This month, the focus of the Willa Cather Short Story Project is “Eleanor’s House,” originally published in McClure’s Magazine in October 1907.
Cather was living in Boston for much of 1907, on assignment for McClure’s researching the life of Mary Baker Eddy. One of the people she met while living in Boston was Sarah Orne Jewett, who would have a major impact on Cather’s writing life. More on that in November.
“Eleanor’s House” precursor to Rebecca?
“Eleanor’s House” is a story about Harold whose first wife, Eleanor, died ten years into their very happy marriage. Harold remarries but his second wife, Ethel, lives with the weight of his grief for Eleanor. James Woodress includes a brief summary of “Eleanor’s House” in Willa Cather: A Literary Life. It sounds a bit like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, doesn’t it? A second wife living in the shadow of the first. I haven’t yet read this month’s story and it has been a long time since I read Rebecca, so this could be a stretch. I imagine there are more stories about second wives dealing with the ghosts of their husbands’ first wives.
Mildred R. Bennett writes that in “Eleanor’s House,” as in last month’s story, “The Willing Muse,” Cather “bows too humbly at the shrine of Henry James,” but that, “the work of this period has an ease and an authority that reflect her increasing technical skill” (Willa Cather’s Collected Short Fiction 1892-1912, xxxvii).
Read “Eleanor’s House” sometime this month then come back to discuss it on the response post I’ll share on October 25th. Or, feel free to read it now and comment here if you can’t wait until then!
You can read “Eleanor’s House” on the Willa Cather Archive: https://cather.unl.edu/writings/shortfiction/ss005
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!