February 2020 Reminder: The Willa Cather Short Story Project

February 2020 Reminder for The Willa Cather Short Story Project: Old Mrs. Harris

Our story for February is one of Cather’s most beloved stories, “Old Mrs. Harris.”

The story was first serialized in Ladies’ Home Journal beginning in September 1932 with the title, “Three Women.” It is the second story in Cather’s 1932 collection, Obscure Destinies: Three New Stories of the West. It’s sandwiched between “Neighbour Rosicky” and “Two Friends.”

In The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, editors Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout note that “Old Mrs. Harris” is “highly autobiographical” and “could only be published after the death of Cather’s mother, for the character inspired by Virginia Boak Cather, Victoria Templeton, is complex and not altogether attractive” (465). I’m already hooked!

I’ll have a response post up on the morning of Wednesday, February 26th. If you read the story, come back to discuss it on that post or, if you can’t wait, feel free to leave a comment here.

Happy Reading!

New here? Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here.


  1. I am commenting now! Loved this story! Again, the men disappoint and the women are stuck living in a place where they don’t feel comfortable. Victoria Templeton was moody and too sensitive to be in the Western frontier. As Mrs. Harris told us, it was so different from the South and how she raised her daughter. The expectations were high for Victoria and she still acted as though she lived in the South with others to help her. Seemingly, her sons worked harder than she did. As well, she did not understand her daughter, who wanted a different life, with different interests. Luckily, her daughter Vickie had Mr and Mrs Rosen to help her get to college, although my fear and the last paragraphs lead me to believe that Vickie never got there after the death of her grandmother. The father was happy to be on his own and float through life, pursuing his dreams and owing money. Happy to go away and visit his tenants, while his mother in law worked and never got a break. So much to think and write about!!

    • Your comment makes me realize that while the women lost their support network when they moved from the South, the father is still able to glide along on the backs of his women. His inability to make money is glaringly obvious and the fact that he uses ALL Mrs Harris’s money for investments is maddening. It’s a big risk he’s taken but once times change and the land raises in value he’ll probably make a profit. Still, money Mrs Harris will never see. I had the sense that Vickie does go to college. No thanks to her father. Obscure Destinies indeed!

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