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

  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Gender Role Gender Identity Organize Crime Influenza Pandemic Final Chapter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  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
  2. 2.
    Janis P. Stout, “Between Two Wars in a Breaking World: Willa Cather and the Persistence of War Consciousness,” in Cather Studies Vol. 6: History, Memory, War, ed. Steven Trout (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 70–1.Google Scholar
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    Katherine Anne Porter, “Reflections on Willa Cather,” in The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katherine Anne Porter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1970), 33–4.Google Scholar
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    See Lee, Double Lives; Steven Trout, ed., Cather Studies Vol. 6: History, Memory, War (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 70–91; Trout, Memorial Fictions; Sharon O’Brien, “Combat Envy and Survivor Guilt: Willa Cather’s ‘Manly War Yarn,’” in Arms and the Women: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 184–204; and John P. Anders, Willa Cather’s Sexual Aesthetics and the Male Homosexual Tradition (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 74–5.Google Scholar
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    Judith Butler, “‘Dangerous Crossing’: Willa Cather’s Masculine Names,” in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), 163.Google Scholar
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    Willa Cather, Not Under Forty (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936), 50.Google Scholar
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    Janis Stout, Strategies of Reticence: Silence and Meaning in the Works of Jane Austen, Willa Cather, Katherine Anne Porter and Joan Didion (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1990), 68.Google Scholar
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    Willa Cather, One of Ours (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1922), 103.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Ibid., 5. For a discussion of Mr. Wheeler’s importance in One of Ours, see Dix McComas, “Willa Cather’s One of Ours: In Distant Effigy,” Legacy 14:2 (1997): 93–109.Google Scholar
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    Pearl James, “‘The Enid Problem’: Dangerous Modernity in One of Ours,” Cather Studies 6 (2006): 114.Google Scholar
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    Jean Schwind, “The ‘Beautiful’ War in One of Ours,” Modern Fiction Studies 30.1 (1984): 55.Google Scholar
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    See Lee, Double Lives’, Stout, Writer, 178; Klaus P. Stich, “Historical and Archetypal Intimations of the Grail Myth in Cather’s One of Ours and The Professor’s House,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature 45.2 (2003): 201–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    John P. Anders in Willa Cather’s Sexual Aesthetics and the Male Homosexual Tradition (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 78–81, reads this scene as autoerotic.Google Scholar
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    David Porter, On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 179–80.Google Scholar
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    Helen M. Cooper, Adrienne Auslander Munch, and Susan Merrill Squier, eds., introduction to Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989).Google Scholar
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    See McComas “Distant Effigy,” 93–109; and Celia M. Kingsbury, “‘Squeezed into an Unnatural Shape’: Bayliss Wheeler and the Element of Control in One of Ours,” Cather Studies 6 (2006): 129–44.Google Scholar
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    Frederick T. Griffiths, “The Woman Warrior: Willa Cather and One of Ours,” Women’s Studies 11 (1984): 275.Google Scholar
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    In Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981), 17–32, Marina Warner argues that Joan of Arc’s virginity helped prove her virtue and was thus a major source of her power.Google Scholar
  22. 59.
    Cather, One, 214, 236. Cavell was a well-known figure whose death early in World War I prompted contemporary comparisons to Joan of Arc. As the head of a Red Cross hospital in Brussels, she was executed by a German firing squad in October, 1915, because of the protection and medical care she offered to British soldiers in Belgium. For a discussion of the World War I propaganda surrounding Edith Cavell’s death, see Shane M. Barney, “The Mythic Matters of Edith Cavell: Propaganda, Legend, Myth, and Memory,” Historical Reflection/Reflexions Historiques 31.2 (2005): 217–33. His article focuses on Cavell’s appeal to female audiences, her parallels to legendary heroes (such as Joan of Arc), and historical arguments regarding how her death might have contributed to the success of the suffrage movement in 1918. In his article “Over There from Over Here: Willa Cather, the Authorial Reader, and One of Ours” Richard Harris also discusses the contemporary media response to Cavell’s death, with more attention to the American audience. See Harris, “Over There,” in Violence, the Arts, and Willa Cather, ed. Joseph R. Urgo and Merrill Maguire Skaggs (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickson University Press, 2007), 41–44.Google Scholar
