Cather, Willa: Shadows on the Rock
(researched by Jennifer Clem)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Place: New York, Date: August 1931 at $2.50. "The first printing was announced in Publishers Weekly as 25,000 copies." SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First edition published in bright green cloth. A limited edition of 619 copies came out at the same time in fine linen marbled curl cloth in green-blue, dark blue, red-brown, and ochre. SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
{1-18}8; pp.i-vi, 1-2} 3-280 {281-282}=144 leaves. Contents: P.i: half title, ëSHADOWS ON THE ROCK / {short rule}'; p.ii: ë{within a double-rule frame} The Works of / WILLA CATHER / {II titles listed with dates of publication}'; p. iii: title page; p. iv: ëCOPYRIGHT 1931 BY WILLA CATHER/ All rights reserved----no
part of this book may be reprinted / in any form without permission in writing from the publisher / FIRST EDITION / MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA'; p.v: contents; p.vi: blank; p. I: part title, ëBOOK I / THE APOTHECARY'; p. 2 epigraph; p
p. 3-42: text of book I: p. 43: part title, ëBOOK II / CECILE AND JACQUES'; p. 44 blank; pp.45-113: text of book 2; p. 114: blank; p. 115: part title, ëBOOK III / THE LONG WINTER'; p. 116: blank; ppl 117-166: text of book 3; p. 167: part title, ëBOOK IV
/ PIERRE CHARRON'; p. 168: blank; pp. 169-198 text of book 4; p. 199: part title, ëBOOK V / THE SHIPS FROM FRANCE'; p. 200: blank; pp. 201-234: text of book 5; p. 235: part title, ëBOOK VI / THE DYING COUNT'; p. 236: blank; pp. 237-268: text of book 6
: pp. 269-280: epilogue; p. 281: blank; p. 282: ë{within a double-rule frame} A NOTE ON THE TYPE / in which this book is set/. SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Confirmed by visual examination of first edition.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The first edition is not edited or introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The first edition is not illustrated. However, there is an image of the pale rose dust jacket available, in "wove fiber paper(containing minute threads tha
t effect an overall mottled appearance)." SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The smooth green background cloth and the contrasting orange and blue labels on the cover first draw the attention of
the prospective reader. The presentation of the book is attractive with its simple, well designed lay-out. The text is sharp and clear, and centered on each page with large margins, making it very easy to read. The divisions of books and chapters are clea
rly marked. All descriptive features indicate that the book is well printed. The book was set up and electrotyped by the Plimpton Press of Norwook, Massachusetts. A note on p. 382 of the first edition describes the typography in more detail: "Pierre Simo
n Fournier (le jeune), who designed the type from which that used in this book is adapted, was both an originator and a collector of types. His services to the art of printing were were his design of letters, his creation of ornaments and initials, and h
is standardization of type sizes. His types are old style in character and sharply cut." SOURCE: Visual examination of first edition.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The first edition is made of "cream laid paper with vertical chain lines 18mm apart. There is no visible watermark. 190 x 127mm. The top edge of the paper is trimmed and stained yellow
-orange, the other edges are rough-cut. The end papers are also of the same stock." The paper was made by Ticonderoga Pulp & Paper Co., of Ticonderoga, N.Y. The original high quality of the heavy, textured paper remains in an excellent state, as the first edition shows little appearance of aging or fading since the book's publication in
1931. SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Confirmed by visual examination of first edition.
11 Description of binding(s)
"Binding is made of bright green (131) cloth. A light blue gray paper label, 52 x 84 mm., is mounted on the front cover, ë[within a bright orange decorative frame] SHADOWS / ON THE ROCK / WILLA CATHER.' A light blue-gray paper label, 68 x 30 mm., is m
ounted on the spine, ë{bright orange decorative orn.} / SHADOWS / ON THE / ROCK / {bright orange inverted triangle} / CATHER / {bright orange inverted triangle}'. Back cover blank." The binding is stitched, and the smooth cloth cover is attached with glu
e. SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Confirmed by visual examination of first edition.
