The Princess Baladina – Her Adventure • Response Post • WCSSP

Willa Cather and Jane Austen

What a fun story! “The Princess Baladina–Her Adventure” is a riff on the classic fairy tale of the good princess. Baladina is a young princess who is full of gumption. She’s also naughty — she loses a gold ball in the castle’s moat, is rude to her fairy godmother, and runs away from home when she feels ill-used by her family. It is such a wonderful set up and a story that probably made kids laugh or nod their heads in agreement. This old kid had a smile on her face while reading about Baladina’s adventure.

As mentioned in the reminder post for this story, Cather was the new editor of The Home Monthly in August 1896 when this story appeared in its pages. She published this story under a pseudonym, using the name of her younger brother Charles Douglass.

I dipped into James Woodress’s Willa Cather: A Literary Life to see if he had anything to say about this story. He does, and writes that Cather used to make up stories for her younger siblings. He claims that “The Princess Baladina–Her Adventure” is the sort of tale she would have made up for them. However, he concludes that it “is not much of a yarn” (121). He also implies that Cather didn’t put her own name on the story because she didn’t think it was “done well enough,” words he uses about a story she did put her name on.

As the editor, maybe she chose not to use her name to make the story look like it came from an outside contributor. Using her brother’s name may have been a tribute to him, a way to include him in the fun like when they were younger.

Two friends have read the story and commented enthusiastically over on the reminder post.

  • txfen wrote, “I enjoyed Cather’s fairy tale, and I think children would too. She dispensed with the magic but told a fun story with a lesson that wasn’t too heavy-handed.” [read more here]
  • Lori wrote, “This was hilarious! Love Cather’s fractured fairy tale with sly social commentary.”

I completely agree. It’s a fun and funny story, one that fulfilled its mission as a story for kids in a new magazine aimed at a general audience. No offense to Mr. Woodress, but his brand of literary biography and judgement is one of the complaints I have about a certain style of lit crit which tends to suck the joy and pleasure out of reading. Apples and oranges, I suppose.

Northanger Abbey

It just so happens that I’m currently rereading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen for book club. The protagonist of Austen’s novel, Catherine Morland, is fond of Gothic novels. As Catherine moves through her days, the narrator notes how Gothic plot elements and tropes do not happen to the young woman. Readers versed in the conventions of Gothic novels get a kick out of the satire, which I read as gentle and fun-loving rather than as snobbishly sarcastic.

Similarly, Princess Baladina and the story’s readers are steeped in fairy tales about princesses, how they’re supposed to behave and what is supposed to happen to them. Cather’s play with these elements is what makes her story funny, as is the case with Austen’s character and readers. And as Lori points out, this is a way to sneak in some social commentary.

What do you think?

What do you think of “The Princess Baladina — Her Adventure”? Share your thoughts about the story in the comments below. If you haven’t yet read the story, you can read it here on the Willa Cather Archive.

New to this blog? Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here. In a nutshell, we’re reading one Cather short story a month. Jump in anytime!

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