On the Gulls' Road

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On the Gulls' Road is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in McClure's in December 1908.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Another painter visits the narrator and he is mesmerised by his painting of Alexandra Ebbling. The narrator then thinks back to how he met her, on a ship from Genoa to the New York City, after living in Rome for work for two years. They start talking, stop in Naples for a day, then sail by Sardinia. He moves on to doing a portrait of her, and he gives her a bunch of magnolias he got in Gibraltar and she talks about her ailment for the first time. Two days later when he sees her husband neglects her just before going to a concert on the ship, he goes and tells her they should run away together because they love each other. She explains she can't because she is ill. She gives him a box that he shall only open sometime later, when she tells him to by letter. She then takes a ship back to her father's in Norway without her husband. The following March, he receives a letter from him saying she has died. There is also a letter from her, telling him he can open the box now. Inside, there is a magnolia, strands of her hair, and two pink shells.


  • The narrator, a man.
  • Another painter
  • Mrs Alexandra Ebbling. She is Norwegian and lived in Naples for a year with her first husband.
  • Mr Lars Ebbling, Alexandra's husband. He is Norwegian too.
  • Carin, the Ebblings's daughter.
  • The Doctor, 'an Italian naval officer, and the commodore of a Long Island yacht club.'
  • Dame Ericson, a woman who used to live in Alexandra's village.
  • Niels Nannestad, Alexandra's father.

Allusions to other works[edit]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

  • Sarah Orne Jewett raised the question of the narrator's gender, suggesting that a female narrator might have been better.[2]


  1. ^ Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 Nov 1970, page 94
  2. ^ Edward Killoran Brown and Leon Edel, Willa Cather: A Critical Biography, New York: Avon Books, 1953, page 153

External links[edit]