Queer refers to both the specific sexuality of Cather; it is also used as a transitive verb to describe the writer’s interrogation and disruption of the broader culture, as in “Queering America.” It has a very specific literary-historical import when Lindemann says of “Tom Outland’s story” that it represents “Cather’s queering in the sense of critique and revision of the American classic as the tale of a free boy’s adventures” (103).
The promiscuity of this term, as it couples with a variety of critical languages, is undoubtedly designed to enact the kind of “queering” Lindemann finds in Cather. I think it is fair to say there are problems when a critical discourse is founded so consciously on a malleable term.
The country of her allegiance is far from the land of her inheritance, and for its past she feels an alien nostalgia which those ‘under forty’ can never know.
It is in praise of this past that she has written this slender volume in reverence and love.
Katherine Mansfield, she remarks, has ‘a powerful slightness.’ How excellent the phrase!
When Miss Cather says that a second rate writer can be defined, but one first-rate can only be experienced, she codifies a law of universal criticism.During the post-war period, Cather scholarship became a case study in academic trends.Mythic Cather, New Critical Cather, Christian Cather, psychoanalytical Cather, feminist Cather: her oeuvre is at best a testing-ground and at worst a battleground for new readings.To Miss Cather we are already indebted for a distillation of Miss Jewett’s stories, wrought with a precision unknown elsewhere in American Letters. How handsome Miss Jewett looked in those days, the epitome of New England inheritance, a little formal, not free from self-consciousness, but a work of art quite as truly as her stories are a work of nature.Slighter papers make up the volume, illuminated by flashed of intuitive understanding.Lindemann addresses a subject that has steadily achieved significance in Cather studies: her lesbian identity.Sharon O’Brien addressed sexuality in her 1987 biography, Willa Cather: the Emerging Voice; but Lindemann’s work is the first major account to enmesh textuality and sexuality across Cather’s full career.Lindemman’s impressive s tudy entwines textual criticism with a theoretical discourse derived from cultural studies and nascent queer studies.One of the most important features of the book is its self-consciously decentered format, as Lindemann weaves together a range of critical discourses: close readings of Cather’s correspondence; neo-Foucauldian cultural history; deconstructions of canon formation and literary nationalism; and attentive textual criticism.Joseph Urgo’s Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration (1995) and my own Willa Cather in Context (1996) uncovered a Cather attuned to a progressive, even liberal agenda: a writer fascinated by otherness and a postmodern sense of mobility.Marilee Lindemann’s Willa Cather: Queering America widens this progressive school.