Photo Pulled from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Willa Cather in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

Theresa Derry

Time Capsule Editor

Willa Cather. An American literary writer who is well-known for her vivid portrayals of the pioneers. Cather’s portrayal of American life has been incorporated through historical novels and poetry. Through the use of an autobiographical framework, Cather has been able to provide her audience with an accurate portrayal of life on the American frontier.

Cather was born in Black Creek, Virginia on December 7, 1873.  In 1885, Cather and her family settled in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather’s relocation to Nebraska from her original Virginia homeland had an everlasting impact on her life. After settling in Nebraska, Cather quickly developed a passion for the Nebraska countryside. Cather’s fondness of the Nebraska prairie later became the inspiration for seven of her written works.

Cather attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After completing her studies, Cather moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1896 to establish her career in journalism by writing for Home Monthly magazine. Cather published her first collection of poetry entitled April Twilights in 1903. In 1906, Cather relocated to New York City to work as an editor for McClure magazine.

Out of Cather’s twenty published novels, My Antonia is one of her most famous. In My Antonia, Cather’s autobiographical framework comes to life as she uses her personal experiences to formulate a piece of historical fiction. The main character of this book, Jim, relocates to Nebraska from Virginia. Shortly after arriving to Nebraska, Jim is captivated by the beauty and establishes an intense relationship with the Nebraska frontier. In addition to the Nebraska landscape, Cather was also fond of the diverse immigrant cultures that resided on the Nebraska frontier. Cather illustrates her encounter with the various immigrant groups through Jim’s friendship that he has with his Bohemian neighbor, Antonia.

In 1917, Cather traveled by train to Jaffrey, NH. She had come to visit her friend who was on vacation. She quickly grew fond of this small NH farm town. The nature and population of Jaffrey quickly reminded Cather of her home in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather stayed at the historic Shattuck Inn each time she visited Jaffrey. The Shattuck Inn was a place that Cather quickly grew fond of due to its nature and proximity to Mount Monadnock. In the anthology, Where the Mountain Stands Alone: Stories of Place in the Monadnock Region, an excerpt describes the impact of the Shattuck Inn on Cather’s life:

She would return regularly to Jaffrey in the years that followed, always staying at the Shattuck Inn in the same small corner room tucked up under the eaves with a view of Mount Monadnock…Jaffrey’s woods and fields and mountain, so like her Virginia beginnings, offered her the same sense of security she had known in her earliest childhood…

Cather’s fondness of this rural town made her want to stay in Jaffrey forever. What many of Cather’s readers do not know is that Cather’s gravesite is located at Old Burying Ground

Cemetery in Jaffrey, NH.

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