Coming, Aphrodite!

Mary Garden, Prototype for Eden Bower in Coming, Aphrodite!

Youth and the Bright Medusa by Willa Cather ©1920, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Coming, Aphrodite! was first released as a novellete titled Coming, Eden Bower! (A Complete Novelette) By Willa Sibert Cather in the Smart Set, 62.4 (August 1920): 3-25.


By Doug Boilesen, 2020

Mary Garden was the prototype for Eden Bower in Coming, Aphrodite! and was one of the prototypes for Kitty Ayrshire in the two stories in Youth and the Bright Medusa which feature Ayrshire -- Scandal and A Gold Slipper.

Besides starring on the opera stage Garden made phonograph records and was featured in advertisements which added her celebrity status, artistic reputation, and the prestige of opera to the promotion of the early phonograph and its records.

Like the other Cather opera singing prototypes for Youth and the Bright Medusa stories, Garden's connections with the phonograph and opera records and her role as an influencer in popular culture give Coming Aphrodite! a place on the PhonoLiterature bookshelf even though no phonograph was actually in the book.

For examples of Mary Garden as a phonograph recording artist and her popular culture role as seen in phonograph advertisements and other ephemera see Mary Garden - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype.


Other Six-Degrees of Separation Phonograph Connections

The song "Blue Bell" is played at Coney Island "when Molly Welch and then Eden Bower return to the ground after each performs on a trapeze suspended from a hot-air balloon." (1)

"Blue Bell" was recorded by many record companies (Victor, Zonophone, Busy Bee, Columbia) and a 1904 Edison 2-minute cylinder recording can be heard below.


"Blue Bell" by Madden and Morse. Published by F.B. Haviland, New York, 1904 (Giovannoni-Sheram Collection).



"Blue Bell" by Albert Benzler and James Hager (bells & xylophone) (w/ Orch), Edison 2-minute Gold Moulded Record No. 8829, Released Nov/Dec 1904 (Courtesy

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, October 1904


The hot air balloon trapeze event at Coney Island also has a multi-degree phonograph connection between Eden Bower and Sarah Bernhardt, the renowned French actress who was one of the early celebrities who spoke into the phonograph.

The following text from Coming, Aphrodite! describes Eden Bower's balloon ride at Coney Island which has been argued by Cather scholar Eveyln Funda as possibly "modeled after a simliiar stunt by actress Sarah Bernhardt, whom Cather revered, during the 1878 Paris Exhibition." (2)

When the band began to play a two-step, all the bathers ran up out of the surf to watch the ascent. The second balloon bumped and rose, and the crowd began shouting to the girl in a black evening dress who stood leaning against the ropes and smiling. "It's a new girl," they called. "It ain't the Countess this time. You're a peach, girlie!"

The balloonist acknowledged these compliments, bowing and looking down over the sea of upturned faces,but Hedger was determined she should not see him, and he darted behind the tent-fly. He was suddenly dripping with cold sweat, his mouth was full of the bitter taste of anger and his tongue felt stiff behind his teeth. Molly Welch, in a shirt-waist and a white tam-o'-shanter cap, slipped out from the tent under his arm and laughed up in his face. "She's a crazy one you brought along. She'll get what she wants!"

"Oh, I'll settle with you, all right!" Hedger brought out with difficulty.

"It's not my fault, Donnie. I couldn't do anything with her. She bought me off. What's the matter with you? Are you soft on her? She's safe enough. It's as easy as rolling off a log, if you keep cool." Molly Welch was rather excited herself, and she was chewing gum at a high speed as she stood beside him, looking up at the floating silver cone. "Now watch," she exclaimed suddenly. "She's coming down on the bar. I advised her to cut that out, but you see she does it first-rate. And she got rid of the skirt, too. Those black tights show off her legs very well. She keeps her feet together like I told her, and makes a good line along the back. See the light on those silver slippers, that was a good idea I had. Come along to meet her. Don't be a grouch; she's done it fine!" pp. 44-45


The Phonogram, Nov-Dec 1891

Sarah Bernhardt speaking into the Phonograph in Gianni Bettini’s Phonograph Laboratory while on a visit to New York in 1891.


Bettini in 1898 offered Bernhardt records as part of his "Specialty Records" at $6.00 each.

"Bettini Micro-Phonograph and Records," June 1898 Catalog, p. 20 (Courtesy Stanford Library)


Another multi-degree separation connection between Garden and Bernhardt involves Cleopatra. Bernhardt played Cleopatra in 1891 and in 1916 Mary Garden was advertised as the reincarnation of Cleopatra in a Rigaud Perfume ad. Mary Garden appeared as Cleopatra in Massenet's first New York performance of the opera on January 23, 1919 and performed the Death Scene from Cléopâtre in a fund raiser at the Metropolitan on April 13, 1919. (3)


"Mary Garden is the reincarnation of CLEOPATRA, Queen of Egypt."

Rigaud Perfume ad, Red Book magazine, December 1916 (courtesy Internet Archive).


Mary Garden as Cleopatra in Massenet's Cléopâtre, 1921 (Photograph by Moffat Studios)


Sara Bernhardt as Cleopatra, 1891 performing in Victorien Sardou's Drama (Photographs courtesy New York Public Library) (4)



At the end of Coming, Aphrodite! Eden Bower's success in Paris is noted in her return to New York at the Lexington Opera House with Bower now a legend and one of the elite opera stars on stage.

COMING, APHRODITE! This legend, in electric lights over the Lexington Opera House, had long announced the return of Eden Bower to New York after years of spectacular success in Paris. She came at last, under the management of an American Opera Company, but bringing her own chef d'orchestre. p. 70


Sometime circa 1920 Sarah Bernhardt performed at the Lexington Opera House in New York City.


Mary Garden as Thais, photograph by Reutingler, Paris, postcard c. 1901




For an overview of the six Cather opera prototypes who made phonograph records visit Willa Cather’s Prototypes Who Were Recording Artists.