“Song of the Lark”, Willa Cather; (Kindle edition), 1915
Review – A worthy American classic
I’m ashamed to admit I’d never heard of Willa Cather before picking up this book. She’s an important classic American author – but somehow I’d missed her entirely.
And, in fact, I may still have never heard of Cather if I hadn’t inadvertently noticed that I had just read two books by women authors in a row, one starting with A, the next starting with B. Obviously, that was a sign that I should now read a woman starting with C.
I ambled on over to the fiction shelves of Bristol library and rifled through the C shelf. Confirming that Willa Cather was a woman (I had to look this up to make sure, never having heard the name ‘Willa’ before) and that her books were out of copyright and therefore freely available on the internet, I downloaded “Song of the Lark”.
Young Thea Kronberg grows up in a backwater town of Colorado. Recognising that she has a musical gift, and not wanting to be restrained by her unimaginative family and town-folk, she goes off to the ‘big city’ to learn her craft. She finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the wealthy son of a magnate and, through extreme hard work, dedication and belief in herself, goes on to find success in the world of opera.
All her life she had been hurrying and sputtering, as if she had been born behind time and had been trying to catch up.
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Although it is quite long, it’s not a dull novel. It moves grandly through landscapes, social connections and the development of Thea’s gift. Having said that, I was definitely more interested in the first half. Thea’s family and the prejudices of the folk of the town are well written. As the book progresses, we learn more about what Thea (or Cather) thinks about the artistic spirit, how an artist learns to grow and what she must do to succeed. Thea comes to despise the people around her, the ones who cannot succeed because they will not. For me, that was the less interesting part of the story, although I’m sure no one else would feel that way.
That stile you must simply vault over. You must not begin to fret about the successes of cheap people. After all, what have they to do with you?
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In many ways, Thea is an annoying brat. At the same time, you wish you could have some of her incredible ability – not just her musical ability, but her fierce determination to succeed. Perhaps the narrow-mindedness of her hometown allowed her to soar. Perhaps the dangerous beauty of the American canyons made her fearless. Perhaps, perhaps, it’s an American thing.
There is no work of art so big or so beautiful that it was not once all contained in some youthful body.
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Download for free at -> Project Gutenberg.