Thursday, 11 March 2010

O Pioneers (Cather)

It was a cold morning today, and so I thought that reading about prairie life in Cather's O Pioneers would be appropriate. At least I got to snuggle up warm on a sofa, rather than dealing with the hardships of farm life in Nebraska.

O Pioneers is the story of Alexandra; coming from a family of Swedish immigrants, we encounter her first as a teenager, as her father is about to die. Cather often writes about "strong women" and Alexandra is no exception - after her father's death she takes on the family farm and supports the family. Unlike her brothers (two older, one younger), she is the only family member to really understand the land and know how to make it profitable. The book follows through her experiences on the land, thus also revealing the story of the farmers who work unceasingly to try and create a livelihood. But this work serves to alienate Alexandra from her older brothers, who want to escape and make different lives for themselves, and it also leaves her exhausted and without any time for herself.

It's not necessarily a hugely feel good novel - there are many many deaths - from a variety of causes - but it does build towards a happier ending and one feels that there is reward in living so close to and working with nature and trying to overcome hardship. It is ultimately very life affirming.

This is Cather's second novel, but she had already developed a hugely impressive style of writing that evokes the prairie and which many other authors could never hope to achieve at any stage in their careers. I am so pleased that I have been prompted to read Cather by this challenge, and encourage you to do so if you haven't already. There are many more Cather titles to choose from and for me to read and write about!

It's been published three times, and my copy is the most recent one which Sophie from Virago kindly sent to me.


  1. I must read more Willa Cather ... at some point. I like the most recent cover most!

  2. I loved both O Pioneers! and My Antonia. Death Comes for the Archbishop is set in the southwest and has a different feel to it. It's waiting on my shelf and will be my next Cather.

  3. I've sadly read very little of Willa Cather, but being a fellow Nebraskan, I should really read more. I blame it on the nuns in high school--she was always so crammed down our throats it put me off her, which is unfortunate, as when I did read her I discovered how wonderful she is. In any case she is always on my "I really need to read this" list!

  4. Claure - there is plenty out there to read.

    Danielle - reading at school always used to put me off authors too which is such a shame.

    JoAnn - I saw Death in the library the other day so maybe I should make it my next Cather too...