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Cather, Willa

prairies central death father

(US, 1873–1947)

Willa Cather's family migrated from Virginia to Nebraska when Cather was 9 and her writing celebrates a time when women were central to the civilizing of the prairies. In O Pioneers! (1913), Cather describes the effect on Alexandra Bergson of the death of her father and the consequent need for her to become the ‘head of the family’. As a result, Alexandra suppresses her own physical needs and desires in order to work the land. Although the message of strength through domesticity might seem a little old-fashioned, Cather's evocation of a spiritual attachment to the landscape of the prairies is haunting and her women unforgettable. In My Ántonia (1918), the central character survives both her father's suicide and an illegitimate pregnancy, eventually marrying and settling into the required role. Cather writes this novel from the point of view of Ántonia's neighbour and admirer, Jim Burden, and this allows her style to be both objective and erotic. Cather's style is one of the great joys of American literature; haunting and often heart-stoppingly tender, yet vast in scope. Her work is often concerned with the very contemporary issue of cultural conflict, either in the emerging society of the prairies, or, in one of her finest novels, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), in the contrast between the European values of two missionaries sent to New Mexico, and the world-view of the native New Mexicans. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for One of Ours.

Ivan Turgenev, Thomas Hardy, Stephen Crane, Edith Wharton.


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