Thank you, Lavinia, for sparking such an interesting discussion. Miss Cather would be much amused.

Sent from my iPhone

On Oct 23, 2013, at 6:10 AM, Lavinia Moretti <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Well, thank you all very, very, very much.
As I found myself saying before, I'm not used to dealing with this kind of participation in the academic world and I find it amazing that so many of you are considering my (not so important and probably not so interesting) question.
Reading your answers I'm getting more and more convinced that I'll never find that term in any critical work and that it is correct to see it more as a “marketing tool” than as a “critical convenience” (the first time I read that term was when looking for an e-book edition of
My Ántonia, so I'll say my experience fits in your conclusions very well.)
Just another question: seeing how often the term is used on the internet and in informal writings about the novels, would you consider it correct to link its diffusion to the fact that “prairie trilogy” is also used in the Wikipedia entry for Willa Cather? Pair that with the fact that many cheap/free e-book editions of the novels labeled as “Prairie Trilogy” are now available and the fact that, as you said, it wasn't used in the 90's and it can probably explain the (recent) diffusion of the term among non-scholars.
Thank you all again,


2013/10/23 Stout, Janis P <[log in to unmask]>
I agree with what Steve Shively says, including the fact that I never heard this phrase "in the olden days."

Janis Stout

Sent from Janis's iPad

On Oct 22, 2013, at 12:55 PM, Steven Shively <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I’ll add a few comments, mostly reinforcing what Bob has said.


I don’t know where or when the phrase originated, but I don’t remember it much if at all when I was in graduate school in the 90’s. Seems like I see it more and more now, and I don’t get it. The book aren’t a trilogy according to my understanding of the word—not really a common setting (OK, all 3 are based on Cather’s own Webster County, but she “hides” that reality in various and differing ways; other aspects of setting aren’t the same), no recurring characters (except herself, and again that is disguised in varying ways), varying themes, etc. A real trilogy should be more closely related. And then, as Bob points out, there are other novels that are at least as closely related as the 3 so-called trilogy: One of Ours, A Lost Lady, Lucy Gayheart. And what to do with Obscure Destinies, related in some ways but not in terms of genre? Even more complicated, what about much of the early fiction/short stories, including some of the Troll Garden stories, which are also set on the prairie?


Bob is generous in calling the label “a critical convenience”; I’d call it a marketing tool designed to get people to buy 2 more books if they like the first one they read. I think the label is unfair to Cather and her creative processes as well as inaccurate. I say that at the risk of offending one of my friends, who may have originated the phrase unbeknownst to me. That’s not my intention, and it may be that some folks find the label useful.


Steve Shively


From: 5 Bank Street: The Listserv for Willa Cather Scholars [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Robert Thacker
Sent: Monday, October 21, 2013 2:13 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [5BANKSTREET] The origins of "the prairie trilogy"


Dear Lavinia Moretti:


I offer some general thoughts about this question, one that doesn't seem to me to have a clear answer although, as you say, it is phrase often used. As it happened, I began working on Cather as graduate student focused on her depiction of the prairie landscape—you may want to look at my discussion of her work along with a developmental argument based on landscape depiction. See my The Great Prairie Fact and Literary Imagination (New Mexico UP, 1989). I don't happen to have a copy at hand, but my recollection is that I did not use the phrase there.


It has long seemed to me that "prairie trilogy," when applied to Cather and to these three novels, is a critical convenience only and nothing more. Cather scholars know that the gestation of each of these novels was discrete—that is, Cather came to write each of them out of a singular set of circumstances. While connected by the arc of her developing career and, loosely, by their settings, each really is a separate book. O. E. Rolvaag did in fact write a "prairie trilogy" with some of the same characters in the books and a continuing story. That is not what Cather did. More than this, what of the later works that set in Nebraska?


I do hope this helps. Good luck with your work. As you know, there will be an International Cather Symposium next June 12-14 in Rome at Cento Studi Americani. For information and a call-for-papers, contact Professor Mark Madigan at [log in to unmask].


All best,


Bob Thacker


Robert Thacker

Charles A. Dana Professor of Canadian Studies and English

202 Memorial Hall

St. Lawrence University

Canton, New York  13617

315.229.5970 or 5826


From: Lavinia Moretti <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "5 Bank Street: The Listserv for Willa Cather Scholars" <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013 2:42 AM
To: "5 Bank Street: The Listserv for Willa Cather Scholars" <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: [5BANKSTREET] The origins of "the prairie trilogy"


Greetings to everyone on the list!

I’m an Italian student trying to write my dissertation about Willa Cather’s novels O Pioneers!, The Song of The Lark and My Ántonia. I need to disturb you with a question
I’ve found elsewhere the phrase “prairie trilogy”, referring the three novels, and I couldn’t trace it back to any critical work. I couldn’t just ignore it, being it so frequent (in informal writings), so I decided to address this term and explain why I think it isn’t the right term for the novels, but I need to find out its origins.
So, my question is: do you know this phrase? Have you ever tried to find out its origins? If yes, what kind of origins does it have? Any opinion about it is very welcome!
Thank you very much, 

Lavinia Moretti