Willa Cather often wrote of the frontier and pioneers, as well as music. Her well-known short story “Paul’s Case” is probably her most anthologized and widely read.
Willa Cather Short Stories
“On the Divide”
Canute built a shanty near Rattlesnake Creek on the Nebraska plain. He’s been there ten years and gets what he can from working the land. He drinks heavily, and as a very big man, is capable of consuming large amounts before it has any effect. He’s lonely and joyless. One spring, the Yensen’s move into the area. Canute starts associating with the family.
This story can be read in the preview of Cather Novels & Stories. (1% in)
“Eric Hermannson’s Soul”
Eric is the wildest young man in the Divide, and his mother has been praying for him since she felt the spirit. Asa Skinner preaches for the Free Gospellers, and Eric is finally at a revival meeting. He was keeping company with Lena, a woman with a bad reputation who has experience in Denver and Salt Lake. One day he saw a snake on her doorstep and its significance affected him. The only thing he still clings to is his violin, which is a vessel of evil to the Free Gospellers. Asa tries to reach him.
This story can also be read in the preview of Cather Novels & Stories. (15% in)
“The Enchanted Bluff”
A group of boys talk about the places they want to go. One of them, Tip, tells them about a place in New Mexico called the Enchanted Bluff, where supposedly no white man has ever been. There was a storm that destroyed the rock staircase leading up to it. He also tells the story of a massacre that happened there. Everyone is interested in going to see it.
This story can also be read in the preview of Cather Novels & Stories. (41% in)
“The Bohemian Girl”
Nils returns to his hometown. He gets some news about his mother from a wagon driver, including her frequent use of a car—one of the few in the area. He sees his mother and younger brother, Eric. Over supper, he catches up on the lives of his other brothers
This story can also be read in the preview of Cather Novels & Stories. (51% in)
“Flavia and Her Artists”
Imogen is visiting her friend Flavia, but she’s not enthusiastic about it. Flavia’s husband read to her as a child. Also present will be Mr. Roux, a writer who’s the special attraction of the evening, as well as a varied collection of other artists. The group engages in spirited discussions.
This story can be read in the preview of Collected Stories. (12% in)
“The Garden Lodge”
Caroline Noble is known as an unemotional and practical woman. Her upbringing contributed to these qualities. She grew up poor, with a music teacher father whose work was unappreciated. Her mother had to scrimp and stretch what they had. Her brother, a painter, killed himself at twenty-six. One spring, Raymond d’Esquerré, an opera singer, stayed in the Nobles garden lodge for a month. Caroline accompanied him often. After he leaves, Caroline’s husband, Howard, suggests tearing the garden lodge down and building a new summer house in its place. Caroline finds herself feeling sentimental.
This story can also be read in the preview of Collected Stories. (60% in)
“Lou, the Prophet”
Lou, an immigrant from Denmark, has been in the West for seven years. He’s thrifty and a hard worker. He was supposed to get married, but after losing his cattle during a bad winter, his intended married someone else. He faces further hardships—his mother dies and his corn crop is ruined. He has a bad dream that leads him to read the book of Revelation.
“The Burglar’s Christmas”
Two shabby young men talk about getting some food. One decides to walk to a saloon where he knows the owner, hoping to get something from him. The other, Crawford, isn’t up for the walk so they split up. Crawford has reached his breaking point; he can see that he’s failed and there’s no hope. He thinks about what has led him to this point. He decides to steal something.
Anton Rosicky is a sixty-five-year old Nebraska farmer. He is told by Doctor Burleigh to stop doing heavy farm labor, and let his five sons take over the burden. He has a pleasant home life and should try to enjoy it. Anton reflects on his life of hard work and his family.
After a week’s suspension from his Pittsburgh High School, Paul appears before the faculty to account for himself. He’s disorderly and shows contempt for his teachers. He smiles through the litany of complaints made against him. The teachers feel there’s something not right about Paul. He works as an usher at Carnegie Hall. He has a strained relationship with his father, who wants him to be a responsible wage-earning family man when he grows up, but Paul is drawn to a life of wealth and glamour.
Albert Engelhardt is preparing for his uncle’s birthday. He meets up with Judge Hammersley, who is a bit embarrassed because the Engelhardts have fallen in the world. The judge sends some wine to Uncle Albert (the protagonist was named after his uncle—they were born on the same day), and his daughter, Margaret, catches up with Albert when he comes over.
“A Wagner Matinée”
Clark’s aunt, Georgiana, is in town to settle the estate of a relative. As a young woman she was a music teacher. She eloped with an even younger man and they moved to the Nebraska frontier. Clark thinks of how hard she has worked in her life. He takes her to a Wagner concert, and wonders if she’ll be able to appreciate it.
Read “A Wagner Matinée”
I’ll keep adding Willa Cather short stories as I find more.