Willa Cather once insisted that “a story is made out of an emotion or an excitement, and is not made out of the legs and arms and faces of one’s friends or acquaintances.”

The New Republic reviewer of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather quotes this axiom, but later in the piece describes Song of the Lark as “tough as nails in its savage appraisal of the respectable folk of Moonstone, modeled in every conceivable way, building by building and street by street, on Red Cloud, and their resentful incomprehension of everything the budding artist in their midst, the singer Thea Kronberg, is and does.” There is a reference to Cather’s “incredible run of bitter masterpieces that Cather published during the 1920s.”

Which makes Cather’s stated theory sound like a way of deflecting attention from her actual intentions.

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