12 Transcription of title page
p iii : title page {within a double-rule frame} BY WILLA CATHER / {within a single-rule panel} {a shadow image in gray of each title letter behind the individual letters} SHADOWS / ON / THE / ROCK / {beneath the panel} NEW YORK {borozi oval orn. in gray} MCM XXXI / ALFRED * A * KNOPF
SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Confirmed by visual examination of first edition.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
"Cather's manuscripts have not survived except for revised typescripts of Lucy Gayheart, Shadows on the Rock, and My Mortal Enemy, which are at the New York Public Library." Gift of Edith Lewis, 1947. SOURCES: Facts on File Bibliography of American Fiction: 1866-1918. Edited by James Nagel and Gwen L. Nagel, New York, 1993. The National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections: 1972 Volume. Washington: Library of Congress, began with 1959/61.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The first edition copy I examined is part of the Willa Cather Collection of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, located in UVa's Special Collections department. The collection also contains a signficant amount of Cather's let
ters and other publications regarding her writing and life.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Alfred Knopf, Inc. did not issue the book in more than one edition. However, there are different issues within the first edition published by Knopf--t
he trade issue, a limited issue, a Canadian 'edition', and special printings for the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Catholic Book Club. "The limited (composed of 619 copies) and trade editions were printed from the same setting of plates and frequently
simultaneously. Statements of limitations in the limited issues of most of Cather's books show that Knopf intended the limited to be considered the first edition (for collectors), and the trade, though also a part of the first edition, was not always cl
early identified as such." There was a Canadian "edition" (Macmillan, 5,600 copies). "It is one of the first trade printing sheets with altered title page imprint and copyright and with the Macmillan name stamped at the foot of the spine." It should be noted that "the Canadian 'ed
ition' is always of American first printing sheets, usually bound in the United States."
Cather "was deeply opposed to book clubs, and for years refused to permit Knopf to offer any of her books to them. Only people who really wanted to read her books should be asked to buy them, she said. In 1931, she make an exception for Shadows on the Roc
k, after Harry Scherman, head of the Book-of-the-Month Club, had Dorothy Canfield, one of the club's judges, write a long letter to Miss Cather, explaining how the club operated and its advantages for authors." There were Book-of-the-Month Club and Catholic Book Club printings with Knopf as publisher in July 1931(51,800 copies)--the second printing, second impression. The Book-of-the-Month Club did not carry a club edition notice on the copyright or elsewhere in the book."
SOURCES: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1982. A History of Book Publishing in the United States. Volume III: The Golden Age Between Two Wars 1920-1940.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
The thirty-ninth printing occured in May 1977. Note about printers: "Only the limited issue and the first trade printing were worked by Plimpton Press. On June 27, 1931, the plates were sent to the Haddon Craftsmen for the 2nd through 16th printi
ngs. The book was reprinted 19 times from the original plates. After the 16th printing, the work reverted to the Plimpton Press for the 17th to 30th printings."
SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane. Lincoln, Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 1982.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
-Second edition (Autograph Edition, vol. 10), Houghton Mifflin Company. Bo
ston: 1938. -First English edtion. Cassell and Company, Limited. London, Toronto, Melbourne& Sydney: 1932. -Cassell Pocket Library edition. London, 1936. Available in print until 1961. -Second English edition. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1961. Photo-offset from the American plates. Available in print until 1977.
SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane. Lincoln, Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 1982.
6 Last date in print?
The lastest record I could find regarding a hardcover edition was the thirty-ninth printing of 1,000 copies in May 1977. Presswork: Haddon Craftsmen. Copyright: ëFOURTEENTH PRINTING'. Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf. SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane. Lincoln, Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 1982.
Books In Print (Infotrack Searchbank) listed a reissue of Shadows on the Rock. Published Oct. 1995,trade paperback (229 pages), for $12.00 from the Vintage Books division of Random House, Incorporated.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Currently unavailable, although Alfred A. Knopf notes in a recollection about his experience working with Cather that "Shadows on the Rock had the largest sale of any novel by Miss Cather published by us: over 183,000 copies through 1963." SOURCE: The Art of Willa Cather. edited by Bernice Slote and Virginia Faulkner. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1974.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Currently unavailable
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
