On the Divide


On the Divide

The Many Lives of Willa Cather

David Porter

416 pages
17 phtographs, index


January 2010


$29.95 Add to Cart

November 2008


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

November 2008


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Willa Cather’s fiction frequently plays out on “the divide,” the high prairie land of Nebraska, where the author herself lived as a child. This book suggests that Cather’s own life played out on a divide as well, deliberately measured out between different roles and personae that made their way into her writing.
On the Divide analyzes the iconic image that Cather helped develop for herself, in contrast to the anonymous face she adopted for promotional activities and the very different private self she shared only with friends and family. Delving into Cather’s correspondence and the little-known promotional material she produced anonymously, David Porter provides new insight into the extent—and direction—of her control. He also considers the contrasting influences of Mary Baker Eddy, whose biography Cather ghostwrote, and Sarah Orne Jewett on the author’s emerging artistic persona. The study goes on to explore the many ways in which these “divides” in Cather’s life found expression in her writing. Extending from Cather’s early stories to her final novel, Porter’s book documents the degree to which Cather’s understanding of her own different and often conflicting sides, and of her penchant for playing diverse roles, enabled her as a novelist to create characters so torn, so complex, and so profoundly human.

Author Bio

David Porter (1935–2016) was the Tisch Family Distinguished Professor at Skidmore College. He is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth Press: “Riding a Great Horse” and Horace’s Poetic Journey: A Reading of Odes 1–3.

Table of Contents

Introduction: On the Divide

Section I: Cather on Cather – Introduction

Chapter 1: Three Autobiographies and an (Auto)interview

Chapter 2: Dust Jacket Copy


Section II: Entering the Kingdom of Art – Introduction

Chapter 3: The Quest to Excel: 1890-1906

Chapter 4: Cather Caught in the Eddy

Chapter 5: Two Alter-Egos


Section III: At Home on the Divide – Introduction

Chapter 6: O Pioneers! and My Autobiography

Chapter 7: The Song of the Lark

Chapter 8: My Ántonia


Section IV: Confronting Medusa – Introduction

Chapter 9: “Hard and Dry”

Chapter 10: Youth and the Bright Medusa

Chapter 11: One of Ours


Section V: “The Seeming Original Injustice – Introduction

Chapter 12: A Lost Lady

Chapter 13: The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett

Chapter 14: The Professor’s House

Chapter 15: My Mortal Enemy


Section VI: Recapitulation – Introduction

Chapter 16: Conversations: Cather Talks with Cather


Section VII: “In the End is My Beginning” – Introduction

Chapter 17: Death Comes for the Archbishop

Chapter 18: Fiction of the 1930s

Chatper 19: Cather, Jewett, and Not Under Forty

Chapter 20: Sapphira and the Slave Girl



Works Cited



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