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Readalongs > Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather

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message 1: by Emily (last edited Apr 21, 2019 07:59AM) (new)

Emily | 169 comments Mod
A co-readalong with Jenny Colvin of the Book Envy Podcast. More details are forthcoming, but we know this will take place in June.

The link to the co-readalong of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell can be found on Reading Envy's GR page. Click HERE.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 20 comments And if you want a link to where the Gone with the Wind discussions will take place, it's over here! (We are cross linking.)

I'm looking forward to this!


message 3: by Gail (new)

Gail | 13 comments I have put a hold on Sapphira at the library....I'm in!


message 4: by Emily (new)

Emily | 169 comments Mod
Thanks, Jenny! I was just going to set-up the link to your page. I've added it to our announcement above, as well.


message 5: by Tricia (new)

Tricia | 16 comments can't find this and audio. Instead I'm listening to the autobiography of Jane Pittman anyone interested in reading and recording Saphira and the slave girl and then sending it to me?


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 20 comments Tricia wrote: "can't find this and audio. Instead I'm listening to the autobiography of Jane Pittman anyone interested in reading and recording Saphira and the slave girl and then sending it to me?"

Maybe you spelled it wrong? It's available.


message 7: by Foxed (new)

Foxed  Folios (foxedfolios) | 13 comments Anyone reading the vintage classics edition of this book? The cover is 😍😍 (I would post a link but I’m on the app and therefore functionality is limited!)


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 20 comments FoxedFolios wrote: "Anyone reading the vintage classics edition of this book? The cover is 😍😍 (I would post a link but I’m on the app and therefore functionality is limited!)"
I am! I had the audio already but still bought it because.... pretty.


message 9: by Tricia (new)

Tricia | 16 comments to clarify, it's not available in the library system I use. I don't use any other form of audiobooks.


message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Tricia wrote: "to clarify, it's not available in the library system I use. I don't use any other form of audiobooks."

Hi Tricia, would you have the ability to listen to it on CD?


message 11: by Deb (new)

Deb | 42 comments Placed a hold on this!! I'm in too!


message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Deb wrote: "Placed a hold on this!! I'm in too!"

Yay, Deb! Thrilled you'll be joining us!


message 13: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Hi Everyone!

In a recent YouTube video (https://youtu.be/o7ruZlshjXU) we talked about creating multiple threads to discuss Sapphira like Jenny did for Gone with the Wind. Would you like that or would you prefer to keep all discussion on this thread and just ask people to write "SPOILER" at the beginning of their comment when relevant? It is a much shorter book than GwtW but we're open to trying new things.

We're recording our conversation about Sapphira with Jenny on June 27 and plan to have the episode live on July 2.

Here's one option to pace yourself:
June 10-16 Books 1-4 (142 pages)
June 17-23 Books 5-9 (146 pages)

Let us know what you think.


message 14: by Kate (new)

Kate | 8 comments I am starting it tonight and will probably read it in 2 parts as suggested. Thanks, Chris


message 15: by Deb (new)

Deb | 42 comments Started yesterday!


message 16: by Kim (new)

Kim | 7 comments I’m almost done with the first assigned section and am enjoying it:-)


message 17: by Deb (new)

Deb | 42 comments Finished first section - Books 1-4. What a story so far! Loved that we read GWTW first. So many comparisons to discuss!!!


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 20 comments I'm taking my time through this first half. I'm wondering a few things.

1. Is there a trope of difficult southern women or is it just a coincidence between these two books? ;)

2. If you thought Gone with the Wind seemed racist, watch out! But really at the same time we are seeing more of the slave culture and daily lives separate from the household.

3. I'm feeling very empathetic toward the Miller.

That's all so far....


message 19: by A (new)

A I am loving this novel. Sapphira is an unlikable character but so vividly depicted that it's fun to read about her. Recently I read My Antonía and I notice quite some development in Cather's writing when reading this one, her last novel. It seems warmer towards her characters and more mature.


message 20: by Deb (new)

Deb | 42 comments Finished last night. Loved the ending. Couldn't believe how mean and cruel Sapphira was. She had to have complete control and with her disability I think that need increased.
I loved Rachel (Mrs. Blake), her daughter. Complete opposite of her mother. Caring and compassionate. She saw how the slaves were treated as a child and that sunk into her heart and soul.
Almost comparative to Melanie in GWTW.


message 21: by Kim (new)

Kim | 7 comments Finished the book just now.... I found it to be a hard read due to the subject matter; although I did enjoy Ms Cather’s writing style. Also liked how the good “guys” (the miller and his daughter) balanced against the bad “guys” (the mistress and her nephew). I know Sapphira was the main antagonist, but oh how that nephew disgusted me!


message 22: by Foxed (new)

Foxed  Folios (foxedfolios) | 13 comments Only started on 22 June (🙈😅) so racing to try and finish in next day or two and share some thoughts before 27th! 😄


message 23: by Emily (new)

Emily | 169 comments Mod
FoxedFolios wrote: "Only started on 22 June (🙈😅) so racing to try and finish in next day or two and share some thoughts before 27th! 😄"
So glad you are joining us! It's a really quick read and enjoyable read!


message 24: by Tina (new)

Tina (godmotherx5) | 24 comments I just finished the book today. I can’t believe how fast the story moved. Cather was direct with sensitive topics. The presentation induced a lot of emotion.


message 25: by Robin (new)

Robin | 29 comments Finished the novel a few days ago. I have to say that I was so on edge reading the novel until Nancy had safely escaped the reach of Sapphira and Martin. The descriptions of Sapphira's racism and cruelty were simply unnerving. This certainly speaks to the power of Cather's writing and character development. I was wishing Martin a much earlier demise!

