A Wagner Matinee: Summary, Analysis & Theme

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  • 0:03 Liviing with Regrets
  • 0:45 Summary of ''A Wagner…
  • 2:37 What Was Cather Trying to Say?
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Have you ever made a decision you regreted? In 'A Wagner Matinee,' we meet a woman whose choices have shaped her life - and not for the better. This lesson will explain the story and analyze Cather's meaning and themes.

Living with Regrets

Regrets are a sad but unfortunate part of many people's lives. A quote attributed to Queen Elizabeth I shows that even those blessed with royalty and fortune may experience the pains of regret: ''All my possessions for a moment of time.'' What was the queen saying here? Perhaps that she would give up her worldly goods for just a bit longer time on Earth.

What about you? Have you experienced regrets in life? What would you go back and do differently if you could?

One of the main characters of our study in this lesson expresses regret for some of the decisions in her life. Let's take a closer look at Aunt Georgiana and the plot of Willa Cather's short story, ''A Wagner Matinee.''

Summary of ''A Wagner Matinee''

In this tale, we meet Boston native, Clark, who has just received a letter from his uncle about the impending arrival of his Aunt Georgiana. As Clark tells us, his aunt is, herself, a Boston native many years removed: a woman who was musically talented and a teacher at the Boston Conservatory. Georgiana had left Boston behind when she met her future husband, ten years her junior, eloping much to her family's dismay and moving to Nebraska.

Clark reminisces about the times he visited his aunt in Nebraska, where she taught him to play music on her parlor organ and helped him learn Latin and Shakespeare. One particular piece of music delighted Clark so much that it prompted his aunt to utter a most important phrase: ''Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh! dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice be it is not that.''

Upon meeting his aunt at the train station, Clark is appalled at the woman's appearance: she wears a ''soiled linen duster,'' ''ill-fitting false teeth,'' and her skin as ''yellow as a Mongolian's from constant exposure to a pitiless wind.'' Her years on the Nebraska prairie have not been kind to her.

Clark surmises that the once vibrant woman has been beaten down by her bleak farm life. He decides to take her to the symphony performing the songs of Richard Wagner, to give her a taste of her former life. She dresses in her modest farm attire, looking out of place among the more luxuriously-clad women. Yet, she is moved to tears by the music of the evening. Clark observes her moving her fingers on her dress as if playing along with the music. As the evening ends and people are leaving the venue, Aunt Georgiana exclaims, ''I don't want to go, Clark, I don't want to go!''

Clark understands. His aunt doesn't want to return to her dreary life in Nebraska.

What Was Cather Trying to Say?

In ''The Wagner Matinee,'' we can see Cather detailing the hardships and effects of pioneer living on the plains of Nebraska. The matinee provides a brief afternoon's respite for Clark's Aunt Georgiana, whose decision to elope and move away from Boston seems to be a regret for her. We can see this in her comment to Clark as a child when she says, ''Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh! dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice be it is not that.''

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