A Wagner Matinée

by

Willa Cather

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Clark, the narrator of the story, lives in a boarding-house on Newbury Street in Boston, though he was born in Vermont and spent a significant part of his youth living on Georgiana and Howard’s Nebraska homestead. Clark reveres his Aunt Georgiana, who taught him Latin, Shakespeare, and most notably music, even after he had spent hard days tending the herds or husking corn for his uncle. Self-described as having been “a gangling farmer-boy … scourged with chilblains and bashfulness,” Clark seems to have been a sensitive child, not particularly suited to farm labor; he recalls that Howard spoke sharply to him on occasion, and that he was “near dead of home-sickness” for Vermont. His primary consolations on the farm were Georgiana’s company, her encouragement of his music, and her stories of concerts attended in her youth. Still a devoted nephew at the time of the story, he tries to repay his aunt for some of her kindnesses by treating her to a Wagner concert when she visits Boston. At first shocked by Georgiana’s battered appearance and timid demeanor, he briefly regrets the idea, but upon arriving at the concert hall, he realizes he has judged his aunt superficially. He is puzzled initially by Georgiana’s seeming detachment from the music, but later he is moved by her tears and realizes that her longing for music and culture persist underneath her worn-out, unsophisticated exterior.

Clark Quotes in A Wagner Matinée

The A Wagner Matinée quotes below are all either spoken by Clark or refer to Clark. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Wagner Matinée published in 1992.
A Wagner Matinee Quotes

The name of my Aunt Georgiana opened before me a gulf of recollection so wide and deep that I felt suddenly a stranger to all the present conditions of my existence, wholly ill at ease and out of place amid the familiar surroundings of my study. I became, in short, the gangling farmer-boy my aunt had known, scourged with chilblains and bashfulness, my hands cracked and sore from the corn husking.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter, Howard Carpenter
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Whatever shock Mrs. Springer experienced at my aunts appearance, she considerately concealed. As for myself, I saw my aunts battered figure with that feeling of awe and respect with which we behold explorers who have left their ears and fingers north of Franz-Joseph-Land, or their health somewhere along the Upper Congo.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Aunt Georgiana had been a music teacher at the Boston Conservatory, somewhere back in the latter sixties. One summer, while visiting in the little village among the Green Mountains where her ancestors had dwelt for generations, she had kindled the callow fancy of my uncle, Howard Carpenter, then an idle, shiftless boy of twenty-one. When she returned to her duties in Boston, Howard followed her, and the upshot of this infatuation was that she eloped with him, eluding the reproaches of her family and the criticism of her friends by going with him to the Nebraska frontier.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter, Howard Carpenter
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

During the years when I was riding herd for my uncle, my aunt, after cooking the three meals—the first of which was ready at six oclock in the morning—and putting the six children to bed, would often stand until midnight at her ironing-board, with me at the kitchen table beside her, hearing me recite Latin declensions and conjugations, gently shaking me when my drowsy head sank down over a page of irregular verbs. It was to her, at her ironing or mending, that I read my first Shakspere, and her old text-book on mythology was the first that ever came into my empty hands. She taught me my scales and exercises on the little parlour organ which her husband had bought her after fifteen years during which she had not so much as seen a musical instrument.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter, Howard Carpenter
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

She would sit beside me by the hour, darning and counting, while I struggled with the Joyous Farmer. She seldom talked to me about music, and I understood why. Once when I had been doggedly beating out some easy passages from an old score of Euryanthe I had found among her music books, she came up to me and, putting her hands over my eyes, gently drew my head back upon her shoulder, saying tremulously, Dont love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter (speaker), Howard Carpenter (speaker)
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

I had felt some trepidation lest she might become aware of her queer, country clothes, or might experience some painful embarrassment at stepping suddenly into the world to which she had been dead for a quarter of a century. But, again, I found how superficially I had judged her. She sat looking about her with eyes as impersonal, almost as stony, as those with which the granite Rameses in a museum watches the froth and fret that ebbs and flows about his pedestal. I have seen this same aloofness in old miners who drift into the Brown hotel at Denver standing in the thronged corridors as solitary as though they were still in a frozen camp on the Yukon.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

The matinée audience was made up chiefly of women. One lost the contour of faces and figures, indeed any effect of line whatever, and there was only the colour of bodices past counting red, mauve, pink, blue, lilac, purple, écru, rose, yellow, cream, and white, all the colours that an impressionist finds in a sunlit landscape, with here and there the dead shadow of a frock coat. My Aunt Georgiana regarded them as though they had been so many daubs of tube-paint on a palette.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Related Symbols: Black
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

