The Marriage of Phaedra

The Marriage of Phaedra is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in The Troll Garden in 1905[1]

Plot introduction

MacMaster visits a late painter's studio and attempts to collect information to write his biography.

Explanation of the title

'The Marriage of Phaedra' is an unfinished painting by Hugh Treffinger.

Plot summary

MacMaster goes to Hugh Treffinger's studio in Holland Road, London. He is greeted by James, who shows him around. Later, he visits Lady Mary Percy, whom he had met in Nice four years back. She criticises Hugh for his lack of manners and for his pride. MacMaster takes to going to the studio to garner information from James. He meets Ellen Treffinger to tell her of his project of a biography. Later, he grows wary of an arts dealer, Lichtenstein. One day, James shows him an issue of The Times saying Ellen is engaged to get married, and she has sold 'The Marriage of Phaedra' to the arts dealer. However, James has sold the painting as Hugh hd made it clear to him before his death that he did not want it sold. MacMaster conjectures they have to tell Ellen of the situation. When he visits her the next day, she says the painting will have to go; it is now in Australia.


Allusions to other works

Allusions to actual history

Literary significance and criticism

It has been argued the story was inspired by Cather's 1902 visit of Edward Burne-Jones's studio[2] in Kensington;[3] she even used his valet's real name, James.[4]

Further, the story has been deemed Jamesian for its narrative technique and its use of the painting as a means to convey meaning.[5]


  1. Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 Nov 1970, page 234
  2. Bernice Slote, 'Introduction: Willa Cather and Her First Book', Willa Cather, April Twilights (1903), hardcover, University of Nebraska Pres, 1990, pages xxviii
  3. Mildred R. Bennett, The World of Willa Cather, University of Nebraska Press, 1961, page 163
  4. George N Kanes, Willa Cather in Europe: Her Own Story of the First Journey, University of Nebraska Press, 1988, page 66
  5. James Leslie Woodress, Willa Cather - A Literary Life, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, page 179

External links

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