A Wagner Matinee Summary

Willa Sibert Cather

A Wagner Matinee

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

A Wagner Matinee Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Wagner Matinee by Willa Sibert Cather.

“A Wagner Matinee” is a short story by Willa Sibert Cather, first published in 1904 in Everybody’s Magazine. Cather spent her early years in Virginia and Nebraska before moving to Pittsburgh as an adult and eventually settling permanently in New York City. She wrote often about the difficulties of life on the Great Plains. Cather’s style has sometimes been criticized for being old-fashioned; she did much of her writing in the early part of the twentieth century, but did not experiment with contemporary stylistic developments like stream-of-consciousness. Cather’s tone is generally understood to be nostalgic for the life of pioneers, but can also be critical at times of the gender roles that these lives tend to enforce.

The story is narrated by Clark, a young man currently living in Boston. Clark receives a letter from his Uncle Howard in Nebraska stating that Aunt Georgiana has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a distant relative and will be coming to Boston. The letter arrives only one day before Georgiana does, and is dirty and rumpled as if Howard had left it in his jacket pocket having forgotten to send it. The mere mention of his aunt’s name conjures up memories for Clark of his boyhood spent on the farm in Red Willow County. Originally Georgiana was also from Boston, and was a well-educated music teacher there. When she was thirty she went to visit family in the Green Mountains, where she caught the attention of a man almost ten-years her junior. When Georgiana went back to Boston, Howard followed her and it was this flattery that caused her to ignore the advice of her friends and family and elope with him. For the following thirty years she had been working hard to carve out an existence on their homestead in Nebraska.

Clark describes the farm and landscape vividly as he remembers his youth spent husking corn and milking cows. He also credits his aunt with everything that was good about his young life; she taught him Latin and Shakespeare and how to play the little parlour organ Howard eventually bought her. She also cautioned Clark not to love the music too well, lest he experience the pain she did at having it taken away.

When Georgiana arrives in Boston, Clark is struck by her appearance. She is stooped and weather beaten from labouring on the farm, her housecoat is dirty and she wears ill-fitting dentures. She also takes very little interest in the city around her and only asks Clark a few vague questions without really seeming to internalize the answers. As a surprise, Clark had organized tickets for the two of them to attend a Wagner concert, but due to his Aunt’s distance and disinterest he worries that it may not have been a good idea. Indeed, Georgiana appears to take in very little of Boston until they arrive at the concert hall and the musicians begin to take their places. As the music plays on Clark wonders what his aunt is experiencing, and recalls his own first trip to the symphony. When the concert ends Georgiana tells him that she does not want to leave and Clark understands that for her, leaving the concert hall would mean a return to her everyday life of hardship and simplicity.