*************************************************** "A book which is so authentically the work of genius, so immediately perceptible as a master- piece, so emotionally beautiful in style as to be great even to the untutored reader -- to the trained critic, superb. Such a book is WILLA CATHER's latest novel SHADOWS ON THE ROCK says{italics} / FANNY BUTCHER/ in The Chicago Tribune {italics}/ on sale at all bookshops at $2.50 {italics} [ALFRED-A-KNOPF (Borzoi Books seal) 739 FIFTH AVE- N-Y]
-from The New York Times Book Review, September 20, 1931. *************************************************** Coming August 7th WILLA CATHER's New Novel SHADOWS ON THE ROCK The first printing of SHADOWS ON THE ROCK will consist of twenty-five thousand copies. I expect an advance of publication sale considerably in excess of this, but twenty-five thousand seems enough to print of any first edition of an important novel by an
author who is collected. Orders will be prorated on this basis. {fancy character}*None of this novel has appeared serially.*{fancy character repeated} There will also be, as usual, a limited large paper signed edition--copies on Japan vellum at twenty-fiv
e dollars, and copies on rag paper at ten dollars. The exact number printed of these will depend on orders received, and I can guarantee to fill any order received prior to May twenty-fifth. Will you please cooperate by getting your orders in at once? Mr. Knopf's signature [ALFRED-A-KNOPF (Borzoi Books seal) 739 FIFTH AVE- N-Y]
-from The Publishers' Weekly, May 2, 1931. ************************************************** WILLA CATHER's new novel SHADOWS ON THE ROCK will be published August 1st at $2.50 This is Miss Cather's first novel since Death Comes for the Archbishop which was published September, 1927, and of which 96, 756 of the original edition have so far been sold by the trade. I assure the trade that Shadows on the Rock will not disappoint the thousands who have bought and loved Death Comes for the Archbishop. Shadows on the Rock has the initial backing of The Book-of-the-Month Club and The Catholic Book Club. Their printings total 51, 800 copies. I think this novel may outsell even Sorrell and Son and I seriously doubt if a more salable novel or a better novel will be published this year. 619 copies of the signed editon on all rag paper at $10.00 have been made and 199 copies on Japan Vellum at $25.00. These have all been subscribed for by the booksellers who will, I confidently predict, take in over {italics}a quarter million dollars {ita
lics} on Shadows on the Rock alone this year. Mr. Knopf's signature [ALFRED-A-KNOPF (Borzoi Books seal) 739 FIFTH AVE- N-Y]
-from The Publishers' Weekly, July 25, 1931.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A21019980220021156.jpg
11 Other promotion
Alfred Knopf, Inc. placed many full page ads in the months right before the introduction of the book to stores in early August of 1931. The ads frequently mention the success and quality of Cather's last novel, Death Comes f
or the Archbishop, and focus on the numbers of printings the publisher expects to sell with Shadows on the Rock. Alfred Knopf's signature at the end of the ads gives a personal guarantee and legitimacy to the ads. Here's an example of a promotion on the book itself: --The dust jacket of the 5th printing, September 1931. Front flap: text of a review by Wilbur Cross, Governor of Connecticut, from the Saturday Review of Literature and continued on the back of the jacket. Back cover: continuation of the Cross review and
a 4-line exerpt from Fanny Butcher's review in the Chicago Tribune. --Dust jacket of the 7th printing (October 1931). Eleven-line quote from review by Wilbur Cross, Governor of Connceticut in The Saturday Review of Literature and continued on the front flap of the jacket. Back cover: (Continued from front flap of jacket
) are 25 lines of excerpted reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Sun, and the Atlantic Monthly. 15 lines of excerpted reviews in the Chicago Tribune and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"For the advertising campaign in PW during the first year of publication, Knopf was at pains to be explicit on numbers of copies shipped each month. A Publishers' Weekly ad for 16 January 1932 states that 167, 679 copies (comprising 10 printings) were sh
ipped in 1931."
SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Shadows on the Rock is not on-line, but links to electronic editions of Cather's other novels and poems can be found on the Willa Cather Page
at: http://icg.fas.harvard.edu/~cather/catherworks.html An interesting note is that many of these on-line editions were compiled by UVA'a Electronic Text Center.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Czech: STINY NA USKALI. Translated by Alice Schiffova. Prague: Vorovy, 1932. Danish: SKYGGER PAA KLIPPEN. Translated by Ingeborg Simesen. Copenhagen: Gyldendal,1939. Dutch: SCHADUWEN OP DE ROTS! Translated by J.W. Hofstra. Hasselt: Heideland, 1954. Dutch: SCHDUWEN OP DE ROTS. Translated by J.W. Hofstra. Heemstede: Hofboekerij, 1955. French: LES OMBRES SUR LE ROCHER. Translated by Maurice Remon. Paris: Hachette, 1933. German: SCHATTEN AUF DEM FELS. Translated by Elisabeth Schnack. Zurich and Cologne: Benziger, 1956. Hungarian: ARNYEKOK A SZIKLAN. Translated by Ivan Boldizsar. Budapest: Franklin, 1936. Italian: OMBRE SULLA ROCCA. Translated by Gino de Negri. Il Grappolo: Collana di Romanzi, no I. Milan. Instituo de Propaganda libraria, 1935: 1956: 1970. Swedish: SKUGGOR OVER KLIPPEN. Translated by Siri Thorngren Olin. Stockholm: H.Gebers, 1940.
+[Foreign publication of the work in the original language: "The Tauchnitz Edition Collection of British and American Authors, published by Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig. New edition in English in paperback format. These volumes were not intended for sale on the European continent only and were not to be introduced into the British Empire or America." SHADOWS ON THE ROCK. No. 5082. 1933.
