What a discovery this has been, reading my first Willa Cather novel! Yes, I know I have yet to come across a bad review of this masterpiece of hers and everyone has had only good things to say about her works, so I was prepared to be encountered with some really good writing. What I wasn’t prepared for though, was how much I loved it. To be honest, I have never been drawn towards literature that are based on the American frontier as its setting. In fact, to say that I have a natural aversion to it would probably be more accurate.
Encountering Alexandra Bergson as the novel’s protagonist was rather like a breath of fresh air that washed over all my preconceived impressions/ prejudices against frontier stories. She wasn’t what I was expecting to find in the book. A young lady with the intelligence, resilience and farsightedness that can easily outmatch any of the men that were struggling along the same frontier. I was impressed with her brand of ‘contemplative stoicism’ (I came across this description somewhere and really liked it) that carried her through the entire journey. I definitely would have had much less patience than she had in dealing with those two infuriating brothers of hers, who had the cheek to lay claim on her share of property and interfere with her pursuit of happiness, when all they had ever contributed were just incessant pessimism and mindless brute force (that were not even always helpful) at working the land.
Thankfully for Alexandra, there’s still Emil, the youngest in the Bergson family, who is a far more endearing character to have around. In fact, it was little Emil who had first won my affections right from the first page where we see him as a five year old child in an oversized coat and in tears, pleading for someone to help rescue his kitten from a telegraph pole. Shortly after, there was another scene that further endeared little Emil to me, when his sister was relating the story of a cow with an injured horn and it was said that “Emil had been watching his sister, his face reflecting the sufferings of the cow. ‘And then it didn’t hurt her anymore?’ he asked.” How could anyone not love a kid like that? 🙂
An adorable boy who grew up to be a promising young man with everything going for him, and the liberty to pursue his dreams, far beyond the constraints of the frontier. It was a luxury that the rest of his siblings had not been able to enjoy. And it was exactly the kind of future that Alexandra had hoped for and worked towards securing for her youngest brother in all those years following their father’s demise. Emil had the world as his oyster, so to speak. But instead, he found himself locked in a prison of his own making, when he lost his heart to the one person he could not have.
I can’t pray to have the things I want, … and I won’t pray not to have them…
The simplicity and honesty in these words will resonate deep and long in the hearts and minds of every person who has ever known what it is like to want that which you know you should not be wanting, and yet being
unable unwilling to yield the will to that which you know you should….
Am definitely looking forward to finding my way through the rest of Cather’s works.