Throughout her long life, Cather resisted the openly biographical, choosing to submerge personal detail in a powerful body of fiction. Recent biographers and critics have read this as repression and a desire for secrecy--she was especially trying to hide lesbian impulses, they say. Not so, argues Woodress in a conventional and laudatory study that instead offers childhood memories, the adventurer's spirit, and a classically educated mind--in short, the entire lived experience--as the genesis of a brilliant ""literary life."" Cather's childhood experience in Red Cloud, Nebr., where her family moved from Virginia when she was 11, became the thinly veiled backdrop for two of her great novels, O Pioneers! and My Antonia Woodress hunts out the biographical in these and other winks to show how the plains experience shaped the Arcadian themes in Cather's fiction before Cather left it behind for college at the University of Nebraska and a move to Pittsburgh at age 22, where her long, successful journalistic career began as editor of Home Monthly. Later work in New York at prestigious McClure's Magazine, Woodress argues, completed Cather's symbolic voyage from ""barbarism to civilization,"" and inspired her study (in novels like A Lost Lady) of women's role in a post-pioneer world. Woodress' brusque dismissal of Cather's feminism and possible lesbianism (especially with Edith Lewis) is the book's blindspot. He also glosses over her 1922 nervous breakdown, preferring an upbeat portrait throughout. On balance, a competent but one-sided study.