Sapphira and the Slave Girl
By Willa Cather
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780307739650, 304pp.)
Publication Date: December 7, 2010
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In her final novel, Willa Cather departed from her usual Great Plains settings to plumb the turbulent relationships between slaves and their owners in the antebellum South.
Sapphira and the Slave Girl is set in Virginia just before the Civil War. Sapphira is a slave owner who feels she has come down in the world and channels her resentments into jealousy of her beautiful mulatto slave, Nancy. Sapphira’s daughter Rachel, an abolitionist, opposes her mother’s increasingly shocking attempts to persecute Nancy. The struggles of these three strong-willed women provide rich material for Cather’s narrative art and psychological insight.
Willa Cather was born near Winchester, Virginia, in 1873. When she was ten years old, her family moved to the prairies of Nebraska, later the setting for a number of her novels. At the age of twenty-one, she graduated from the University of Nebraska, and she spent the next few years doing newspaper work and teaching high school in Pittsburgh. In 1903, her first book, April Twilights, a collection of poems, was published, and two years later The Troll Garden, a collection of stories, appeared in print. After the publication of her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, in 1912, Cather devoted herself full time to writing, and over the years she completed eleven more novels (including O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, The Professor’s House, and Death Comes for the Archbishop), four collections of short stories, and two volumes of essays. Cather won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours in 1923. She died in 1947.