“A Singer’s Romance” by Willa Cather


Hello, Friends! February has been a delightful blur for me, filled with engaging coursework and research. Apologies for not posting a reading reminder for this month’s story for the Willa Cather Short Story Project, “A Singer’s Romance.”

Here’s the link to read “A Singer’s Romance” over on the Willa Cather Archive: https://cather.unl.edu/writings/shortfiction/ss041

After last month’s trek out West to Wyoming and Colorado in “The Affair at Grover Station,” “A Singer’s Romance” takes us back to Manhattan. This story was published in the July 28, 1900 edition of The Library.

I had a strong sense of deja vu while reading this story. Initially, I wondered if I had read it before. But, no. This story about an opera singer who notices a man following her as she’s leaving from the stage door of the Metropolitan Opera House is similar to “Nanette: An Aside” (1897), which we read last July.

“A Singer’s Romance” is about Frau Selma Schumann, who thinks the man that is following her is an admirer with amorous intentions. Schumann is in a loveless marriage. Her husband is off in Monte Carlo, gambling away her money. She is lonely and starved for affection, “a singer without a romance,” so it is unsurprising that this attention perks her up and initiates fantasies. (Albeit, for this 21st-century reader, my mind cannot help but go into serial killer alert mode.)

Long story short, the man is actually in love with Schumann’s young maid, Antoinette, who is very much like Nanette in Cather’s 1897 story, down to their backstory. As Mildred Bennett notes in her introduction to Willa Cather Collected Short Fiction, 1892-1912, Cather reworked this material from the earlier “Nanette” story. Cather explores this idea of a creative woman, an opera singer, who lives a life lacking in deep human connection for the sake of her art in her third novel, The Song of the Lark (1915).

“A Singer’s Romance” is shorter than “Nanette” and felt much darker, perhaps because Cather introduces another stereotype about artists — alcoholism. Schumann turns to drink to drown her sorrows. She may not yet be an alcoholic, but the future does not bode well for her.

New to this blog? Learn more about the Willa Cather Short Story Project here. In a nutshell, we read one Cather short story a month. I remind everyone of what story we’re reading on the second Wednesday of the month and then share a response on the fourth Wednesday of the month. Jump in anytime!

[Correction: In the original post, I mistakingly referred to this month’s story as “The Singer’s Promise” when it is actually “A Singer’s Romance.” Thanks to Fanda Kutubuku for bringing this to my attention.]

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