This has certainly been a fascinating comparison read with GWTW. The tone and content between the two is so different. I'm wondering how readers reacted at the time, especially as GWTW was so immensely popular and published a few years before Sapphira. I'll have to do a little research on that.


message 26: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "Finished the novel a few days ago. I have to say that I was so on edge reading the novel until Nancy had safely escaped the reach of Sapphira and Martin. The descriptions of Sapphira's racism and c..."

I listened to the audiobook on the drive down to Virginia and even though it was a re-read, I was gripping the steering wheel!

"Unnerving" is a great word to describe this story.

From what I understand, the novel was a best-seller. There was a prominent literary critic who slammed Cather for not being concerned about contemporary events, but that had more to do with his Marxist perspective than anything.


message 27: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Thanks for your comments, everyone! I can't wait to discuss Sapphira with Emily and Jenny this evening! We're recording tonight and the episode (#80!) will post on July 2nd.

It was quite the experience to spend last week in Winchester, VA for the 17th International Willa Cather Seminar. I heard so many fantastic papers about Cather's work and we were able to tour some of the sites mentioned in Sapphira. We also took a field trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. It is a fantastic and overwhelming museum that I highly recommend if you're in the area or visiting our nation's capital. The website is: https://nmaahc.si.edu/

Some years ago I hosted a Willa Cather Novel Reading Challenge on my blog. Here's my "response" post to Sapphira if you're interested: https://chriswolak.com/2012/12/17/sap...


message 28: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "I'm taking my time through this first half. I'm wondering a few things.

1. Is there a trope of difficult southern women or is it just a coincidence between these two books? ;)

2. If you thought G..."


Yes to the trope about difficult southern women! Although in recent years I think the "difficult" has been infused with "quirky" -- I'm thinking about Steel Magnolias, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, etc.


message 29: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Leo wrote: "I am loving this novel. Sapphira is an unlikable character but so vividly depicted that it's fun to read about her. Recently I read My Antonía and I notice quite some development in Cather's writin..."

So glad you enjoyed this one, Leo! Cather is 2 for 2 for you. :)
I like that you see a development in Cather's writing. Her characters do seem more nuanced to me in Sapphira.


message 30: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Deb wrote: "Finished last night. Loved the ending. Couldn't believe how mean and cruel Sapphira was. She had to have complete control and with her disability I think that need increased.
I loved Rachel (Mrs. ..."


Thanks for reading with us, Deb! Doing a deep dive into comparing Melanie and Rachel would be a great discussion. I was flabbergasted by Sapphira's cruelty the first time I read this novel.
I think I had that reaction in part because she is a "lady" and tries to maintain that illusion all the while plotting this hideous punishment/revenge on Nancy.


message 31: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Finished the book just now.... I found it to be a hard read due to the subject matter; although I did enjoy Ms Cather’s writing style. Also liked how the good “guys” (the miller and his daughter) b..."

Thanks for reading with us, Kim! It is a tough read subject-wise, but so gripping. Cather creates such fine tension between the good and bad "guys." I think if I were to explain the novel to someone it might come off as sounding a bit simplistic when explaining the bad vs good, but that is not at all how it reads.


message 32: by Kim (new)

Kim | 7 comments I agree with you Chris - especially since this is such a slim novel. When I picked it up from the library I was a bit surprised at how small it was...and I’ll admit my first thought was “this will be a quick, easy read”...ha! I did get through each of the two ‘assigned sections ‘ in one sitting each, but when I tried to hurry my pace I ended up going back and rereading an entire page both because I was afraid I had missed something and so I could savor her choice of words.


message 33: by Foxed (new)

Foxed  Folios (foxedfolios) | 13 comments I realise I’m posting this way too late to make the recording of the episode, but still wanted to share a few of my thoughts before the readalong discussion is shared on the podcast. So here goes….apologies in advance for lack of brevity and clarity! (Shameful!)

This is my first Willa Cather and so I’m standing outside the appropriate frame of reference to make any comment on S+tSG as part of her larger canon or as a literary treatise with respect to her world view.

I think it has already been well highlighted by others that some of the language used and race-based attitudes reflected in this book makes it a highly uncomfortable read. Based on the assumption that all of us here find racism and the enslavement of people abhorrent, and that I feel wholly unqualified to speak cogently on such issues, the following incoherent comments are just a few of my general thoughts about the book rather than a critical analysis! :-D

(That established, despite how uncomfortable parts of this book made me feel I found the text style highly readable and hope to pick up more Cather in the future.)

