March 13, 2019

Book Review: Willa Cather and Aestheticism by Watson & Moseley

As promised, I'm continuing to share scholarly volumes that have been published where I worked as a contributing author. Here's the next book to check out!

Willa Cather and Aestheticism:
From Romanticism to Modernism

Edited by Sarah Cheney Watson and Ann Moseley

Genres: Academic, 20th-Century, History, Nonfiction, American Literature, Willa Cather
Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Length: 256 pages
Published: June 14, 2012
Purchase Links: Amazon, Rowman & Littlefield

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (again, I'm definitely biased)

Official Book Summary:
"In this collection of essays, contributors investigate the various connections between Willa Cather’s fiction and her aesthetic beliefs and practices. Including multiple perspectives and critical approaches—derived from the Aesthetic Movement, the visual arts, modernism, and the relationship between art and religion—this collection will increase our understanding of Cather’s aesthetic and lead to a better comprehension of her work and her life."

Others' Reviews:
"Perhaps because they believe that Cather's relation to the aesthetic movement has been an underdeveloped area of scholarship, Watson (East Texas Baptist Univ.) and Moseley (emer., Texas A & M, Commerce) have gathered essays that link the writer to a wide range of literary and visual artists—from figures such as the British Oscar Wilde and William Pater and Americans Henry James and Henry Adams to the fin de siècle dandy; from the Barbizon school, the tonalists, and the Arts and Crafts movement to modernisms. …The most satisfying essays articulate how Cather enacts the central dichotomy within aestheticism: that between the exquisite object or momentary perception of beauty and the "real" world of time, material production, and consumer capitalism. Peter Betjemann, for instance, traces similarities between the death of the engineer in Alexander's Bridge and the uprising of the laboring Morlocks in H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, both of which enact a return of what is repressed in severing the aesthetic from the material. This volume provides the impetus for further explorations of the fascinating and vexing subject of Cather's aestheticism. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above." — CHOICE

"A gorgeous, hard-bound book that lives up to its title, Willa Cather and Aesthecism is a pleasure to handle and to read. A glossy image of Lady Lilith painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti adorns the rich red-and-black cover. Inside, readers find a diverse yet cohesive grouping of essays on the subject of Willa Cather’s relationship to the Aesthetic Movement. This collection challenges commonly received assumptions about Cather’s artistic influences, revisiting well-known texts through a new lens and exploring more deeply many of Cather’s works that have received less critical attention. The authors engage a wide range of approaches, focusing on everything from painting to architecture to material objects in establishing their claims about Cather and aestheticism. ... Well worth adding to personal libraries for its aesthetic appeal as a lovely material object and a well-written, diverse collection of essays, Willa Cather and Aesthecisim is an important addition to Cather scholarly studies. As is expected in a compilation, researchers need to explore the assortment to find their specific interests, yet the organization and layout make these discoveries easy. For those interested in Cather and the idea of aestheticism, each essay is a gem—the entire book a finely jeweled setting." — Western American Literature

"The essays in the volume are consistently excellent. Willa Cather and Aestheticism represents a major addition to Cather scholarship." — Richard C. Harris, Volume Editor, Scholarly Edition of One of Ours

"Its essays, from the sharp introduction by the editors defining the contexts to John J. Murphy’s sustained meditation on Cather’s awareness of Henry Adams that closes the volume, detail Cather’s intellectual and imaginative influences with Aestheticism in wholly new ways. Showing Cather deeply engaged in the aesthetic developments of her day, these critics define a new array of influences drawn from painting, practice, and culture: they further clarify Cather’s profound genius in her shaping of European inheritances to the American story and so to its cultural mores. Willa Cather and Aestheticism defines a wholly new array of influences and engagements—it impressively shapes another Willa Cather, a new vision of the writer." — Robert Thacker, St. Lawrence University

"Watson and Moseley compile a volume that delivers on its promise to 'increase our understanding of Cather's aesthetic beliefs and practices and contribute immensely to our critical understanding of her work and her life." — Studies in American Naturalism

My Contribution and Endorsement:
For this volume, I authored the chapter, "Fernand Léger and Willa Cather's 'Coming, Aphrodite!,'" which reexamines Cather's short story in the context of the artwork of the famed French painter. As you can see in the reviews above, the collection is a great resource for scholars or fans of Willa Cather's work who would like to delve deeper into examining this aspect of her influential writings.

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