Rites of Compassion

Rites of Compassion

10.36 12.95

Willa Cather and Gustave Flaubert
"Old Mrs. Harris" and "A Simple Heart"

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Paperback Edition
Publication Date: 11-01-2007

Introduction by Mary Gordon

Personally selected by award-winning writer Mary Gordon, these two stories by Willa Cather and Gustave Flaubert render a flawless portrait of characters who unquestioningly offer their compassionate service to those that take them for granted.

Old Mrs. Harris is the staunch matriarch of a busy house (the look of which Cather based on her own childhood home), brimming with her spendthrift son-in-law, her displaced Southern debutante daughter, and a bevy of children whose dreams seem out of reach. In “A Simple Heart,” written at the request of George Sand, Félicité is the faithful servant first to a family fallen on hard times and then to a stuffed parrot she confuses with the Holy Spirit.

Cruel and honest, these two stories explore the ways in which families treat their aging members, the harsh impatience of the young, and the patient compassion of women who make their family’s everyday lives possible.

"To pair these two masters of realist fiction—both using the muted lives of two old women to underscore life's essential loneliness—is a stroke of genius. . . . Our reading of these famous stories is deepened and enriched as never before.” —Vivian Gornick, author of The Odd Woman and the City

"Like all great works of fiction, 'Old Mrs. Harris' and 'A Simple Heart' make, on their readers, radical demands. They apply a pressure that creates a crack in the smooth surface of our understanding. . . . Cather and Flaubert present us with two old women whose fulfillment is almost mystical in the completeness of its lineaments—despite the fact that . . . they are used, even ill used, by the people they serve and live among." —Mary Gordon, writer and professor, Barnard College