The Sentimentality Of William Tavener by Willa Cather, 1900
The magic trick:
Presenting surprising reactions to the sentimentality of the title
This is a very sweet story – surprisingly so for Cather. It pulls a double surprise on the reader. The first comes in the form of the titular sentimentality. This is a hard-driving man, William Tavener. We are told he is rough on his neighbors, and even more demanding of his sons. So, yes, the trip down memory lane he takes is a surprise. But it’s the second surprise that is even more touching. Hester and the boys have separate reactions to William’s sentimentality, and neither is what you’d expect. And that’s quite a trick on Cather’s part.
“O poor little fellow!” Hester ejaculated, drawing her chair nearer and leaning her elbows on the table. “What cruel shoes they did use to make for children. I remember I went up to Back Creek to see the circus wagons go by. They came down from Romney, you know. The circus men stopped at the creek to water the animals, an’ the elephant got stubborn an’ broke a big limb off the yellow willow tree that grew there by the toll house porch, an’ the Scribners were ‘fraid as death he’d pull the house down. But this much I saw him do; he waded in the creek an’ filled his trunk with water, and squirted it in at the window and nearly ruined Ellen Scribner’s pink lawn dress that she had just ironed an’ laid out on the bed ready to wear to the circus.”
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