SOURCE: Willa Cather: A Descriptive Bibliography. By Joan Crane. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
N/A
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Willa Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, west of Winchester, Virginia. She was born at the home of her grandmother Rachel Elisabeth Boak. Since the time of the American Revolution when Jas
per Cather arrived in the colonies from Ireland, the Cathers lived in the Shenandoah Valley. The Boaks and the Seiberts composed her mother's side of the family. Her grandfather William Boak, served three times in the Virginia House of Delegates. On both
sides of the family, "it was a strong, religious, public-spirited, often political ancestry." Cather's parents, Mary Virginia Boak and Charles Fectigue Cather, were married in 1872, only seven years after the Civil War.
In April of 1883, at the age of ten, Cather moved with her family to Webster County, Nebraska, which later became unofficially known as Catherton. After two years her family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska. She wrote and performed plays with her Webster Coun
ty friends as early as age fourteen. In 1890 she graduated from the local high school from a class of three and at sixteen years old entered the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. While in college in 1893, she was a drama critic for the Nebraska State Jour
nal in Lincoln.
After her graduation from college in 1895, she wrote for several newspapers in Pittsburgh and spent eleven years there. She was editor of "Home Monthly" in 1896 and in 1897 worked for the "Pittsburgh Leader." She also taught Latin and English at two high
schools. It was also in Pittsburgh that her first books were published beginning in her early 30's, with the poetry of April Twilights (1903) and the short stories of The Troll Garden (1905).
Next, she went to New York, where she worked on McClure's Magazine from 1906-1912. S.S. McClure published The Troll Garden and was influential in helping Cather make the transition from editor to novelist. Cather's first four novels were published by Ho
ughton Mifflin and she worked with them from 1912-1920. They were: Alexander's Bridge (1912), O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antonia (1918). In 1920, Alfred A. Knopf became her publisher, and published her last thirteen books. Ca
ther received many honors, including numerous honorary degrees from 1917-1933. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for the novel One of Ours.
Cather never married, as she said she wished to focus all of her attention on the art of writing. Willa Cather died at the age of 70 from a cerebral hemorrhage in her Madison Avenue apartment in New York on April 24, 1947. Cather was very strict about her
personal letters. She forbid direct quotations, banned publication of them in her will, and either had recipients destroy them or burned them herself. Some of her letters are now part of institutional collections, including the Willa Cather Pioneer Memo
rial in Nebraska, the Nebraska Historical Society, the Newberry Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Vermont, the Huntington Library, and Harvard. Manuscripts survive in the form of typescripts for three novels at the New York Public Lib
rary.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
At the beginning of the 1930's, Willa Cather was writing her final group of novels. "Shadows on the Rock," followed the very successful 1927 "Death Comes for the Archbishop" and was received by the public as enth
usiastically as her previous novels. In fact, it became a popular Christmas present in 1931. Even though the novel was a bestseller, it marked a general decline in the perceived quality of Cather's work. Biographer Philip Gerber explains that this situat
ion "may not be surprising when one considers that Cather was nearly 60. . .not in the best health, . . . and that, even more importantly, the Great Depression had caused societal disruptions that radically affected the way influential critics judged her
work." Most contemporary reviews appeared around late August 1931, often in special "autumn" issues of periodicals. After 1931, there are no significant contemporary articles focusing specifically on SOR, but it is mentioned in subsequent interviews with Cather
and in critiques of her final novels as a group. A 1934 Saturday Review of Literature article providing an overview of books from 1924-1934, says that "best sellers in 1931 were no longer what best sellers once had been," noting that "Pearl Buck's ?Good
Earth' ran away with all the fiction honors. Just three years after its publication, SOR received very little attention from contemporary critics. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says that SOR received "some very favorable notices, especially those by Governor Wilbur L. Cross of Conneticut (earlier a very distinguished professor at Yale), . . . Fanny Butcher, the ?Atlantic,' and the ?San Francisco Chro
nicle.'" Critic W.E. Harris illustrates the kindness and respect generally felt towards Cather at the last stage of her career: "For almost any other American novelist today ?SOR' would represent a triumph of difficult and imaginative resource. For Miss
Cather, it merely represents a successful continuance of her earlier endeavors to write history in terms of timeless, authentic fiction." However, the majority of critics were slightly less positive, holding Cather to the high literary standards of her e
arly career. These critics did not doubt the quality of Cather's prose, but felt that the mechanics of the novel created "a story that was undramatic, and at its worst, dull." Carl Van Doren represents the standard, moderate opinion that although "pictor
ially rich, ?SOR' is dramatically somewhat thin. It's excellence must be discovered not in the weight and thrust of the major events to which it refers but in the idyllic or pathetic touches which make up the flesh of the actual story." The harshest critics looked at Cather's novel from a Marxist perspective, disappointed that she focused on 18th century issues instead of current economic struggles. Granville Hicks was the leading Marxist and went so far as to call Cather a "minor artis
t," saying that "today, perhaps even more than in the past, it takes stern stuff to make a novelist. Miss Cather, . . . . has abandoned herself to her softness." Despite the Marxists, the moderate opinion of SOR won in 1931. As Gerber notes, "Time magazin
e expressed the predominating opinion that Willa Cather could not possibly write a bad novel, by placing her photograph on its cover and praising her work in a long congratulatory story."
