp is a professor of English at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. She is the author of Edith Wharton’s Writings from the Great War.
University of Nebraska Press • 2019 • Paperback • 396 pages • Illustrated