“Overtones and Empty Rooms” sets out to track Cather's idiosyncratic movement away from antecedents ranging from Norris's naturalism to James's novels of consciousness and toward a “moderate modernist” form of semidetachment. Her fiction between O Pioneers! (1913) and The Professor's House (1927) turns away from the possibilities explored by Lawrence, Hemingway, Woolf, Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, seeking instead moments of aesthetic translucence, the overlay of one image, or one sound, on top of another. Such moments of overlay (or overtone) encapsulate the problem as well as the promise involved in turning one's readers simultaneously into participants and critical witnesses to one's story. Cather's distinctive form of modernism hinges on the way that she postulates a dichotomy between the world of aesthetic dreaming and the world of hard facts—then asserts fiction's capacity to inhabit both simultaneously.
Overtones and Empty Rooms: Willa Cather's Semidetached Modernism
john plotz is professor of Victorian literature at Brandeis University. His books include The Crowd: British Literature and Public Politics (2000), Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move (2008), and Semi-Detached: Aesthetic Experience from Dickens to Keaton (2017). He is now working on a book to be titled “The Recalcitrants.”
John Plotz; Overtones and Empty Rooms: Willa Cather's Semidetached Modernism. Novel 1 May 2017; 50 (1): 56–76. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3854283
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