SOURCES of reviews referred to above: -Alfred A. Knopf's "Recollections" came from: The Art of Willa Cather. edited by Bernice Slote and Virginia Faulkner. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, 1974. PS 3505.A87Z489 p.212-214
-Willa Cather. Revised Edition. By Philip Gerber Twayne Publishers: New York, 1995. PS3505.A87Z645 p. 66-69
-"Ten Stikes of a Decade." By Amy Loveman. Saturday Review of Literature. October 6, 1934:188. Z1219.S25
-Boston Evening Transcript. Review by W.E. Harris. August 1, 1931. p.8
-New York Herald Tribune Books. Review Carl Van Doren. August 2, 1931 p.1
-Forum and Century. Review by Granville Hicks. September 1931. 86:vi AP2.F7
(Please see supplementary materials for a listing of additional reviews.)
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
At the beginning of the 1930's, Willa Cather was writing her final group of novels. "Shadows on the Rock," followed the very successful 1927 "Death Comes for the Archbishop" and was received by the public as enth
usiastically as her previous novels. In fact, it became a popular Christmas present in 1931. Even though the novel was a bestseller, it marked a general decline in the perceived quality of Cather's work. Biographer Philip Gerber explains that this situat
ion "may not be surprising when one considers that Cather was nearly 60. . .not in the best health, . . . and that, even more importantly, the Great Depression had caused societal disruptions that radically affected the way influential critics judged her
work." Most contemporary reviews appeared around late August 1931, often in special "autumn" issues of periodicals. After 1931, there are no significant contemporary articles focusing specifically on SOR, but it is mentioned in subsequent interviews with Cather
and in critiques of her final novels as a group. A 1934 Saturday Review of Literature article providing an overview of books from 1924-1934, says that "best sellers in 1931 were no longer what best sellers once had been," noting that "Pearl Buck's ?Good
Earth' ran away with all the fiction honors. Just three years after its publication, SOR received very little attention from contemporary critics. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says that SOR received "some very favorable notices, especially those by Governor Wilbur L. Cross of Conneticut (earlier a very distinguished professor at Yale), . . . Fanny Butcher, the ?Atlantic,' and the ?San Francisco Chro
nicle.'" Critic W.E. Harris illustrates the kindness and respect generally felt towards Cather at the last stage of her career: "For almost any other American novelist today ?SOR' would represent a triumph of difficult and imaginative resource. For Miss
Cather, it merely represents a successful continuance of her earlier endeavors to write history in terms of timeless, authentic fiction." However, the majority of critics were slightly less positive, holding Cather to the high literary standards of her e
arly career. These critics did not doubt the quality of Cather's prose, but felt that the mechanics of the novel created "a story that was undramatic, and at its worst, dull." Carl Van Doren represents the standard, moderate opinion that although "pictor
ially rich, ?SOR' is dramatically somewhat thin. It's excellence must be discovered not in the weight and thrust of the major events to which it refers but in the idyllic or pathetic touches which make up the flesh of the actual story." The harshest critics looked at Cather's novel from a Marxist perspective, disappointed that she focused on 18th century issues instead of current economic struggles. Granville Hicks was the leading Marxist and went so far as to call Cather a "minor artis
t," saying that "today, perhaps even more than in the past, it takes stern stuff to make a novelist. Miss Cather, . . . . has abandoned herself to her softness." Despite the Marxists, the moderate opinion of SOR won in 1931. As Gerber notes, "Time magazin
e expressed the predominating opinion that Willa Cather could not possibly write a bad novel, by placing her photograph on its cover and praising her work in a long congratulatory story."
SOURCES of reviews referred to above: -Alfred A. Knopf's "Recollections" came from: The Art of Willa Cather. edited by Bernice Slote and Virginia Faulkner. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, 1974. PS 3505.A87Z489 p.212-214
-Willa Cather. Revised Edition. By Philip Gerber Twayne Publishers: New York, 1995. PS3505.A87Z645 p. 66-69
-"Ten Stikes of a Decade." By Amy Loveman. Saturday Review of Literature. October 6, 1934:188. Z1219.S25
-Boston Evening Transcript. Review by W.E. Harris. August 1, 1931. p.8
-New York Herald Tribune Books. Review Carl Van Doren. August 2, 1931 p.1
-Forum and Century. Review by Granville Hicks. September 1931. 86:vi AP2.F7
(Please see supplementary materials for a listing of additional reviews.)
