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Lost Lady, A

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Lights of Bohemia to Love in Livery

a novel by Willa Cather, published in 1923. The first of her highly wrought symbolic novels, which are nevertheless rooted in closely observed life, it tells the story of beautiful Marion Forrester from the point of view of the gentle Niel Herbert, whose adoration of her makes it hard for him to accept the truth, which is that she leads a double life. This refined beauty, who illuminates the house of her husband, the Captain, and entertains his fellow members of the Nebraska Railroad aristocracy, is also promiscuous, with a taste for alcohol and a compulsive attraction towards low company. After the Captain's death she takes up with Ivy Peters, a coarse-grained braggart who, as is made apparent early in the book, is capable of wanton cruelty. Marion Forrester's eventual destiny is, however, more mysterious than this scenario suggests: it is implied that she comes to know a modest salvation. Her decline and fall symbolizes both the fate of the West, which has been opened up and exploited, and the way of life which characterized its communities, at once attractive and doomed, self-confident and weak.

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