Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Daneen Wardrop


Willa Cather believed the primary goal of art was to simplify, but she never believed the world to be a simple place. Her letters reveal abundant conflicted feelings about her own place in the world, while also revealing a concomitant determination to succeed at any cost. From O Pioneers! (1913) to Sapphira andthe Slave Girl (1940), her novels vary vastly, evidencing a complex dialectic between romantic absolutes and modernist uncertainties. Even in the novelsmost critics would see as notably romantic--specifically her earlier works--the modernist temperament and techniques create recognizable tension. Just as significantly, in her later, darker novels the romantic impulse refuses to be superseded.

Though multiple scholars have investigated Cather's romanticism and others her modernism, to date none has discovered the continuity and interdependenceof these strands throughout her entire body of work. Examination of her correspondence--which is barred from publication but may be paraphrased--revealsthe genesis of many of her ideas. This study elucidates the power of Cather's work which lies in the fascinating interplay between the romanticism she refuses to part with and the modernism she bravely embraces.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access