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Shadows on the Rock can best be viewed as a source of inspiration and faith for both its writer and the reading public. It was published in 1931, as Americans were attempting to rebuild their lives after the Great
Depression. At the same time, Cather experienced personal hardship, when she was working on Shadows on the Rock in 1928. Her father, Charles Cather, died in March and her mother, Virginia, suffered a stroke later in the same year. There is no doubt that
these devastating events influenced her novel, as she interrupted her writing to be with her family. In the midst of struggling with personal tragedy and ill-health in her 60's, she turned to the world of her novel, where she could explore the safe and
distant setting of seventeenth century Quebec. As the critic Merrill Maguire Skaggs notes, Cather found in the setting of Quebec "a new and interesting place that seemed to her to represent something she at that point yearned for: stability and undisrupte
d cultural continuity," (131).
The novel is set in the French-Canadian colony of Quebec and details roughly one year, from October 1697 to November 1698, in the lives of the early colonists. The novel gathers its basic material from historical facts and characters, which Cather develop
s into a series of narrations divided into six books. It is a portrait which examines the development of a fictional twelve-year old girl named Cecile and her relationship with her widowed father Euclide Auclair, the "philosopher apothecary" serving the c
olonial governor Count Frontenac. The "action" of the story is told through a series of shifting narrations, where each character recalls the past. For instance, Euclide Auclair reflects on the circumstances in his youth that led him to transfer his home
to the New World, while the various bishops and nuns working to establish the Church in the colony recall the living legends of famous saints in their conversations with Cecile. The characters' focus on the past, the clear sense of separation of the New
World colony from Old World France, and description of the fierce Canadian wilderness isolate the rock of Quebec, forming a unique setting that manufactures its own stability, capturing the reader in a world that is fictional, but quite believable in its
own sense of reality.
The reassuring, stable aspects of that world are represented by the domestic rituals of selflessness and sacrifice that Cecile and Euclide Auclair stringently adhere to, as they strive to maintain a life as closely modeled on their past life in France as
is possible under the natural struggles of colonial life. The focus on domestic ritual illustrates the importance of the transmission of only the best aspects of French culture into the Canadian colony. The colony is an opportunity to start over again fo
r the Auclairs, frontiersmen, and clergy members dissatisfied with the pollution and greed of France. The idea of creating a new culture was also foremost in the mind of the survivors of the Depression at the time this book was published, as they sought t
o rebuild a culture on only the best elements of the old world which had failed them. A similar influence was also acting on Willa Cather as she wrote the novel. With the loss of her father and the likely death of her mother, Cather was in search of a dom
estic center and searched for a secure home by creating one in her novel. It is also likely that this sense of a stable, rock-enclosed fortress of domesticity and reassuring order would appeal to alienated readers struggling to create a strong new foundat
ion for their lives and redefine community after the Great Depression.
Yet, the reasons for the popularity of Shadows on the Rock are more complex than the escapist appeal of its narrative form, or the dream of domestic tranquility in the wilderness it portrays. The physical setting not only defines the order and stability
of Quebec and its characters, but alludes to a religious motif. The city of Quebec is built on the terraces of a "fortified cliff." As the narrator notes at the beginning of Shadows on the Rock, Euclie Auclair thought "this rock-set town like nothing so m
uch as one of those little artificial mountains which were made in churches at home [in France] to present a theatric scene of the Nativity; cardboard mountains, broken up into cliffs and ledges and hollows, with buildings on different levels," (Cather 4-
5). Skaggs notes, "from the first pages of Cather's novel, Quebec is associated with Nativity plays and with a permeating Christmas spirit, even though the actual time when the novel begins is late October," (136). And many similar references are found t
hroughout the novel which appeal to the rock geography of Quebec as a physical symbol of domestic stability and religious strength. The critical interpretation that the novel's view of domestic, communal life was meant by Cather to represent a medieval m
iracle or saint's play is a recurring argument in scholarly articles. The ritual nature of domestic life in the novel is linked to the religious rituals which define the stable community. In addition to the novel's focus on domestic order and the pleasa
nt escapism of its setting, its religious undertones would seem to explain its popularity as a favorite Christmas present in 1931. The combination of its themes of stability and faith would have fit nicely into the atmosphere of the 1931 holiday season, w
hen Americans would need a reminder of the lifestyle of safety, order and tradition they were working hard to reclaim. And, as critic Deborah Carlin notes, it is important to observe that, "Shadows on the Rock is not only narrated as a series of stories,
it is also composed of different story genres: legends, hagiography, personal histories, miracles, adventure stories, dreams, visions, and historical vignettes," (64). Thus, there is an aspect of the novel which can appeal to every reader, regardless of s
eason.
