Friday, 21 May 2010

Sapphira and the slave girl (Cather) 237

Sapphira and the slave girl is Willa Cather's last novel and quite different to her earlier work. Set in Virginia as opposed to the frontier, it was written (according to the introduction) at a time in her life when she was becoming more reflective, and thus she began to draw on the experiences of her early life, living in this area until she was eight years old.

It tells the story of Sapphira, a millers wife, confined to a wheelchair, who in the 1850s is one of the few West Virginians left owning slaves; her husband Henry is increasingly unhappy about this. Nonethless when Sapphira becomes irrationally jealous of her young slave girl Nancy and wishes to sell her, she is overruled by Henry. So she comes up with a plan to ruin the girl.

I didn't feel that this book packed the punch of the other books that I have read by Cather - Sapphira wasn't especially likeable nor the storng female-lead character that I encountered in My Antonia and O Pioneers. But it was well worth reading for the contrast that it makes to her other works.

It's been published twice by Virago, and I'm lucky enough to have the original green version with a very pretty cover. Unfortunately this scan isn't terribly clear.


  1. Interesting... thought I'd heard of most of Cather's books, but was not familiar with this one.

  2. This is one of the few Cather's I've not read. I'd like to read them all eventually, but I have heard, as you say, that this isn't one of her greatest books.

  3. JoAnn - it's her last so perhaps less well known.

    Vintage - I agree, I want to read all of Cather, but this is one just for completeness sake I think.