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Willa Cather's «Lucy Gayheart» and Franz Schubert's «Winterreise»

A Study in Intertextualtity

Marianne Davidson

This monograph restores Willa Cather’s «Lucy Gayheart» from superficial attention and dismissive criticism. Departing from textual evidence, it reads the novel in the light of its own intertext: Wilhelm Müller’s and Franz Schubert’s «Winterreise» (Winter Journey). The identification of startling parallels between the eligist of the American pioneer period and representatives of literary and musical German romanticism elicits new subtexts and insights. Novel and song cycle share themes such as the blending of memory, desire and imagination or a tragic vision of life offset by the search for transcendental meaning. Conclusively, both works result in ambivalence by oscillating between romanticism and modernism.

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2. Romanticism: An Attempt at Definition

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Have you always longed for a trip to a romantic island in the South Seas? What about the romantic Lake District in England or a small town along the Romantic Road in southern Germany? Your accommodation can be a hotel blending luxury with romanticism or even a romantic monastery. An island vacation may afford you a romantic walk on the beach, a romantic swim by a waterfall while bathing in romantic moonlight. No matter where your romantic desires will take you, a romantic candle-light dinner with a romantic type, possibly leading to a romantic tryst that fulfills your romantic dreams may be available independently of your whereabouts. It all depends on your heightened sensitivity to the romantic promises of life. Now, how would the tourist industry for one fare without what the word ‘romantic’ so universally and powerfully connotes? Commercialized and subjected to many different purposes, ‘romantic’ and ‘romanticism’ have been misused, overused, corrupted and thereby experienced catachresis if not eventual voiding of meaning. Still, the words would not be in such wide circulation if they did not evoke all sorts of mental and emotional notions and images contingent on individual experiences and needs.

Since a virtual encounter between a “romantic youth” (the wanderer of Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winter Journey) and a “romantic young woman”1 (the female protagonist of Willa Cather’s novel Lucy Gayheart) is to be arranged for here, a more serious yet tentative attempt at definition must be made. Books of reference...

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