Up this month for the Willa Cather Short Story Project is “The Willing Muse.”
It was published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in August 1907. The story is said to be in the style of Henry James, one of Cather’s early literary heroes.
I have not read “The Willing Muse,” but what an intriguing title. I turned to see what scholar James Woodress had to say about it in his biography, Willa Cather: A Literary Life.
“‘The Willing Muse’ is a story about two writers who marry: Kenneth Gray, who writes rather anemic scholarly novels that cost him a great deal of time and effort, and Bertha Torrance, who turns out two best-sellers every year” (191).
Normally I’d stop sharing there to avoid spoilers, but I feel compelled to share the rest of Woodress’s summary. He goes on,
“Friends hope the marriage will inspire Kenneth to reach his full potential, but his reaction to Bertha’s astounding fecundity is a complete inability to write. He is reduced to answering his wife’s fan mail until one day he simply can’t take it any longer and disappears” (191).
This summary made me laugh (because of course Kenneth can’t handle it) and sad at the same time (a recurring theme in Cather’s work is that creative women cannot be happy in marriage and also have a career as an artist). Rather than spoiling the story for me, this summary has whet my appetite.
Read “The Willing Muse” sometime this month then come back to discuss it on the response post I’ll share on September 27th. Or, feel free to read it now and comment here if you can’t wait until then!
You can read “The Willing Muse” over on the Willa Cather Archive: https://cather.unl.edu/writings/shortfiction/ss016
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!