Preface
IfirstreadWillaCatherwhenIwasinhighschool.Icanno
longer remember which novel we were assigned—it must
havebeen OPioneers! or MyÁntonia—butIcanstillrecallwhatitfelt
liketobereadingCatherthen.OnceIhadreadtheassignednovelI
wentontoothers—amongthem,Iamcertain, The Professor’s House,
the novel that prompted the first essays I wrote on theway to this
book. Back then, I didn’t know Cather’s well-known pronounce-
ment in ‘‘The Novel Démeublé’’ about ‘‘the thing not named,’’ but
it was just that quality in Cather’s writing that spoke to me:
Whatever is felt upon the page without being specifically named
there—that,onemightsay,iscreated.Itistheinexplicablepresence
ofthethingnotnamed,oftheovertonedivinedbytheearbutnot
heardbyit,theverbalmood,theemotionalauraofthefactorthing
or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel or the drama, as
well as to poetry
itself.1
I found the writing intense, atmospheric, heavy with something
that was not said which I nonetheless recognized. I couldn’t tell
what it was, aslant the calm surface of narration, that I heard. But
whatever it was sounded along the wavelengths of a silence that I
foundirresistible.Itwasasif,somehow,thenovelswerewrittenin
a language which I could not myself articulate and yet in which I
foundmyselfarticulated.Not,Ishouldadd,thatIknewwhatthey
said, or what part of me they found; or, rather, I knew somehow
that my own incipient, incoherent sexuality was being addressed,
but couldn’t tell how the novels I was reading spoke so uncannily,
couldn’t see what it was in the novels that made the connection.
MyexperiencethenwasliketheoneIhavenow,writingthesesen-
tences only to discover that they come from The Song of the Lark,
the scene when its heroine, Thea Kronborg, is being told about
‘‘something in the inside from the beginning’’ which ‘‘she did not
altogetherunderstand...andyet,inawaysheknew.Sheknew,of
course, that therewas something in her that was different.’’
2
Ifindmyselfnowasthensimilarlyraptby‘‘something’’;indeed,I
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