On this day in 1947, Willa Cather died of a cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Just seven years earlier, her final novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, had been published and the research for it took her back to her birthplace in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The complicated story of a slave escape was based on an incident in her own family. This is from our entry:
Cather is most popularly associated with the Midwest, and Nebraska in particular. That Sapphira and the Slave Girl is a pastoral novel steeped in nostalgia for antebellum Virginia is ironic. Cather is given to long lists of flowers, and she describes the land in often idyllic terms: “In all the rich flowering and blushing and blooming of a Virginia spring, the scentless dogwood is the whitest thing and yet the most austere, the most unearthly.” This has prompted some critics to note, in the words of Naomi E. Morgenstern, “the strange mismatch between the story’s affect and the tale it has to tell.”
What is that tale? It’s dark, my friends, but read the entry and then, better yet, read the book. Even one of Cather’s lesser efforts is well worth your while.
IMAGES: Willa Cather Home- Gore VA (1) by Flickr user kevystew; Cather’s gravestone in Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire; and the dust jacket to the first edition of Sapphira and the Slave Girl, published in 1940 (Special Collections, University of Virginia)