Willa Cather, McClure's Magazine and "The Problems of Suicide"
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Analyzing Cather?s presence in McClure?s , scholars have generally focused on the stories and poems that carried her byline, or on well-known journalistic work like the Mary Baker Eddy biography. But as Amy Ahearn has asserted, the collaborative nature of editorial work makes possible an analysis less dependent on ideas of single authorship. Ahearn and a few other scholars have attempted to see Cather in McClure?s , and McClure?s in Cather?s later literary work, in a more diffuse way. My reading of entire magazine issues, with attention to the interaction of Cather?s texts with other articles, indicates that, far from detaching herself from the sociological rhetoric of the ?reforming pamphleteers? whose worked defined McClure?s as a muckraking journal, Cather incorporated that rhetoric (or at least its subject matter) as a fundamental element of her own fiction. In this short paper I propose one such incorporation in a reading of George Kennan?s ?The Problems of Suicide??a densely sociological article printed in the June 1908 issue. Suicide is, of course, a prominent theme in Cather?s early works, appearing in The Song of the Lark, My ?ntonia and many of her short stories. Scholars have rightly attributed her fascination with suicide to recollected stories of the death of Francis Sadilek; yet her post- McClure?s rendering of suicide (in the prairie novels and, in a different way, in the 1915 short story ?Consequences?) also bears a striking resemblance to the images found in ?The Problems of Suicide.? For example, Kennan describes the high suicide rate among Bohemian immigrants, speculates about the suicide seasons, and graphically catalogues such oddities as self-inflicted death by ?swiftly rotating circular saws??all themes that crop up in My ?ntonia. Moreover, the article is followed immediately by Cather?s poem ?Prairie Dawn,? a significant juxtaposition of art and journalism, lyricism and muckraking. Although my paper considers only a small corner of McClure?s journalism and the few of her works that feature suicide, the rhetorical and thematic ties I present suggest an extraordinary coherence between Cather the reporter and Cather the creative artist.