A Wagner Matinee
A Wagner Matinee is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in Everybody's Magazine in February 1904. In 1906, it appeared in Cather's first published collection of short stories, The Troll Garden.
A young Bostonian named Clark receives word that his Aunt Georgiana is coming to visit from Nebraska to settle an estate. As a young woman, Georgiana had been a talented music teacher at the Boston Conservatory until, during a trip to the Green Mountains, she met Howard Carpenter, ten years her junior. They eloped and moved to a homestead in Nebraska.
Thirty years have passed since Georgiana has seen Boston. Clark recalls her kindness to him when, as a boy, he visited Nebraska and she introduced him to Shakespeare, classic mythology, and the music she played on her small parlour organ.
Clark takes his aunt to a symphony concert of music from Richard Wagner's Tannhauser, Tristan und Isolde, and The Flying Dutchman. She is intensely moved by the music and listens with tears running down her face. When the concert ends she says, "I don't want to go, Clark, I don't want to go!"
Clark realizes that she has nothing ahead of her but the grim drudgery of life back in Nebraska.
The story combines two familiar Cather themes — the hardship and desolation of pioneer life and the sustaining power of music on the human spirit and it also shows the deceptive nature of love (In the story it promises a vast expanse of opportunities and adventure but instead gives many burdens and hardships, i.e. sustaining life on the frontier).
The story takes place in Boston, but Clark, the narrator, describes Nebraska in detail. He describes how early settlers lived in dugout homes, which he says made their "inmates" revert to "primitive savagery." He talks about the monotony of the landscape, the endless rows of corn. He says that Georgiana's house is weather-worn, "black and grim as a wooden fortress," and situated near a "black pond." He describes the weather as constantly exposing its inhabitants "to a pitiless wind, and to the alkaline water, which transforms the most transparent cuticle into a sort of flexible leather."
- Clark, the story's narrator, describes himself as having been "a gangling farmer-boy" with "chilblains"
- Georgiana Carpenter, Clark's aunt
- Howard Carpenter, Clark's uncle
- Mrs. Springer, narrator's landlady
Allusions to other works
- Through Aunt Georgiana, allusions made are to William Shakespeare, Carl Maria von Weber's Euryanthe, Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, Tristan und Isolde, Der Ring des Nibelungen and Siegfried, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore.
- Woodress, James. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987, p. 172
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