Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Troll Garden by Willa Cather (The Willa Cather Project).

The Troll Garden was the first set of stories Willa Cather published and her first pieces of fiction. It was originally published in 1905 and contained 7 short stories:

1. "Flavia and Her Artists"
2. "The Sculptor's Funeral"
3. "A Death in the Desert"
4. "The Garden Lodge"
5. "The Marriage of Phaedra"
6. "A Wagner Matinee"
7. "Paul's Case"

Four of these stories were later revised and republished in 1920 in Youth and the Bright Medusa (I will be reading these at some point, so I will make note of any differences).

I was really looking forward to reading some of Cather's short stories, especially since the only story I had read prior to this project was "Paul's Case" (I actually use the story with my sophomores and their American Author research project. I was also looking forward to seeing the difference between her poetry, novels, and these condensed stories.

I was very excited going into the stories, and while there were some hits and misses, I really loved the collection as whole.

The first story, "Flavia and Her Artists" was a bit odd. The first few pages seemed a bit off-putting and I wasn't sure what point Cather was trying to make. The story takes place at Flavia's home, where she offers refuge to artists so they may explore their crafts. There is a bit of a mix-up when one of the writers attempts to hide an article written about Flavia. By the end of the story, I understood Cather's point, but I was not that excited by the story as a whole.

"The Sculptor's Funeral" is a story I really loved. The body of a famed sculptor returns to his small town accompanied by a friend. As the body returns to the town, the friend is forced to listen to the ridicule the town has towards the famed man. Eventually it reaches a climax and the friend goes off. :) It was an interesting read-especially in the context of life and death and what you can really mean to the people you leave behind. Definitely one of my favorites in the collection.

"A Death in the Desert" is about a young man who is often mistaken for his famous composer brother. On a trip, he meets with an ailing woman who once worked with his brother. The slowly get to know each other and discuss the old times with his brother pre-fame. Again, it was a pretty good story, but I wasn't as devoted emotionally as I hoped I would have been.

In "The Garden Lodge," a woman contemplates tearing down and destroying the Garden Lodge where she used to spend time with a composer friend. I think Cather's goal was to show the struggle between reality and dreams-and the choice that some make to go with reality-but I think it failed to come across strongly. I wasn't that big of a fan.

"The Marriage of Phaedra" is about a biographer of a famous painter, who is trying to find more information about the painter's unfinished work. Again, I think there was supposed to be a big moral lesson to this, but I really failed to pull it from the story. In my opinion, I think this was the weakest story of the collection.

"A Wagner Matinee" is one of the best of the collection. A young man is hosting his aunt in the city and decides to take her to a concert. He is worried that she won't be interested, but as the music starts, he watches her become more and more enthralled in the music. I loved this one. As a musician, I really loved the musical connections and the emotion Cather invoked just by discussing the effect of music on a person.

The last story in the collection, "Paul's Case," is the stand out story. It is, by far, the best story in the collection and with good reason. Paul seems to meet circumstance after circumstance that break his spirit...and I can't say more without giving anything away. In one word: beautiful. You need to read this story.

In all, this was a great collection of short stories. I'm looking forward to seeing Cather's later short stories, as well as the revisions made to some of these. 

*This title was read as a part of The Willa Cather Project-my focused attempt to read Cather's complete works in chronological order. Click on the link for more information about the project and my goals.*


  1. I enjoyed My Antonia, but I haven't read any of Cather's short stories. It seems nearly impossible to find a collection of stories where all of them are excellent, but I'm glad there were some great ones here.

  2. Cather wrote a great short story (well, one of many, to be sure) called "The Old Beauty."
    I read it last year and 'discovered' her and now I'm hooked after reading her novel "The Professor's House."

  3. I really need to read this collection. I love Willa Cather, as you know, and "Paul's Case" is in my top 5 favorite short stories of all-time (with "The Yellow Wallpaper," "Young Goodman Brown," and some others). Glad you enjoyed it! You're making great progress with your Cather project - I haven't moved much with my Steinbeck list, but I plan to do a LOT with it this summer, after school lets out. I'll be focusing almost exclusively on Steinbeck and on books for my French Revolution project. That's it! IT IT IT! Lol Obviously, I doubt my ability to commit.

  4. My favorites from this collection were "A Wagner Matinee" and "The Sculptor's Funeral". For some reason I really didn't connect with "Paul's Case", but I'm sure I'll give it another try at some point.