‘Nanette: An Aside’ by Willa Cather

Nanette: An Aside by Willa Cather, 1897

The magic trick:

Hanging the story – and our understanding of the entire premise – on one decision

Nanette’s sad story begins like that of a fairy tale. She is the poor orphan girl who finds true love only to be denied by fate. We know this scenario well.

Or do we?

As Madame Tradutorri begins to reconsider her decision, the reader begins to reconsider the premise. Maybe Nanette isn’t the victim here. Maybe it’s Madame.

It all hinges on her decision.

And that’s quite a trick on Cather’s part.

The selection:

“Well, there is a gentleman”—

“Bah! Must there always be a ‘gentleman,’ even with you? But who is this fellow? Go on!”

“Surely Madame has noticed?”

“Not I; I have noticed nothing. I have been very absent-minded, rather ill, and abominably busy. Who is it?”

“Surely Madame must have noticed Signor Luongo, the head waiter?”

“The tall one, you mean, with the fine head like Poor Sandro Salvini’s? Yes, certainly I have noticed him; he is a very impressive piece of furniture. Well, what of him?”

“Nothing, Madame, but that he is very desirous that I should marry him.”

“Indeed! And you?”

“I could wish for no greater happiness on earth, Madame.”

Tradutorri laid a strawberry stem carefully upon her plate.

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