I engaged primarily with S+tSG as a character study. Cather does an excellent job of drawing a complex, fully formed – if highly unlikeable – woman in Sapphira. We get a strong sense of the morals and motivations of many of the key players in the book, but it’s in Sapphira that this was most developed.

The ‘Mistress’ is shown to have an unquestioning belief in how the world is naturally ordered, and holds deeply entrenched views on social hierarchy and interpersonal power dynamics, treating these internal frameworks less as conscious tools for controlling others and wielding power, but as the ‘natural’ way of things. Her apparent comfort in the role of slaveowner and in judging people based on their station in life, reflects her view that some people are naturally superior to others based on race - and, as seen in her attitude towards Mr Fairhead and certain other white characters - class, upbringing, family history, etc.

She appears to see herself in the role of caring and indulgent parent who cares for her ‘children’ and makes sure their basic needs are met, but who may have to discipline or educate them should they break the ‘rules’ or begin to question the status quo. In this context, she is convinced – or, at least, has managed to convince herself – that she acts in the best interests of those under her ‘care’ and that they are better off with her than without her.

This infantilisation of adults, the enslaved individuals who are part of her household, the ‘northerner’ Mr Fairhead, the poor white local families, pervades all her actions – both those that are cruel and those that might charitably been seen as acts of largess or indulgence (e.g. providing assistance to those who are sick and her attitude towards Tansy Dave).

And yet we quickly come to understand that her actions reflect a wholly self-centred view of the world. That she sees these as the 'proper' acts of a beacon of moral virtue and a true lady. However, Cather opens up the window to the interior life of this ‘upstanding lady’ to show us that not only is she prey to the petty jealousies and irrational thoughts that plague us all, but also, when her mind runs away with itself, is capable of calculated acts of manipulation and cruelty. Cather skillful gives us just enough insight into Sapphira’s mind to be able to believe that she invited her husband’s nephew to stay to deal with the ‘Nancy and the Miller problem’ without actually ever confirming for us that this was an explicit and calculated act on the Mistress’ part.

I also think that considering Sapphira’s relationship with Till – who often plays the role of stand-in for a loyal friend in her actions towards Sapphira – is interesting in the context of Sapphira’s loneliness and isolation both as an ‘incomer’ to the region and by being physically incapacitated.

Beyond this, I also enjoyed considering how Sapphira’s attitude stood in contrast to that of the Miller and their daughter, even though the latter two only take their discomfort over the issue of slavery so far and very much maintain their privilege. I would have liked more background on how and why Sapphira chose to take the Miller as her husband.

Also, it was interesting to see what Cather did with the fact of Nancy’s mixed and uncertain racial heritage. It clearly does not give her any privilege with the white population – indeed, in the case of Sapphira, it appears to make her more of a threat. At the same time, her heritage also provides a stick for some of the black residents of the household to beat her with. In some respects, she stands outside the two communities who both treat her with suspicion, albeit for very different reasons.

Anyway, just a few thoughts. There’s plenty more in the book that I found interesting, but if I don’t post these comments now, I never will! Plus, this post is WAY too long already...

Looking forward to the discussion episode.

++++++++

I was also very struck by the following quote in relation to political issues that, sadly, are still very much alive today.

"Yes, I know." Mr. Fairhead sighed. "It's the one thing they've got to feel important about—that they're white. It's pitiful."


message 34: by Foxed (new)

Foxed  Folios (foxedfolios) | 13 comments FoxedFolios wrote: "I realise I’m posting this way too late to make the recording of the episode, but still wanted to share a few of my thoughts before the readalong discussion is shared on the podcast. So here goes…...."

Gosh. This really is an epic-length comment and yet wholly lacking in substance!
Apologies again for the ramble.


message 35: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
FoxedFolios wrote: "I realise I’m posting this way too late to make the recording of the episode, but still wanted to share a few of my thoughts before the readalong discussion is shared on the podcast. So here goes…...."

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I, too, appreciate how deeply Sapphira is explored. You really get a sense of why she is how she is. It _would_ be fascinating to see a younger Sapphira to see exactly what drew her and the Miller together. Cather's stories are full of marriages between incompatible characters. In their case maybe it's a reflection of how two people can move apart due to their personal "growth." Its as if Sapphira's worst inclinations grow and the Milller...well, he seems stuck in his passivity and ambivalence even if he does give the money to Rachel.

There's so much to talk about in this novel. It can be enjoyed on a surface level, but once you start digging into it, there is such depth. I could go on and on about practically every character in the novel.


message 36: by Chris (new)

Chris Wolak (chriswolak) | 159 comments Mod
FoxedFolios wrote: "FoxedFolios wrote: "I realise I’m posting this way too late to make the recording of the episode, but still wanted to share a few of my thoughts before the readalong discussion is shared on the pod..."

No apologies needed! I see no lack of depth. There is so much that can be parsed out in this story. So glad you read with us and experienced your first Cather.


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