Sunday, 28 February 2010

Life writing

My interest in life writing continues with Hermione Lee's excellent biography of Willa Cather. Although I've read a lot of Cather's fiction I don't know a great deal about her life. Cather preferred it that way, too, instructing that her private correspondence should be destroyed after her death.

A biography of Cather inevitably throws up the names of other grandes dames of American literature. Apparently Wharton and Cather were not mutually appreciative. Edith Wharton referred to Cather as the woman with the 'blurry name.' However, I'm delighted to discover that Cather was great friends with Sara Orne Jewett (who wrote The Country of the Pointed Firs) and Dorothy Canfield Fisher. The picture on the cover of Willa Cather - A Life Saved Up was taken when she was the managing editor of a newspaper. Imagine having to go to work in that get-up every day! Elegant, though.

15 comments:

Thomas at My Porch said...

I am reading Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice by Sharon O'Brien. I am enjoying it, but I feel like she might be trying too hard to impute things about Cather's perspective based on some of the early biographical details of Cather's life. And this book uses the same picture as yours on the cover.

Sara said...

The only work of Cather's I've read is Death Comes For the Archbishop which I love. What would you recommend reading next. I like H. Lee's biography style (I'm reading her biography of V.Woolf now).

verity said...

I've got this and am really looking forward to reading it.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Interesting article - thank you. i too am fascinated by life writing.... Herminoe Lee is an super life writer and has written/edited (I can't remember off hand but I have got it somewhere) - a collection sof essyas called "Body Parts" which examines life writing and is an extremely good read. thanks for sharing, Hannah

bookssnob said...

I'd really like to read this. I have read one of Cather's novels - Lucy Gayheart - and loved it. I would like to read all of her work now, and more about her life. Hermione Lee is an excellent biographer - I greatly enjoyed her biography of Virginia Woolf.

Frisbee said...

I couldn't be more enthusiastic about your introduction to this biography. Cather is one of my favorite writers, there can't be too much written about her, and it's time I got back to reading her AND about her. Knowing her life really does give insight into her fiction.

オテモヤン said...
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zetor said...

Thankyou so much Nicola for your kind comment about Smokey.

Vintage Reading said...

Thomas, I'm enjoying the Lee biog but there is an awful lot of literary criticism. To be fair, Lee does state this in the intro, but I'd like a bit more about Cather's life.

Sara, I would recommend My Antonia or The Professor's House. Do let me know what you think. Didn't know Lee had written a biog of Woolf!

Verity, look forward to your review. It's a bit academic for me, but nevertheless enjoyable.

Hannah, yes, I've only recently got interested in life writing, because fiction is generally my thing. Biographies are fascinating, though.

Booksnob, I loved your Lucy Gayheart review. I'm enjoying the Lee but it is very lit crit.

Frisbee, there are still 3 or 4 Cather novels I've not yet read or her short stories. Hoping to read some more of her work this year.

Michael Faulkner said...

Death Comes For The Archbishop is long-time a favourite, though I haven't read any others. I didn't know anything about Cather and I'm fascinated that she was a journalist, as it seems to me it may account for her lovely economical, understated style. If you are interested in New Mexico you might enjoy a lovely biography of Edith Warner, The House At Otowi Bridge? I did a post about Warner on my blog http://thebluecabin.blogspot.com/2010/01/house-at-otowi-bridge.html
a few weeks ago.

Vintage Reading said...

Michael, hi, the Warner biog sounds very interesting, I'll check it out. May I recommend The Professor's House if you would like to read more Cather. Love all the natural imagery on your blog, by the way.

Michael Faulkner said...

Thank-you, I will send for The Professor's House, look forward to it.
Michael

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I am not surprised that Wharton made a snide comment about Cather. They share a timeframe but not much else, it seems to me.

Barbara C. said...

On a lark I downloaded "My Antonia" as a free download on my IPad. What a delightful book. I love the sicere truthful expressions of that period (early 20th century).
Have you read any Christopher Morley? You would enjoy him (Parnassus on Wheels, The Haunted Book Store).
Previous to reading "My Antonia" I read "The Worst Hard Time" and kept worrying about what was coming for Antonia and her family!

Vintage Reading said...

Barbara, hi, glad you liked My Antonia, I would recommend The Professor's House, too. Haven't read C Morley but I will look for titles by him. Thanks for dropping by.