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A Wagner Matinee Summary

4 min read ⌚ 

A Wagner Matinee PDFOnce we make a choice in life, we cannot go back.

That is what Georgiana is facing – a life she chose but wants to escape.

Who Should Read “A Wagner Matinee”? And Why?

“A Wagner Matinee” is a short story about a young man who receives a visit from his estranged aunt thirty years after she has eloped, and takes her to a concert where he finds out the truth about the life she ended up living.

It first reached readers through Everybody’s Magazine and was later included in Cather’s “The Troll Garden,” her first published short story collection.

We recommend it to all lovers of short stories.

Willa Cather Biography

Willa CatherWilla Cather was an American writer of novels and short stories.


Clark is a young Bostonian man that is soon to be visited by her Aunt Georgiana from Nebraska.

His aunt used to teach music at the Boston Conservatory, something she was very talented in, but then one day, while traveling to the Green Mountains, she met Howard Carpenter, a man ten years younger than her.

She fell in love and decided to elope with him, moving to a homestead in Nebraska.

Now, thirty years later Georgiana comes back to Boston for the first time, to settle an estate. Thinking about her visit, Clarks remembers the times when he, as a young boy, visited her in Nebraska.

In the meantime, she introduces him to classical mythology and teaches him about Shakespeare. He also remembers her small parlor organ and the music she played on it.

When she arrives in his home, he takes her to a symphony concert that plays music from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser and Tristan and Isolde.

As the concert ends, she is crying, moved by the music, and by her own destiny.

With tears in her eyes, she screams: “I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want to go!”

In this short, but intense story, Cather has created a puzzle of isolation, hardship, struggle, and loss.

As soon as you read Clark’s voice, you will get the feeling that Cather will be talking about hardship throughout the text.

It seems that Georgiana finds giving up the comforts of city life difficult, and is defeated by her reality.

Her position is even clearer when the narrator describes her as “pathetic.”

The fact that Georgiana has not traveled anywhere far from her home in Nebraska for three decades is also surprising and suggests that she has isolated herself from the world she knew.

But, we have to delve deeper into the story and try to understand her circumstances back when she eloped.

In the time when Cather was writing this story, thirty (the age of Georgiana when she eloped) was am the old age to marry, so we have to bear in mind that maybe that is the reason she decided to take the step she took.

Maybe, it was not her love that pushed her to such a decision, but society’s norms and “rules” about what is right and what not.

Ironically, though, trying not to spend her life alone, in the end, resulted in her isolating herself completely.

The narrator can see the grotesqueness of Georgiana’s life, as he calls it, but he is still grateful for all the moments in the past when she was nice to him. He still remembers the moments spent with her in his childhood, and all the things she introduced him to.

The way he describes her, as a woman with bent shoulders, yellow skin, and false teeth, makes us feel as though she is not only struggling at the moment, but she has indeed lived a hard and struggle-filled life.

Another thing it may be interesting to notice is Clark’s focus on the color black during the course of the story.

Black is intuitively connected to darkness so Georgiana wearing black constantly may be a way for the narrator to refer to the darkness that has covered her once she decided to leave the city and elope.

The importance of this color is further strengthened when Cather makes sure to pay attention to the other women present at the matinee, which wear light and upbeat colors.

Georgiana is a total contrast to all of these women, a “dead shadow” as the author calls her.

It is not only the clothes that Georgiana wears that are black, but her house is also grim, the pond is black too, and the word “dead” is used as well, which may be possibly a way to describe the life Georgiana has – an isolated life, away from everything she once held dear.

A Wagner Matinee Epilogue

The words that Georgiana says: that she does not want to go is an interesting ending to this story.

The place this revelation happens at – at the Wagner matinee, is a way that the author uses to compare art and life.

While Georgiana listens to the music, her fingers move over her dress. She does that mechanically, remembering the way she was living long ago.

We know that she has been very talented and that she has given all that up to be with her husband. We can guess that it is the first time in thirty years that she hears the music that brings back all of her memories.

Music’s impact on Georgiana seems to be so strong that even after the concert’s ending, she does not want to leave.

She probably just wants to stay at that place filled with beautiful memories for a just a little longer, before she is forced to go back to the isolated and dark life she is living.

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“A Wagner Matinee PDF Quotes”

Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh, dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice may be, it be not that. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“A Wagner Matinee” was a moving story.

The vivid description of the details and the style of the author are cream on the top of a perfectly delicious cake.

And, as it happens with delicious cakes, after finishing this, I wanted another piece.

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