When the horns drew out the first strain of the Pilgrims chorus, Aunt Georgiana clutched my coat sleeve. Then it was I first realized that for her this broke a silence of thirty years. With the battle between the two motives, with the frenzy of the Venusberg theme and its ripping of strings, there came to me an overwhelming sense of the waste and wear we are so powerless to combat; and I saw again the tall, naked house on the prairie The world there was the flat world of the ancients; to the east, a cornfield that stretched to daybreak; to the west, a corral that reached to sunset; between, the conquests of peace, dearer-bought than those of war.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

She preserved this utter immobility throughout the number from The Flying Dutchman, though her fingers worked mechanically upon her black dress, as if, of themselves, they were recalling the piano score they had once played. Poor hands! They had been stretched and twisted into mere tentacles to hold and lift and knead with;—on one of them a thin, worn band that had once been a wedding ring. As I pressed and gently quieted one of those groping hands, I remembered with quivering eyelids their services for me in other days.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Related Symbols: Black
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Some years before there had drifted to the farm in Red Willow County a young German, a tramp cow-puncher, who had sung in the chorus at Bayreuth when he was a boy, along with the other peasant boys and girls. Of a Sunday morning he used to sit on his gingham-sheeted bed in the hands’ bedroom … cleaning the leather of his boots and saddle, singing the “Prize Song,” while my aunt went about her work in the kitchen. She had hovered over him until she had prevailed upon him to join the country church, though his sole fitness for this step, in so far as I could gather, lay in his boyish face and his possession of this divine melody.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

The deluge of sound poured on and on; I never knew what she found in the shining current of it; I never knew how far it bore her, or past what happy islands. From the trembling of her face I could well believe that before the last number she had been carried out where the myriad graves are, into the grey, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope has lain down with hope and dream with dream and, renouncing, slept.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

I spoke to my aunt. She burst into tears and sobbed pleadingly. “I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want to go!”

I understood. For her, just outside the concert hall, lay the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs; the tall, unpainted house, with weather-curled boards, naked as a tower; the crook-backed ash seedlings where the dish-cloths hung to dry; the gaunt, moulting turkeys picking up refuse about the kitchen door.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
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Clark Character Timeline in A Wagner Matinée

The timeline below shows where the character Clark appears in A Wagner Matinée. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Wagner Matinee
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
One morning, Clark, the narrator, receives a letter postmarked from “a little Nebraska village.” The letter, which looks... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Georgiana’s name stirs deep recollections for Clark—so deep that he feels “suddenly a stranger to all the present conditions of [his] existence.”... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
The next day, at the train station, Clark has some difficulty in finding Georgiana. She is the last to alight from the train,... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Clark is shocked by his aunt’s battered appearance. He regards her with “that feeling of awe... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Clark reflects on Georgiana’s past. Georgiana had been a music teacher at the Boston Conservatory in... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Clark describes the couple’s dug-out as “one of those cave dwellings whose inmates so often reverted... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Clark further reflects that most of the good of his boyhood was due to Georgiana, whom... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Georgiana also taught Clark to play the parlor organ, an instrument Howard had bought for her “after fifteen years... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Clark has planned to take Georgiana to the Symphony Orchestra’s Wagner program, to repay her for... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Georgiana seems so timid about venturing into the city that Clark begins to doubt whether his aunt will enjoy the concert. Even as they discuss various... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
...they arrive at the concert hall, however, Georgiana appears to wake up to her surroundings. Clark had been concerned that Georgiana might be self-conscious about her outdated black dress or embarrassed... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Georgiana’s interest is further quickened by the appearance of the musicians onstage. Clark thinks he can understand what his aunt is feeling, for he remembers how his own... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
During the first number, the Tannhäuser overture, Georgiana clutches Clark’s sleeve, and he realizes that this music “broke a silence of thirty years” for her.... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Georgiana’s reaction to the first overture is somewhat impassive, and Clark wonders what she gets from the music. Georgiana’s musical education had been a sophisticated one,... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
As the concert goes on, Clark wonders if Georgiana has “enough left to at all comprehend this power which had kindled... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
During the “Prize Song,” Clark notices that there are tears on Georgiana’s cheeks and that she continues to weep throughout... (full context)
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
...vessel overflows in a rain-storm.” “The deluge” of Wagner’s Ring “poured on and on,” and Clark doesn’t know where the music takes her. He supposes that she has been carried into... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
...leaving it “empty as a winter cornfield.” Georgiana remains seated, however, and when prompted by Clark, she bursts into tears and pleads, “I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Clark understands. For Georgiana, outside the concert hall “lay the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs,”... (full context)