Saturday, December 16, 2006

BCOO: My Antonia

I don't have much to say about My Antonia, by Willa Cather. I enjoyed the book immensely.

The story follows a young boy, Jim, as he discovers life on a Nebraska farm. His 'neighbors' are Bohemians (Czechs) who have among their three children, a girl named Antonia. She is four years older than Jim. We watch the two children quickly attach themselves to each other, and we follow the relationship for the first half of the book.

This book, published in 1918, is a modern novel. Cather leaves most inward thought and emotion out of her writing. We know Jim loves Antonia, but we never watch that love evolve or come to fruition. Towards the end of the novel, after Jim returns from the city to see Antonia and her new baby (which she had out of wedlock), he finally expresses some part of his feelings in confused terms:

"Do you know, Antonia, since I've been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the world. I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister - anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me."

The simplicity and honesty in these lines permeates the novel.

Cather's joy for language and discovery is also evident throughout the book. For example, Jim's first real encounter with nature:

"I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep."

Clearly, it is a romantic novel. Another favorite passage describing a blind piano player finding his instrument:

"Through the dark he found his way to the Thing, to its mouth. He touched it softly, and it answered softly, kindly. He shivered and stood still. Then he began to feel it all over, ran his finger-tips along the slippery sides, embraced the carved legs, tried to get some conception of its shape and size, of the space it occupied in primeval night. It was cold and hard, and like nothing else in his black universe. He went back to its mouth, began at one end of the keyboard and felt his way down into the mellow thunder, as far as he could go. ... He approached this highly artificial instrument through a mere instinct, and coupled himself to it, as if he knew it was to piece him out and make a whole creature of him."

Gorgeous! With this writing, and with such strong, interesting, unique female characters, I was hooked. There was no bite, no wit. But it was a beautiful novel.

Next: Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

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