Willa Cather

My Mortal Enemy: Book #8 Intro

First Edition

THE CHALLENGE
Read all 12 of Willa Cather’s novels in chronological order of publication, one each month, throughout 2012. For details about the challenge click here.

THIS MONTH’S NOVEL
Our eighth novel of the challenge is My Mortal Enemy. Read it sometime over the next three weeks and we’ll start our conversation about it on Monday, August 20th. 

About My Mortal Enemy:

  • Cather started writing it in the spring of 1925.
  • My Mortal Enemy first appeared in McCall’s Magazine in March 1926.
  • Published in book form by Knopf in October 1926.
  • It’s a short novel, just over 17,800 words.
  • Is one of Cather’s least explored novels. The Library of America relegates it to their Stories, Poems, and Other Writings volume of her writings, rather than to Later Novels.

From the Vintage Classic Paperback:

“Sometimes, when I have watched the bright beginning of a love story, when I have seen a common feeling exalted into beauty by imagination, generosity, and the flaming courage of youth, I have heard again that strange complaint breathed by a dying woman into the stillness of night, like a confession of the soul: “Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy!”

Willa Cather’s protagonist in My Mortal Enemy is Myra Henshawe, who as a young woman gave up a fortune to marry for love-a boldly romantic gesture that became a legend in her family. But this worldly, sarcastic, and perhaps even wicked woman may have been made for something greater than love.

In her portrait of Myra and in her exquisitely nuanced depiction of her marriage, Cather shows the evolution of a human spirit as it comes to bridle against the constraints of ordinary happiness and seek an otherworldly fulfillment. My Mortal Enemy is a work whose drama and intensely moral imagination make it unforgettable.

RESOURCES

  • Usually difficult to find new, but I’ve seen some copies available in used bookstores and, of course, in libraries. 
  • Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here. Plan ahead and buy a copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop while you’re at it.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT 
My memory might be off, but I believe this was the third Cather novel that I read. O Pioneers! and My Antonia were my first and second novels (not sure of the order) and they both left me feeling uplifted and full of hope. With My Mortal Enemy, however, I felt punched in the solar plexus. I remember feeling stunned by the bitterness of Myra Henshawe and the economy of Cather’s prose. I’m excited to re-read this novel some twenty years after the first time to see not only how it compares to my memory, but how it may connect with some of the themes and character types of Cather’s earlier novels even though her writing style had changed dramatically.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR
I’ll share my thoughts on reading My Mortal Enemy in a new post on Monday, August 20th. At that time let’s start our conversation–simply post your thoughts about the novel in the comments section of that post so we can have everyone’s thoughts in once place.

Happy Reading!

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