|Cather, July 1922 at Breadloaf|
Reading A Lost Lady right after One of Ours was an interesting experience. For one, there’s the difference in length. One of Ours was long, coming in at 459 pages, whereas A Lost Lady is only 159 pages. Cather herself thought that perhaps it was too short to stand on its own. Mr. and Mrs. Knopf assured her that was not the case, that A Lost Lady stood alone just as strongly as did Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.
But we all know length can be deceptive. As a bookseller I always advised high schoolers coming in to buy their summer reading to read the first few pages of the books that looked interesting to them rather than just picking the small or short ones. A short novel can be such a slog to get through whereas a long novel can be a breeze.
A Lost Lady is both short and a deceptively calm breeze. In fact, when I finished it I was left with more of a sense of feeling than anything concrete. Well, that’s not exactly true. That woodpecker scene left me with some pretty concrete horror. It was only in thinking about that scene that others came back to me, vividly, and often juxtaposed: the elegant dinner the Forresters host vs. Mrs. Forrester’s dinner with the local boys; Mrs. Forrester’s sleigh ride with Frank Ellinger vs. her mad dash to town during a storm to telephone him.
But speaking of juxtaposition makes the story sound heavy-handed, and it is anything but. I am in awe of how deftly Cather unfolds Niel’s gradual disillusionment with Marian Forrester from his days as a boy to young adulthood. I’ve read the novel a couple times now and find it challenging to read it critically, with an eye to seeing how Cather does what she does, without getting swept up in the beauty of her style and the story itself.
Things I’ve Been Pondering
I’ve been thinking about how O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia are referred to as Cather’s Prairie Trilogy. As much as I admire The Song of the Lark, it seems to me that a stronger trilogy grouping would be O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and A Lost Lady, both as a history of Nebraska settlement and growth, as well as representative of Cather’s own life experience. O Pioneers! is all about hope, hardship, and fruition. My Antonia depicts the move from sod houses into frame houses and town life which are the result of fruition. A Lost Lady depicts the corruption of that fruition and the descent into crass materialism.
Granted, many of Cather’s novels at least touch on these themes and I realize how important The Song of the Lark is to understanding and appreciating Cather’s life and art, but it is a slog for many readers, some of whom are left wondering why it was considered part of trilogy (if they’re aware of the grouping).
I’m thinking about this revised trilogy grouping in terms of increasing Cather’s popular readership. People do like trilogies and O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and A Lost Lady seem to be a stronger grouping in terms of style and content.
What do you think? Does anyone know when or why the Prairie Trilogy concept originally came into use?
Share Your Thoughts!
What do you think of A Lost Lady? Whether this was your first reading or your fifth, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the book, even if it’s just a sentence.
Please leave your comments below, however long or short (or leave a link to your blog post, Goodreads review, etc.). This is an open forum, so please feel free to reply to one another.
Categories: Willa Cather