Tracy Daugherty’s historical novel 148 Charles Street explores the fascinating story of Willa Cather’s friendship with Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant. The women shared a passion for writing, for New York, and for the desert Southwest, but their sensibilities could not have been more different: Cather, the novelist of lyrical landscapes and aesthetic refinement, and Sergeant, the muckraking journalist and literary activist. Their friendship is sorely tested when Cather fictionalizes a war that Sergeant covered as a reporter, calling into question, for both women, the uses of art and journalism, the power of imagination and witness. 148 Charles Street is a testament to the bonds that endure despite disagreements and misunderstandings, and in the relentlessness of a vanishing past.
148 Charles Street explores, as only fiction can, the two writers’ interior lives, and contrasts Sergeant’s literary activism with Cather’s more purely aesthetic approach to writing.