East is East and West is West? Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and the Place of Culture
Edith Wharton and Willa Cather wrote many of the most enduring American novels of the first half of the 20th century, including Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Cather’s My Ántonia. Yet despite their status and their perennial popularity, Wharton (1862-1937) and Cather (1873-1947) have rarely been studied together. On the contrary, critics have often kept them at a distance: Wharton is seen as a literary aristocrat, an author who chronicles the lives of an East Coast, Europe-bound elite, and Cather as a prairie populist who describes the lives of rugged Western pioneers. These depictions, while partially valid, overlook the many meaningful complements and continuities in their lives and works.
This talk provides an overview of Professor of English Julie Olin-Ammentorp'Edith Whart s forthcoming book, which combines biographical, historical, and literary analyses with approaches focused on place and aesthetics to reveal the deep affinities between them. Exploring Wharton’s and Cather’s understanding of culture in the places central to them both--New York City, the American West, and France. Dr. Olin-Ammentorp's "Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and the Place of Culture" offers deeper and more nuanced understandings of their works, their relationship to each other, and their shared concern with the culture of place and the place of culture in the United States.
Dr. Olin-Ammentorp is the author of Edith Wharton’s Writings from the Great War (University Press of Florida, 2004) and the forthcoming "Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and the Place of Culture," on which her talk is based. She has also published dozens of articles and chapters on Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, and Henry James. Professor Olin-Ammentorp is a member of the Board of Governors of the Willa Cather Foundation and a past president of the Edith Wharton Society. She received her A.B. in English from Middlebury College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan.