Gender and Modernity: The Things Not Named in One of Ours

  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher


Destabilization, violence, and vision have characterized Cather’s 1922 World War I novel One of Ours since its publication.1 Her famous claim that “[t]he world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts” in the introduction to Not Under Forty, her 1936 volume of essays, further links this time period to fragmentation and rupture from its immediate past.2 In an appreciative essay on Cather, Katherine Anne Porter’s description of the postwar period also uses metaphors of destruction to describe civilian life, noting how the disorientation of battle extended far beyond the trenches, leaving “almost no frontiers unattacked”:

I had had time to grow up, to consider, to look again, to begin finding my way a little through the inordinate clutter and noise of my immediate day, in which very literally everything in the world was being pulled apart, torn up, turned wrong side out and upside down; almost no frontiers left unattacked, governments and currencies falling; even the very sexes seemed to be changing back and forth and multiplying weird and unclassifiable genders. And every day, as in the arts, as in schemes of government and organized crime, there was, there had to be, something New.3

Porter attributes innovation to subjectivity itself, noting not just a simple reversal of gender roles but also substantial gender disorientation resulting in new and “unclassifiable” genders, “changing back and forth,” multiple and diverse, always in process.


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  1. 1.
    For excellent discussions of the divisive reception of Cather’s novel, see Janis Stout, The Writer and Her World (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000); Hermione Lee, Double Lives (Pantheon: New York, 1989); Michael North, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Steven Trout, Memorial Fictions: Willa Cather and the First World War (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002).Google Scholar
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© Jane Elizabeth Fisher 2012

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  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher

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