Henry Grenfell, a business man, is preparing for a solitary retreat to an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, “a bit of wooded rock in the sea.” His son Harrison, “a distinguished physicist at thirty,” enters as Grenfell is packing.
Willa Cather, “Before Breakfast,” in The Old Beauty and Others (1948).
Such a slight story, and yet it contains so many elements of Cather’s fiction: a desire for permanence set against the inevitability of change, human finitude measured against cosmic time, a clash of cultures (humanist and scientific), and the drama of “the double life,” as Cather calls it elsewhere:
One realizes that human relationships are the tragic necessity of human life; that they can never be wholly satisfactory, that every ego is half the time greedily seeking them, and half the time pulling away from them.Right now Grenfell is pulling away, moving toward his “private, personal, non-family life.” Like Godfrey St. Peter in The Professor’s House (1925), Henry Grenfell is outward bound.
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