The Troll Garden Author:Willa Cather THE TROLL GARDEN — Flavia and Her Artists — The Sculptor's Funeral — The Garden Lodge — "A Death in the Desert" — The Marriage of Phaedra — A Wagner Matinee — Paul's Case — As Reviewed By D. Cloyce Smith — Format:Paperback — Cather's first book of fiction gathers seven stories, four of which were initially published in magazines and later revised for incl... more »usion in the 1920 eight-story collection "Youth and the Bright Medusa" (which is worth reading on its own). Collectively, the stories in "The Troll Garden" show the young Cather in the throes of an overtly Jamesian phase, with perfunctory nods to her later rural and Nebraskan subjects. While all are united by the theme of artistic genius and influence, none are about the artists themselves. Instead, they relate the dreams and delusions of the relatives, friends, hangers-on, and wannabes who associate with artists and either idolize or scorn them.
The two most well-known stories are "The Sculptor's Funeral" and "Paul's Case," both of which were left largely unchanged for their later versions and in Cather's 1937 edition of collected works. The first describes rural neighbors who vent their lack of appreciation for the achievements of an internationally famous sculptor when his corpse is shipped to his hometown for burial; "Where the old man made his mistake was in sending the boy East to school" is the verdict of one of the town's inhabitants. "Paul's Case" concerns a school-age boy whose flightiness and irresponsibility is exacerbated by the fanciful extravagances represented on the stage and by the glittering allure of celebrity lifestyle.
Both ""A Death in the Desert" and "A Wagner Matinee" were heavily revised for their later publications. The first of these, filled with literary allusions and oddly detached from its Wyoming setting, benefited from the later changes, which tightened both the prose and the emotional impact. Its heroine is an opera singer dying of tuberculosis who recalls a lost love--a brilliant composer--in the unexpected appearance of his younger brother, whose own career never escapes the shadow of his sibling's renown. The 1905 version of "A Wagner Matinee," in contrast, is far superior to its later incarnations, in which Cather had softened beyond recognition her portrait of a Bostonian woman transplanted to Nebraska who returns back East after thirty years of relentless drudgery. Although Cather's family regarded the story as a mocking and insulting caricature of her own aunt, the earlier depiction's bite and its leanness are what make it so powerful.
The three stories that appear exclusively in this collection are "Flavia and Her Artists," "The Marriage of Phaedra," and "The Garden Lodge." The first of these is the best; it concerns a society matron playing hostess to a gaggle of artists who take advantage of her hospitality but who can barely tolerate her pretensions. The story turns when a member of the company broadcasts his scorn for Flavia in a withering profile published by a local newspaper.
Many of these pieces, in sum, should be read not simply for insights into the early development of a celebrated author; they are near-masterpieces in their own right. In them one can see a uniquely constructed literary bridge between the Eurocentrism of Henry James and the American realism of Sinclair Lewis.« less