Mon 18 November 2019
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Underrated: Willa Cather
So criticism missed out on Cather, the greatest American novelist of the 20th century.

Willa Cather seems to have missed every critical boat that set sail during the 20th century. As Joan Acocella in Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism shows, modernist critics, who worshipped at the shrine of Joyce, Proust, and Kafka, found little to interest them in Cather. For the Marxist critics of the 1930s, she had even less to offer. The New Critics of the '40s and '50s could not get much of a critical workout from her straightforward, however august, novels. The attempt of academic feminists to turn her into a lesbian, and so a fit subject for Women's Lit — a notion and a category that would have appalled her — never really came off. So criticism missed out on Cather, the greatest American novelist of the 20th century. 

Cather deserves this accolade because of her own literary genius but also because of the diminishing reputation of her literary contemporaries. Hemingway today borders on the ridiculous with his bluff code of manliness and coarse self-promotion. Poor F. Scott Fitzgerald, dead at 44, left two enduring books, The Great Gatsby and The Crack-Up, only one of them fiction. William Faulkner, whose Rococo prose style, played with the foot down heavy on the pedal, long ago entered the realm where it is much easier to admire than actually to read him. Meanwhile, Cather's achievement seems today even greater than when she was alive. 

For the full article

Standpoint Magazine

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