Throwing the Furniture Out of the Window: Ulster Protestant Plain Style and Cather's Aesthetic

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Willa Cather’s distinctive plain style is generally understood in terms of the Modernist movement towards simplicity. Her aesthetic desire to “throw the furniture out of the window” resonates not just with Modernist aesthetics, however, but with events in Early Modern Europe: to throw the furniture out of the window is a deeply Protestant gesture, echoing the Defenestrations of Prague. While many critics have noted the presence of Catholic content and sympathies in Cather’s novels, Cather’s work can be better understood in terms of a Protestant aesthetic, and more specifically an Ulster Protestant one. Her ghostwriting of the autobiography of Ulsterman S.S. McClure offers a lens for exploring their mutual values of home, hard work, hygiene and perspicuity. Cather’s interest in print culture can be understood in terms of this Protestant aesthetic, whereby unruly physical bodies and sensations are translated into fixed typographical images. Her celebration of the Great Plains is another example of her attraction to blank spaces emptied of the pictorial. This clean well-lighted style is a stay against a disordered world. In moments of uncertainty, Cather evokes the aesthetic of her Ulster Protestant heritage, and reaches for the familiar shape of the word.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-54
Number of pages8
JournalWilla Cather Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jun 2020




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