The Novels of Willa Cather, Master of American Literature

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Willa Cather (1873 – 1947) was a masterful American author of fiction whose spare yet evocative prose has held an enduring place in American literature. Life on the prairie and the immigrant families she had encountered inspired some of her earlier novels, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia. Death Comes for the Archbishop is considered one of her finest, and One of Ours  won the Pulitzer prize.

After abandoning her initial ambition to study medicine, Cather embarked on a life of letters, first working as a journalist, critic, and editor. Her first published book was a collection of poems titled April Highlights (1903), remaining her only volume of poetry. Next came The Troll Garden (1905), a collection of short stories. Her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, was published in 1912. 

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Willa Cather

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New England author Sarah Orne Jewett had become Willa Cather’s mentor and persuaded her to stop trying to write like Henry James and instead, to draw from memories of her youth in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Life on the prairie and the immigrant families she had encountered inspired O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia, which came in quick succession in the nineteen-teens. Several novels came out in the twenties including One of Ours (1922), which won a Pulitzer Prize despite mixed reviews. 

Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940) was Cather’s last published, and was arguably her least well-reviewed novel. Still, it was the final addition to a body of work that has become one of the most respected in American literature.

In a 1961 essay about Cather’s novels, eminent critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times: “In the 1920s, Willa Cather’s sober fiction was overwhelmed by the showmanship of Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway. In the 1960s, her novels are more readable than theirs … Her spare and supple writing has a classical simplicity. But her signature is bold on every page.” Now, decades after this assessment, Willa Cather’s novels are still in print, still read and studied, and deservedly so. 

The Novels of Willa Cather

Growing up among hardworking European immigrants who worked the land was the inspiration for some of Willa Cather's best-known works, though they weren't limited to the Nebraska of her childhood. In the post-World War I years, Cather was distressed by the growth of materialism and the loss of the pioneering spirit of the country that had informed so many of her most successful works. Here is a listing of the novels of Willa Cather for which you'll find reviews or descriptions here on Literary Ladies Guide.

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