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    Mary R. Ryder, “‘As Green as Their Money’: The Doughboy Naifs in One of Ours,” Cather Studies 6 (2006): 145–59.Google Scholar
  24. 63.
    Linda A. Morris, Gender Play in Mark Twain: Cross-Dressing and Transgression (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2007), 89.Google Scholar
  25. 64.
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  26. 65.
    In his essay “Cather and the Father of History,” in Willa Cather and the American Southwest, ed. John N. Swift and Joseph R. Urgo (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 80–8, Merrill Maguire Skaggs argues that Cather and Twain enjoyed a cordial personal relationship late in Twain’s life, which led to Cather drawing on his later works productively in her own writing.Google Scholar
  27. 67.
    Francoise Meitzer, For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Ibid., 163.Google Scholar
  30. 71.
    Jennifer Kilgore, “Joan of Arc as Propaganda Motif from the Dreyfus Affair to the Second World War,” Literature, History of Ideas, Images and Societies of the English-Speaking World 1 (2008): 279–96.Google Scholar
  31. 73.
    Lisa Tickner, The Spectacle of Women: The Imagery of the Sufferage Campaign, 1907–14 (London: Chatto and Windus, 1989), 208.Google Scholar
  32. 74.
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  33. 75.
    Ibid., 210.Google Scholar
  34. 76.
    Ibid., 210.Google Scholar
  35. 78.
    Hew Strachan, The First World War (New York: Viking Adult, 2004), 44.Google Scholar
  36. 79.
  37. 80.
    H. Marix Evans, American Voices of World War I: Primary Source Documents 1917–1920 (New York: Routledge, 2001), 31.Google Scholar
  38. 83.
    Cather, One, 341. See Debra Rae Cohen’s discussion of this passage in relation to tourism in “Culture and the ‘Cathedral’: Tourism as Potlach in One of Ours,” Cather Studies 6 (2006): 184–204.Google Scholar
  39. 94.
    See James, “Enid”; Maureen Ryan, “No Woman’s Land: Gender in Willa Cather’s One of OursStudies in American Fiction 18.1 (1990): 65–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Lee, Double Lives, 166; Richard C. Harris, “Getting Claude ‘Over There’: Sources for Book Four of Cather’s One of Ours,” JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 35.2 (2005): 248–56.Google Scholar
  41. 127.
    Cather’s education in the classical languages is well-known as is her love of classical literature: Stout, Writer, 34, 44–6, 108–10. She also draws on Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI in her story “The Namesake” and The Professor’s House, Jeremiah P. Mead, “Marcellus in the Mirror: Reflections of Aeneid VI in The Professor’s HouseWilla Cather Pioneer Memorial Newsletter and Review 40.2 (Summer–Fall 1996): 51–3.Google Scholar
  42. 132.
    Stanley Cooperman, World War I and the American Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  43. 138.
    For discussions of conventional feminine gender roles during World War I, see Gilbert and Gubar No Mans Land, Volumes I–III; Margaret Higonnet et al., Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World War (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989); Cooper, Munch, and Squier, Arms and the Woman; Jensen, Mobilizing Minerva.Google Scholar
  44. 178.
    Ben Shephard, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 153.Google Scholar
  45. 184.
    Trout, Memorial, 60–66; Stout, Writer, 292 ff. Other critics have argued for the modernist aspects of Cather’s later works, such as Lee, Double Lives, 189–91; Loretta Wasserman, “The Music of Time: Henri Bergson and Willa Cather” American Literature 57.2 (May 1985): 226–39; and Walter Benn Michaels, Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 185.
    Michael North, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Stout in “Reflections” argues that Porter’s relationship with Cather was competitive, with these attitudes impacting Porter’s writing about Cather.Google Scholar
  47. 186.
    See Kathleen Wall in “Significant Form in Jacob’s Room: Ekphrasis and the Elegy” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 44.3 (Fall 2002): 302–23; and Rachel Hollander in “Alterity and Form in Jacob’s Room,” Twentieth-Century Literature 53.1 (Spring 2007): 40–66, on elegy and loss in Jacob’s Room. Both articles focus on the different ways the war challenged writers to find new literary forms commensurate with the experience of death and absence.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 187.
    Vincent Sherry, The Great War and the Language of Modernism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 270–83.Google Scholar
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© Jane Elizabeth Fisher 2012

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  • Jane Elizabeth Fisher

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