CACTUS THORN by Mary Austin


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Previously unpublished feminist novella by an author who died in 1934: a vision of the proper relationship between men and women, informed by experience in the desert Southwest; more dated in style than in thought. Young politician Grant Arliss is called upon to take leadership of his Party but realizes that he has no program; he retreats to the desert to seek direction and encounters Dulcie Adelaid, a young woman who lives free of social convention but in harmony with her environment. She has long admired Arliss, having come to know his speeches and his reputation as an idealist. When the two begin an affair, Dulcie Adelaid believes the relationship is enduring though within artificial commitment; Arliss, however, is simply using her for inspiration. Spiritually replenished, he leaves her to return East and court an influential senator's daughter. There are also complications due to the sudden reappearance of Dulcie Adelaid's estranged, alcoholic husband. At the close, the heroine kills her betrayer and escapes to the West--an ending that probably gave more satisfaction to its author than it will to modern readers. Austin's novella insists on the connection between the political and the personal, holding men guilty for espousing great ideals while they continue to exploit women and the land. In a Foreword, Melody Graulich, who also selected and annotated the University of Nevada's recent collection of Austin's short stories, Western Trails, notes that Austin's unhappy relationship with reformer Lincoln Steffens is one of the sources of Cactus Thorn. In all, Austin's passionate knowledge of the desert gives this an aesthetic appeal beyond its political message and its form as romantic melodrama; a worthwhile addition to the body of feminist fiction and to visions--both descriptive and spiritual--of the American West.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Nevada Press