My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – a review

My Antonia by Willa Cather - cover

From the original review of My Antonia by Willa Cather in the Chicago Daily Tribune, November 1918:  From the time Willa Cather first began to write there have been two notable qualities in her stories, truth and distinction. Interrupted though she has been in past years by her editorial work, yet the first strong impulse of her realism has not declined, but has proved itself to be the vital and resistant part of her literary activity.

So now, after perhaps a quarter of a century of story and poetry writing, in which she has been temperate indeed in her output, she is able to offer a tale of such unusual simplicity and loveliness that it must make and hold its place.

This story is called My Antonia and the scene is that part of Nebraska in which Miss Cather passed her girlhood; the Nebraska in which Swedes, Russians, Bohemians, and Poles settled putting their vigor into the virgin land.


About the Bohemian Antonia

Antonia is a Bohemian, the daughter of an unhappy gentleman, a lover of books and refinement, who has married beneath him, and who, being outcast from his family, yields to the solicitations of his vigorous, harsh peasant wife and brings his family of four to America.

There amid the treeless prairie, in a dugout, Antonia makes her friends, bears her burdens, and, somewhat improved in estate, but still a woman of heavy soil, is left in her early middle age. Here, it is to be seen, are a few of the usual elements of American romance.

The Russians or the Norwegians might have selected such a woman and such a struggle for the subject of a story, but there are few Americans who would have ventured to do so — few who, perceiving that there is but one enduring romance, and that the romance of the human soul, would have the faith in their audience to believe that they, too, could see the interesting fact.


o pioneers! willa cather

You might also like this 1913 review of O Pioneers!


A remarkable woman pioneer

Miss Cather trusts her America to understand this very human woman pioneer with her unspeakable enjoyment of common life, her sturdy pride of being, her capacity for fitting into the scene. If ever any heroine ran her roots into the earth and blossomed in storm and wild sunlight, that heroine is Antonia. When she is left, the wife of a hard working farmer, her own more ecstatic loves passed and done with, with her eleven children about her, she is still fascinating.

Indeed, she seems the genius of her fields of grain, abundant, superbly utilitarian, rejoicing in the morning the friend of man. Her powers of story telling, an inheritance, perhaps, from her peasant ancestors, her courtesy, her love, capable of expanding to meet any demands, give her almost heroic proportions, yet never remove her from the hearth or the realm of familiarity.

No question, Miss Cather has written a book of singular beauty and simplicity, in which her power of giving the essence of a community is united with a beautiful capacity for character creation.


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