Contemporary critics may not have realized all of possible influences of Cather's novel on readers, but in the 1930's, reviewers praised Shadows on the Rock for its elegant prose style, humanly believable characters, and picturesque descriptions of land
scape and domestic life. Cather's most recent novel at that time was the Death of the Archbishop (1927), which received the Gold Medal award of the American Academy of Art and Letters. By the time Shadows was published in 1931, Cather had already estab
lished a presence as a good seller of books and many critics referred to her well-established reputation for quality work and her growing literary stature as likely factors in influencing readers to purchase her new novel. Cather herself was surprised that the novel was such a success. Alfred A. Knopf revealed that "Shadows on the Rock had the largest sale of any novel by Miss Cather published by us: over 183,000 copies through 1963," (ed. Slote and Faulkner 213). Cather literary expert James Woodress offers perhaps the most reasonable explanation for the popularity Shadows on the Rock achieved: "Willa Cather's importance results from a successful graft of her native experience on to
the roots and trunk of European culture. . .The New World experience in her novels gives them character and drama, color, and romance---the emotional content. The Old World experience provides the texture, the ancient myth and symbol, the profundity---the intellectual content,"
(ed. Slote and Faulkner 47).
The most common arguments of the contemporary critics who viewed Shadows on the Rock with distaste were that it had it no interesting action, it was undramatic, its characters were flat, and it was not in tune with the class conflicts and struggles of th
e 1930's. It would seem that these critics missed several facts about the novel. Part of the beauty of the novel is the indirect, narrative aim of storytelling which so beautifully illustrates Cather's artistic, polished style of writing. In this form,
direct description of plot and live "action" are not as effective. Critic Deborah Carlin reinterprets the main literary criticism of the novel: "the sketchiness and brevity of the novel's characters and scenes, which critics have complained of as imagina
tive anemia and thin writing, might instead be read as part of the tradition of storytelling Cather records in, and as, the text," (65). On the other hand, Biographer Gerber accounts for historical factors in criticism, saying that, "It may well have bee
n that for too many people in the drastically broken American economy were having an impossibly rough time making any kind of life at all for themselves and their families to be overly concerned about demanding that life be lived on their own terms." It i
s difficult to determine whether literary factors or historical circumstances, or both were responsible for the negative treatments of the book, but these are reasonable interpretations of the possible mistakes in judgement made by contemporary critics.
There was barely any mention of Shadows on the Rock after the boom in sales that propelled it to the number two spot on the Fiction Bestsellers List, behind Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. This drop-off seems to be best explained by the circumstances of
the time period. Shadows on the Rock's publication in August, its religious undertones, and the fact that Cather was a well-respected author represented by a prominent publisher, made the novel a natural item on any literary Christmas list. It affected
its public in a quiet, persistent way, allowing them to temporarily escape their post-Depression problems by spending time in an imaginary place the real world could not touch, exploring the challenges of survival in a colonial outpost isolated in a har
sh wilderness. It is even possible that the tragic circumstances of her father's death and her mother's illness may have influenced some sympathetic and curious fans to read the work she managed to produce out of those devastating years. However, the mi
racle play structure and allegorical form of the novel were probably important reasons why Shadows on the Rock did not continue to be popular and hold the interest of twentieth century readers. To appreciate Shadows on the Rock, the reader must accept the
fact that the success of Cather's storytelling makes flatter characters and shadowy details a necessity when trying to communicate within an interwoven series of narratives. The average reader would probably not realize, or care to analyze, the unique s
pecifications of the miracle play genre and medieval literary influences found in the novel. Instead, they would claim that the book is nicely written, but rather dull. Therefore, the greatest attraction to Shadows on the Rock appears to be its author's
acknowledged merit as a good writer. If the reading public had fully embraced the author's concept, Shadows on the Rock would have continued to sell and receive notice in features and reviews after 1931. Instead, Willa Cather fans and literary scholars
