Thursday, 29 October 2009

The lost lady (Cather) 21

Willa Cather has written a number of Virago modern classics, but I had not read any of them until I picked up The lost lady at the library the other day (I might be on a book-buying ban, but the library at least exists to enable me the pleasure of obtaining different books). It was a slim volume which didn't take too long to read, but one which made me look forward to encountering the rest of her work.

The lost lady of the title is Mrs Forrester, married to Captain Forrester, an ageing man 20 years her senior, who lives in a small American town called Sweet Water in the railroad period. A librarything member (WilfGehlen) writes: "[it] presents the complementary side of prairie life to the "homesteaders and hand-workers" who populate O Pioneers! and My Antonia. This is the story of "the bankers and gentlemen ranchers who came from the Atlantic seaboard to invest money and to 'develop our great West.'"

Mrs Forrester is observed throughout the story by Neils, first as a young boy, and then later as a grown man; he is initially captivated by her vivacity and kindness. She attracts much attention by hosting big dinners for the visiting notables passing through on the railways.

However, Captain Forrester's fortunes, like those of Sweet Water, are hit by the bank crisis and crop failure and Mrs Forrester has to come to terms with living a different sort of life with less and less money.

As Niels grows up his view of Mrs Forrester changes; he sees her having an affair, and mortgaging her property in an attempt to raise money to live the sort of life that she wants. He finds this at odds with his value-sets:

"It was what he most held against Mrs Forrester: that she was not willing to immolate herself, like a widow of all these great men, and die with the pioneer period to which she belonged; that she preferred life on any terms. In the end, Niel went away without bidding her goodbye. He went away with weary contempt for her in his heart."

Has anyone else read any Willa Cather, and if so which ones would you recommend?

Two Virago editions; the original green edition and the edition that I borrowed from the library.


  1. I've read (studied) My Antonia and remember enjoying it; it's widely regarded as her best work and an American classic. I'm on the look out for My Mortal Enemy mainly because the green edition has a beautiful Klimt cover!

  2. I read my way through Willa Cather's work one summer when I was at university. I didn't find a dud but if I had to pick one it would be The Song of the Lark. You have some wonderful books ahead of you!

  3. Claire - I am definitely looking forward to reading My Antonia now. And I like the sound of the Klimt cover on My Mortal Enemy.

    Fleurfisher - The song of the lark is a wonderful title so I shall look out for that one soon.