First Advisor

Nancy Porter

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in English




Willa Cather 1873-1947 -- Religion



Physical Description

1 online resource (159 p.)


Both overtly and subtly, the early twentieth century American author Willa Cather (1873-1947) gives her readers a sense of a spiritual realm in the world of her novels. '!'his study explores Cather's changing conceptions of spirituality and ways_in which she portrays them in three of her novels. I propose that though Cather is seldom considered a modernist, her interest in spirituality parallels Virginia Woolf's interest in moments of heightened consciousness, and that she invented ways to express ineffable connections with a spiritual dimension of life. In 0 Pioneers! (1913), Cather proposes that those who use their intuition to express themselves recognize and unite with a spiritual current that runs underneath and through all experience and natural phenomena. In The Professor's House (1925), Cather questions whether union with the spiritual current can endure, and doubts the ultimate value of such a union. In Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), she suggests that recognition of this spiritual current comes and goes, and resigns herself to the need for spiritual traditions, such as Catholicism, to be able to sustain belief in the current, to sense it, and to value a union with it. All her life, Cather searched for spiritual meaning, expressed in her interest in the philosopher Henri Bergson, in connections between art and religion, and in the Episcopal Church. Cather's conception of spirituality changes, but the spiritual dimension of her novels commonly includes a sense of space, place, transcendence and ambiguity. Because the spiritual realm is beyond words, Cather uses juxtaposition and repetition to create an expansive, imaginative space that resonates silently through her stories. Powerful landscapes express the spiritual realm, and enhance characters' ability to recognize it. Awareness of this realm allows characters to transcend mental and cultural barriers and experience a common consciousness. Cather embraces darkness and contradictions as part of the spiritual realm, resulting in powerful ambiguities. As her spiritual vision changes during her life from exuberant to deeply reserved, these ambiguities become increasingly highlighted in her novels.


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