“A Wagner Matinee” By Willa Cather (Summary)

“A Wagner Matinee” By Willa Cather

“A Wagner Matinee” by Willa Cather is an award-winning short story that was for the first time published in 1904 and featured in Everybody’s Magazine. The work was written during the early days of Cather’s Career and offers a preview of the style and tone that later on became the trademark of her fictional writings. In this piece of work, Cather scouts with blunt realism the emotionally and physically damaging outcomes of pioneer life in the rural areas of Nebraska. The account is told by Clark, who at the time was hosting his Aunt Georgiana who had just migrated for the first time from Nebraska to Boston. “A Wagner Matinee” uses a male character’s perspective which is also adopted in Cather’s later writings.

The story ‘A Wagner Matinee’ starts with Clark getting a letter from Nebraska. As readers, we soon learn that the letter is from Mr. Howard who is Clark’s Uncle. The letter is intended to inform Clark that he supposed to host his Aunt Georgiana who will be visiting Boston to attend to a deceased relative’s estate. Uncle Howard asks Clark to wait for his Aunt at the station and help her in whichever way that is possible during her entire stay in Boston. After reading Mr. Howard’s letter, the narrator recalls the particulars of his youth as he was staying at his uncle and aunt’s Nebraskan farm. Clark recollects playing the piano that belonged to Aunt Georgiana with fingers raw and painful from husking corn.

When Clark goes to meet his Aunt at the station, he encounters some difficulties picking her. Georgiana becomes the last passenger to disembark, and when she alights, she is covered with dust and soot from her journey. Mrs. Springer, Clark’s landlady, settles Aunt Georgiana into her residence for the evening as soon as she arrives at Clark’s quarters. From this point, Clark does not see Georgiana until the day that followed. He reflects on his Aunt’s fatigued and worn-out appearance, and he notes the degree to which the woman has transformed since she stopped working as a music instructor in Boston about thirty years ago. From Clark’s reminiscences, we learn that Georgiana had developed deep emotional feelings for a young man from upcountry. She followed him to Nebraska and married him. Clark inwardly reckons details of Aunt Georgiana and Uncle Howard’s rural life and the challenges that have resulted in her unpleasant looks. He also recognizes how much he owes Georgiana since she sacrificed most of her time and resources to teach him. As he recounts, she would help him with verb conjugations, and after tucking her six children to sleep, she would sit with him and listen as reading William Shakespeare’s book.

On the second day of Aunt Georgiana’s visit, Clark takes her to Boston Symphony Orchestra concert in which the song of Richard Wagner is being performed. Clark is uncertain whether his aunt will enjoy the performance after her many years of deprivation and hardship. Georgiana is unenthusiastic to be out in the vibrant city. She is distracted by duties left unattended back in the countryside. Clark closely assesses his aunt’s reactions as the singers are seated in the entertainment hall. Gradually, Aunt Georgiana is filled with anticipation and becomes adapted to the conditions in her surroundings.

When the concert begins, Georgiana grabs her nephew’s sleeve making him think that the music is bridging the three decades of silence that Nebraskan plains have imposed upon his aunt. Memories of Georgiana’s desolate homestead form in Clark’s mind. He wonders what she is garnering from the music, and he remembers her once upon perfect piano skills and musical knowledge.

During the interlude, Clark talks to Aunt Georgiana concerning one of the songs that has been performed. She tells him that she was familiar with the song. Years ago it was sung by one of the German immigrants in Red Willow County. Clark and Georgiana briefly discuss the song as well as its structure. Clark is left to wonder about how much his aunt understand about music as well as the extent to which isolation and hard labor has impacted her ability to process music.

As the concert comes to an end, Georgina and her nephew remain back as other spectators disperse. Cark’s aunt who shows an unwillingness to move or leave the performance hall breaks into tears. According to Clark, this is a proof of her aunt’s disinclination to abandon music as well as the extreme detestation of the harsh life back in Nebraska.