Book Review: Not Under Forty

Not Under Forty: 
New Special Edition
By Willa Cather
Gutenberg (in the public domain)

Willa Cather’s hard-to-find collection of essays harkens to a gentler time when ladies of letters shared their access to the pinnacle of culture within the rank and file of their rarefied worlds. Written in no particular order, individual essays are designated as chapters. Some chapters weave a continuing story; others are one-off essays with no real reason for making their appearance among the other stories. The only theme in common among this mishmash is that, with two exceptions, the stories are about women—contemporaries of Willa Cather. Frenchwoman Madame Franklin-Grout, the niece of Gustave Flaubert, pursues Willa Cather, while sharing her private musings about her famous uncle. The saga of 148 Charles Street portrays Annie Adams Fields, widow of the publisher James T. Fields, as the reigning social doyenne of 19th Century Boston. Mrs. Fields opened her home to the best and brightest, offering great food, entertainment, conversation and companionship. Miss Jewett is a sequence of tales about Sarah Orne Jewett and her deep, meaningful friendships with other women of letters, including Annie Adams Fields. The story of literary lioness Katherine Mansfield is told through the eyes of the mysterious Mr. J—who found her to be sublimely seductive and an intellectually compelling force to reckon with, even as a child. The two exceptions to the stories about women seem out of place and feel very much like half-baked literary criticism, as if Cather was doing someone a favor. Joseph and His Brothers is a mad rambling about the series (of the same name) written by Thomas Mann. The Novel Demeuble, a brief a discourse on the nature of the novel, seems unfinished. Overall, Cather shines as a solid writer, but it is clear that non-fiction is not her forte. Her true strength lies within her powerful works of fiction.


Patricia Vaccarino

Patricia Vaccarino is an accomplished writer who has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, essays, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and ten books.

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