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In praise of Willa Cather

In his newsletter (available by subscription, sorry), Robert Christgau shares a lovely few paragraphs on rereading My Antonia and Willa Cather’s canonicity:

You may think it’s a stretch to put her up against the early-modernist triumvirate for the simple reason that she wasn’t a modernist at all. But it’s always a distortion to gauge an artist on an imaginary progress meter, like assuming the Drive-By Truckers aren’t as deep as Radiohead because their model owes Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Prine, and I say Cather belongs in the triumvirate’s league. The subtle eloquence of her plainstyle rendered her prose less striking than any of theirs, and formally she wasn’t all that different from Zola or Edith Wharton. But admiring her novels as much as Hemingway’s or Faulkner’s, Wharton’s or Zola’s, I believe that for 21st-century readers she stands as tall as any such titan.

I admire writers whose specialties sharpen their perceptions about how other arts function and allow comparative leaps to which the gatekeepers of these arts aren’t open; only Christgau would’ve mentioned Prine and Skynrd in a post about Willa Cather. Continue reading