Slaves of the Outlands: A Novel of Future Bondage

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A few years ago I visited Avignon with another Cather scholar who was gathering information for a book. My friend felt that Cather lacked greatness as a writer, and responded to my question about why then she was worth a book by claiming that hers was an interesting case. This conversation haunted me as I vetted proposals for the seminar in France.

I wondered how many hopeful participants delving into Cather correspondence, apprenticeship writings, prototypes, and friendships, or mutilating Cather texts on the racks of various theories, were convinced of or concerned about her significance relative to the development of prose fiction or general human awareness.


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Piecemeal criticism may increase knowledge of and interest in Cather, although its seriousness, really, will depend upon its pertinence to consequential aesthetic and human concerns as well as on self-effacing enthusiasm for the principal, the texts of the writer.

Byatt, the critical horizon has somewhat clouded since the days of early reviewers, the work of readers such as E. Brown whose biography deserves a reread , Bernice Slote, and Eudora Welty. Perhaps those of us caught up in the Cather industry need to pause at times in order to examine the quality of our products and remind ourselves about what they should reflect.


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Guilty of forgetting this myself, I tried on the eve of this first Cather seminar in Europe to consider the importance of the subject, even during a time of financial crises, melting icecaps, terrorism, genocide, and military occupations. Now those two things affect each other. As for the white chapel of my title, more about that later.

But the juxtaposed orange and vase of contrasting color and shape do reveal, on multiple levels, essential elements of the Catherian novel in structure and setting, characterization and thematic content. Peter—the nouvelle in this case involving the legendary long ago of ancient peoples, and the roman , a realistic domestic drama. Peter discovering his wife and son-in-law Louie Marsellus seated at tea and admiring an emerald and gold necklace. He came down and brought the snake with him. By the time we picked him up and turned him over, his face began to swell.

In ten minutes it was purple, and he was so crazy it took the two of us to. He was struck so near the brain that there was nothing to do.

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It lasted nearly two hours. The hand, fastidious and bold, which selected and placed—it was that which made the difference. And however we construe Lucy Gayheart , whether as a dance of death, Gothic intrigue, or dismissal of careerism and matrimonial formulae, the story is transformed by the third book.

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The novel could easily end without it but would tell a very different story. Cather uses a similar experiment in Sapphira and the Slave Girl , separating the short, final book from the others by twenty-five years, changing the point of view to the autobiographical first person, and revealing what has gone before as a family memoir. In each of these novels, the strategy involves what one part of the text does to the other, the effect of the orange on the vase, and vice versa.

The painter, Hasegawa Sakon, and calligrapher, Takuan Soho, juxtapose apparently disconnected scenes in each panel. The fifth panel is particularly interesting. The use of historical material in such juxtapositions in both the Archbishop and Shadows on the Rock reveals a technique of collage, a cutting and pasting of ready-made texts from various sources on the extended canvases of these narratives. James, and Ralph Emerson Twitchell, who includes a funeral oration that Cather used commemorating Franciscans martyred during the Pueblo Revolt of the previous year —35, However, it is the dynamics Cather achieves through this material rather than the plagiarizing that is of chief concern.

In both novels the borrowed episodes interact with each other and other parts of the text. In it, two missionaries without water and food are about to lose heart while crossing a desert when they discover the fertile oasis of a Mexican family later revealed to be the Holy Family. The two legendary miracles not only transfigure the surrounding text but help establish Christianity as indigenous. As in the Archbishop , legendary miracles elevate an unspectacular but fortunate event.

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These are a few examples of the way juxtaposed episodes work in Cather to replace conventional plot strategies and specific naming. The vase and the orange of the Carroll interview recall a less formal exchange Cather had with Elizabeth Sergeant. The comment informs characterization, primarily character development and interaction. This is like the relationship between a pair of dancers, each one affecting the other, each one reacting to the other.

Thus any subject of a photograph is as active as the photographer. The subject and the photographer create the photograph together. At the end of the first book, she displays a scornful, serpentine smile. In the second book, she is reduced, crippled in a wheelchair and surrounded by decaying possessions; vindictive but penitent, she laments her uncle. In each of these novels but the last, the identification of the protagonist is questionable. The apparent subjects haunt the consciousnesses of those telling their stories.

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Bergson reconstructs her former life in Sweden, stocks her kitchen shelves with jars of preserves, and keeps sheets in the press. Expansion from contained to limitless spaces is approximated here through staccato words and phrases alternating with longer clauses in crescendo patterns. In juxtaposing spaces, Cather incorporates the psychological and cultural as well as the physical.

The climb of the walls helps out the eye, somehow. The grey-sage-brush and the blue-grey rock around me were already in shadow, but high above me the canyon walls were dyed flame-colour with the sunset, and the Cliff City lay on a gold haze against its dark cavern. In a few minutes it, too, was grey and only the rim rock at the top held the red light. When that was gone, I could still see the copper glow in the pinons along the edge of the top ledges. The arc of sky over the canyon was silvery blue, with its pale yellow moon, and presently stars shivered into it, like crystals dropped into perfectly clear water.

Something happened in me that made it possible for me to coordinate and simplify, and that process.

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For me the mesa was no longer an adventure, but a religious emotion. Each of them took a fresh taper. We hear a great deal about "slavery in the abstract," and Mrs. Stowe makes St. Clare say, vol. Slavery in the alstract, admitting for the sake of the. To say, therefore, that slavery in the abstract is wrong, Iand sla'very in the concrete, right, is to talk nonsense. The truth is, slavery in the abstract is a non-entity, and nothing, therefore, can be predicated of it, or inferred from it: Nothlilg caIn col of nothing:; spealnt aiin!

Slavery, then, is right or wrong, according to circumstances. Slavery, as a means, may be riolght; slavery, :s ant end, is always and everywhere wrong; slavery, as a transition state of a race , may be right; slavery, as a permanent condition of a race , is wrong; the subjection of an inferior race to a superior one, may be right; the subjection of a superior to an inferior, is always wrong. The simple test of the light or wrong of its continuance, in any given case, is its effect upon both races: if its continuance would elevate the subject race in the scale of being, then it is not only right, but the duty of the superior race, to continue them in blondage e; if, on the contrary, the discontinuance of servitude would elevate the subject race, without depressing the dominant one, then it ought to be discontinued at once.

These are the principles with whichl I start, and they are such, I think, as must commend themselves to every unbiassed mind. With these preliminary observations, I proceed at once to the examination of the work.

NOTE 1. TIIs shall be given in the author's own words: " The object of these sketches is to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race, as they exist among us; to show their wrongs and sorrows, under a system so necessarily cruel and unjust as to defeat and do away the good effects of all that can be attempted for them, by their best friends, under it. Such is the author's declaration of her object, and we are bound to believe it; but had she avowed her object to be to awaken in the North antipathy to the Southern people, as a people, to show their cold-blooded indifference to, nay, positive sanction of, a system of heartless and mercenary oppression, we should have said the whole internal evidence of the book was in accordance with such an avowal.

But let us take her declaration as we have it, and let us examine into it a little.

Had it occurred as an incidental observation in some exciting part of the narrative, we might have considered it as rhetorical exaggeration; but standing, as it does, in the preface, which is expected to be a plain, unvarnished, matter-of-fact sort of thing, and being, as it is, a declaration of the author's object, where, if anywhere, we should expect that she would weigh her words, I see not how I can give it any other than a literal interpretation.

Experience has shown her that some of the noblest of minds and hearts are often thus involved;" for how " some of the noblest of minds and hearts can often be," i.