Volume 5: Why are the Kardashians Famous?

by: Megan Zappe

Cather Studies is a journal published by the University of Nebraska Press once every two years. It is a journal highlighting important issues found in and surrounding Willa Cather’s works. The audience consists of scholars interested in ideas and topics arising from readings of Cather as well as some American history and its effect on literature. In order to submit to any of the University of Nebraska Press’ journals, there are strict guidelines a writer must follow. As with any publication, a proposal must be drafted, as well as a sample chapter of one’s research (UNP.org). The UNP warns that to reviewing proposals could take six to eight weeks due to the multitude of submissions they receive. Each published Cather Studies journal follows a theme, whether it is types of literary criticism, historical, or autobiographical.

The first trend resulting from Volume 5 of Cather Studies deals with ecological issues in Cather’s works. Her novels O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and Song of the Lark are all part of a group known as the Prairie Novels. In “Catherland,” the study of environmental issues in Cather’s works is known as Ecological Imagination. The fifth volume of Cather Studies has essays titled “My Antonia and the Parks Movement,” “A Guided Tour of Ecocriticism, with Excursions to Catherland,” and “Willa Cather: The Plow and the Pen.” These essays all deal specifically with the representation of the wild Nebraskan plains in Cather’s written works. These trends may have developed after scholars realized that there was a significant tie to natural elements other than the fact that Cather lived in the West (Rosowski). They began to explore reasons for including these elements as well as the role that nature adopted in her works.

In the next installment of Cather Studies, the trending issues were history, memory, and military conflict. The essays in this journal deal specifically with One of Ours and The Professor’s House, which are the most renowned war-time works that Cather has written. Essays in this volume are titled “Recreation in World War I and the Practice of Play in One of Ours,” “Looking at Agony: World War I in the Professor’s House,” and “Between Two Wars in a Breaking World: Willa Cather and the Persistence of War Consciousness.” These essays are mostly concerned with the ways that war and human ideas about war have influenced Cather’s literary works. These works were written in a post-war America where the acquisition of wealth was the main goal of most Americans. The authors of these essays were primarily concerned with how the effect of war had changed literature (Trout).

The final installment of Cather Studies deals with Willa Cather as a Cultural Icon. This volume addresses the role of Cather outside of the literary world. After Cather’s success as a writer, scholars began to examine autobiographical instances in her works. Essays in this volume include “What Happens to Criticism When the Artist Becomes an Icon?,” “Willa Cather and Her Public in 1922,” and “Cather’s Secular Humanism: Writing Anacoluthon and Shooting Out into the Eternities.” After Cather had become a household name, scholars were focusing on everything but the “quintessential frontier” in her works (Reynolds). Cather’s life had not revolved around Nebraskan prairie novels and she had explored many other types of writing such as poetry, short story, criticism, and journalism.

In Cather Studies, trends studying Willa Cather’s works revolved around Ecological Imagination, Post-war America represented in literature, and aspects of Cather’s life that were not studied as prominently as her famous prairie novels. There is obvious difference between the topics of these volumes, but they were molded from the concerns of scholars. The fifth volume of Cather Studies was published in 2003, when the world became much more informed about recycling, ozone layers, and saving the polar bears. This was just a mere three years before Al Gore released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” The sixth volume reflects the United State’s connection with war and Cather, because the war with Afghanistan had began in 2001 and was still being fought in 2006, though people were questioning the reasons for war. Finally, viewing Cather as an icon when volume seven was published in 2007 reflects changing social ideals about famous people and their successes. It just so happens that “Keeping up with the Kardashians” aired in 2007, and people began to ask why we are so obsessed with famous people’s lives. It is interesting how current events strike new ideas about literature written 80 years ago and this is reflected in the trends of Cather Studies.



*Rosowski, Trout, and Reynolds are all editors of and wrote the introductions to the three volumes of Cather Studies. The full-text versions of these volumes can be found at: http://cather.unl.edu/index.cs.html


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