Posted in Short Stories

Willa Cather: Paul’s Case


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Willa Cather

Smokey Robinson once sang “…a taste of honey’s worse than none at all”.  Based on her short story “Paul’s Case”, I would bet Willa Cather would have agreed – although, she would probably say a taste of “money” is worse than none at all.  I read this story for Week  6 of Deal Me In 2015.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

I had several of Cather’s stories on my Deal Me In 2013 list.  While I enjoyed some of them, others left me a little flat.  Her stories that are set in Nebraska or the Southwest were beautiful and intriguing to me.  In spite of my infatuation with New York City, her stories involving artists in the Big Apple at the turn of the twentieth century just didn’t grab hold of me.

In the case of “Paul’s Case”, though, Cather does something different with New York City.  Paul, a teenager, lives in Pittsburgh and is somewhat of a delinquent at school.  He loves serving as an usher at Carnegie Hall so that he can rub elbows with the rich and famous – both the patrons and the performers.  His awe of the rich lifestyle contrasts with his contempt for his lower income neighborhood and school.

Cather simultaneously casts a small spark of sympathy for Paul’s situation (or “case” as the title suggests) and a repulsion for Paul’s attitude and character.  By less than noble means, Paul manages to run away to New York City and live the high life – for a little while.  As with many teenagers, Paul doesn’t realize that there is such a thing as a future and that his means will eventually run out:

It was characteristic that remorse did not occur to him.  His golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each as perfect as he could.

Since I’m on an F. Scott Fitzgerald kick, I’ll bring up the fact that Maureen Corrigan, in So We Read Onindicates that Fitzgerald “adored” Willa Cather.  Corrigan even goes on to say that some of the characters in The Great Gatsby were inspired by characters in Cather’s stories (Corrigan bases this on letters Fitzgerald wrote to Cather).  Paul in “Paul’s Case” has some definite Jay Gatsby attributes; however, I would guess that Gatsby ultimately gets more reader sympathy than Paul does.

5 thoughts on “Willa Cather: Paul’s Case

  1. My Great Books Foundation reading group just read Cather’s novella “Tom Outland’s Story” for a meeting last week. I doubt I’ll ever get tired of Cather. It gives her even more “cred” (not that she needs it, if you asked me) that FSG “loved” her. I haven’t read Paul’s Case, though, but it sounds like another winner for DMI.

    Speaking of DMI, I’m really enjoying the influx of “new blood” this year added to our “core” bloggers from last year. Some of the new participants have great blogs and are very good writers imho.

    1. I agree about DMI this year! I think I’ll always enjoy discovering new things to read and new people “talking about them”. I just got a “haul” of books from Amazon mostly based on hearing about them on other blogs: “Redeployment” by Phil Klay (short stories about military life during and after Iraq); The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor; G. K. Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday”; and B. J. Novak’s “One More Thing: Stories and More Stories”.

  2. Well, I have to say I adore Cather too, but I’ve only read her mid-West stories, so I’m not sure how I’d react to the ones set back east.

    Everyone who has joined this challenge is reading such wonderful stories! If only I could read them all right now. Yet instead my list keeps getting longer and longer. Now I just have to figure out how to stretch out the weeks in the year ……. :-Z

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Cleo! Every time I read about a new story I want to run out and buy it or at least go to the library. More time to read would be great!

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