of the early 1950's, late 1980's, and today, seem to be the major audience for Shadows on the Rock, as they examine the novel for its significance in for determining Cather's place in American literature and interpreting her other novels. Cather's public persona may also have been an influence on the short-lived boom in her bestselling book. Cather was notorious for her reluctance to discuss herself or her writing. So resistant was she that she destroyed much of her correspondence and for
bade publication of letters she had sent to others, even extracting promises from her correspondents to burn those letters. And, after allowing Warner Brothers to produce a silent film version of her novel A Lost Lady in 1925, she refused all other film
offers. More access to information about herself and her novels could have increased sales, but at the cost of Cather's privacy. It is interesting to note that both Pearl S. Buck's Good Earth and Cather's Shadows on the Rock, the number one and two boo
ks, respectively, on the Fiction Bestseller List in 1931, dealt with distinctly different cultures from America and also shared themes of hardship. However, Pearl S. Buck was more willing to share information, was describing a culture with more exotic app
eal to American readers, and had produced a novel which would receive international recognition when she won the Pulitzer Prize. That Shadows on the Rock still managed to do well even in 1931 against such formidable competition shows that it filled a def
inite need in literature, but just did not have the qualities that make long-term popularity. And obviously, Cather was not interested in promoting her book by revealing personal information, which may have been significantly related to the novel's sales
among the general public. Cather almost refused to allow the Book-of-the-Month Club to feature Shadows on the Rock, but her permission to include it as a selection definitely helped increase the sales. Alfred Knopf notes that "by early September [of 1931
], the sale of Shadows had passed seventy-four thousand" (ed. Slote and Faulkner 214). Knopf further notes, "She never quite realized how widely known, admired, and respected she was, and how many people were eager to shake her hand. Thus she resented the
fat that she could not sit on a bench in Central Park for long before being recognized and spoken to by strangers. . . (215). The world of Shadows on the Rock was a private place that provided personal rejuvenation for Cather, and this sense of renewal a
nd rebirth deeply affected post-Depression readers who needed a gentle, surreal story and the opportunity to cling to a sturdy rock of peace and faith.
SOURCES: -Shadows on the Rock. By Willa Cather. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 1931. PS3505.A87 S45
-After the World Broke in Two: The Later Novels of Willa Cather. By Merrill Maguire Skaggs. University Press of Virginia: Charlottesville. 1990. PS3505. A87Z85
-Willa Cather (Revised Edition). By Philip Gerber. Twayne Publishers: New York. 1995. PS3505.A87Z645
-Cather, Canon, and the Politics of Reading. By Deborah Carlin. University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst. 1992. PS 3505. A875916
-Willa Cather: Writing at the Frontier.By Jamie Ambrose. Berg Publishers Limited: Oxford. 1988. PS3505. A87Z55
-The Art of Willa Cather. Edited by Bernice Slote andVirginia Faulkner. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln. 1974. PS3505. A87Z489
-Willa Cather's Transforming Vision: New France and the American Northeast. By Gary Brienzo. Susquehanna University Press: Selinsgrove. 1994. PS3505. A87Z5836
-Willa Cather: A Critical Biography. By E.K. Brown [Completed by Leon Edel]. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 1953. PS3505. A87Z584
Supplemental Material
Listing of Reviews for Contemporary Reception History [Assignment #4] -Saturday Review of Literature. August 22, 1931: 67 Z1219.S25 -Saturday Review of Literature. October 17, 1931:220 Z1219.S25 -Saturday Review of Literature. December 12 ,1931: 384 Z1219.S25 -Time. August 3, 1931: 47-48. -Forum and Century. September 1931. 86:3 AP2. F7 -Catholic World. April-Sept. 1931. 133:793/798. AP2. C3 -The Forum. July-Dec. 1931. 86: VI, VIII -Virginia Quarterly Review. October 1931 7:4 AP2. V76 -Punch. Jan.-Dec. 1932: 182 AP101.P8 -Saturday Review of Literature. Nov. 26, 1932: 280 Z1219.S25 -Bookman. March 1932. 74:6 AP2.B78 -Saturday Review of Literature. May 20, 1933: 610 Z1219.S25 -Saturday Review of Literature. Oct. 6, 1934: 188 Z1219.S25 -The New York Times Book Review. August 2, 1931. Section 4 -American Library Association Booklist Publishing Co. September 1931: 28:26 -New York Herald Tribune Books August 2, 1931 p.1 -Boston Evening Transcript. August 1, 1931. p.8 -Catholic World. September 1931. 133:752. -Cleveland Open Shelf. December 1931. p. 145 -Nation. August 12, 1931. 133:160 -New Republic. August 12, 1931. 67:345. -New York Evening Post. August 1 1931 p. 10 -New York Times. August 2, 1931. p. 1 -Outlook and Independent. August 5, 1931. 158:440 -Pittsburgh Monthly Bulletin. October 1931. 36:68 -Pratt. Autumn 1931. p. 36 -Saturday Review of Literature. August 22, 1931. 8:67. Z1219.S25 -Survey 67:151 November 1, 1931. 67:151. -Wisconsin Library Bulletin. November 1931. 27:255. -Yale Review. Autumn 1931. Nos.21:viii.
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