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Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather
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Alexander's Bridge (1912)

by Willa Cather

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Willa Cather is one of the authors who I am determined to read a lot more of this year. I already have several waiting to be read, I feel she is a writer that I have so far neglected a little bit.

Alexander’s Bridge was Willa Cather’s first novel, published in 1912, it is quite different to O! Pioneers – her second novel and the first of her Prairie trilogy that she is perhaps best known for and depicts Pioneer life in Nebraska.

In 1907 the great new cantilever bridge that was being built over the St. Lawrence River in Quebec collapsed with terrible loss of life, including the chief engineer. At this time Willa Cather was working for a magazine in New York, but she was obviously later inspired to use this dramatic real life story in her first novel.

Bartley Alexander is a middle aged engineer, famous for the increasingly ambitious bridges that he has designed. Married to Winifred, a beautiful, elegant woman, whom he loves and who thoroughly adores him, he has an enviable home in Boston. As the novel opens the Alexanders are visited by Professor Wilson, Bartley’s one time teacher who has watched his career with pride and in Winifred finds a wonderfully warm and considerate hostess. Soon after on a trip to London, Bartley comes across Hilda Burgoyne an Irish actress who he had loved years earlier. At first Bartley is nervous of approaching her, and having watched her perform on stage takes to walking in the streets around her house.

“He started out upon these walks half guiltily, with a curious longing and expectancy which were wholly gratified by solitude. Solitude, but not solitariness; for he walked shoulder to shoulder with a shadowy companion – not little Hilda Burgoyne, by any means, but someone vastly dearer to him that she had ever been – his own young self, the youth who had waited for him upon the steps of the British Museum that night, and who, though he had tried to pass so quietly, had known him and came down and linked an arm in his
It was not until long afterwards that Alexander learned that for him this youth was the most dangerous of companions”

Of course the two do meet, and Bartley Alexander is delighted to find her so little changed. The relationship is resumed and Bartley finds himself emotionally torn between his beautiful, faultless wife and the excitement of a re-kindled love affair.

Winifred is the woman who has supported him throughout his career, who he met whilst building his very first bridge – their shared history is that of his success. Hilda is impulsive, passionate and generous, and with her Bartley is brought back to his youth. As he struggles with the two sides of himself – the cracks begin to show in his professional life. In the construction of his latest bridge in Canada, a bridge everyone is already taking about – Bartley Alexander has been forced to cut costs on his most audacious structure yet.

Willa Cather’s short first novel is beautifully and sympathetically written, and this struggle with differing sides of the self is a theme she comes back to in later work. Not a word is wasted in this novel, which combines extraordinary drama with real compassion. Cather’s characters are wonderfully real, their humanness and vulnerabilities are brilliantly explored. Apparently in later years, Cather was rather disparaging about her first novel, but I loved it. It is a simple story in many ways but it is so well written, it perfectly shows the brilliance that was to come. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Feb 1, 2014 |
concise but beautiful writing. Very insightful. Great read. ( )
  cmaese | Oct 19, 2013 |
This is a perfect example of why I love being in this bookclub; I finally get to read an author who has been on my tbr list for ever! I was thrilled to sit down and read this, Cather's first book. The writing has a natural, beautiful flow and the book was easy to read. The plot is quite simple, one of a man having an affair and the tortures it brings to all concerned. It is a story of overwhelming love, the wife for the husband, the mistress for the husband, the husband for the wife and the husband for his youth. The mistress brings the husband his youth and he feels joy with her, meaning her no harm but his love is obviously not as obsessive as hers is for him. This brings him deep guilt for what he is doing to both his wife and his mistress. I have no sympathy for adulterers and in the end I feel he hurts them both by his actions. The mistress being equally at fault for her own hurt and in the end Alexander receives his divine justice whilst leaving both women a little scarred for having known him. I can't say the topic was my favourite; I'm not exactly into love triangles and I've always been interested in reading Cather because of her pioneer fiction which is a theme I am greatly interested in. However, I found the book entirely readable and the writing superb and am confident that I must get to O Pioneers! in the not too distant future. ( )
1 vote ElizaJane | Aug 5, 2013 |
First published 101 years ago, Cather's first book shows her promise as a writer. It is also an intriguing story, fast-paced, and beautifully written. ( )
1 vote eapalmer | Jun 29, 2013 |
A man is caught between the marriage of his adulthood and the love affair from his youth, loving both and realizing having both is not possible. The bridge can be an obvious metaphor but instead of the usual symbol overshadowed by the divisions it joins or the obstacles it crosses, there was some actual engineering speak. I approve.

I haven't read much of Willa Cather's works so I'm not sure how it compares to her other writings, or to that of other authors. I guess I could say she does paint her scenery well. There is that tasteful, older style of fading to black for delicacy.

Her characterizations are crafted, as in made with skill. But it's the kind of skill that is a little off, that finely carved sculpture of something that doesn't quite work. All that's coming to mind is crass stuff but this wasn't crass. More like...incomplete. A Venus de Milo. The two female vertices of the love triangle were flat. They had no flaws, at least this book wasn't long enough to describe them, except that they lived for this man. Maybe I'm viewing this through a modern lens, but they don't read like actual, feeling, thinking women to me. It's likely that the characters are just fine, and just happen to grate on my shoulder chips of the moment.

Reading about this bridge engineer, reflecting on my own career, my "it's not fair!" nerve got tripped. Reading about this disaster of relationships, reflecting on my own, my "glad that's not me!" smugness was slightly inflated. Normally this would lead to a dear-diary splaying of my reflections. However, I find I no longer enjoy sharing the minutia of my despair. You're welcome. ( )
1 vote EhEh | Apr 3, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, HermioneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Late one brilliant April afternoon Professor Lucius Wilson stood at the head of Chestnut Street, looking about him with the pleased air of a man of taste who does not very often get to Boston.
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Book description
Bartley Alexander, an engineer famous for the audacious structure of his North American bridges, is at the height of his reputation. He has a distinguished and beautiful wife and an enviable Boston home. Then, on a trip to London, he meets again the Irish actress he had once loved. Their affair resumes, and Alexander finds himself caught in a transatlantic tug of emotions -between the wife who has supported his career with understanding and strength and Hilda, whose impulsiveness and generosity restore to him the passion and energy of his youth. Alongside this personal dilemma there are ominous signs of strain in his professional life ...In this, her first novel, originally published in 1912, Willa Cather sympathetically explores the struggle between the opposing sides of the self which was to become the hallmark of her craft. Willa Cather (1876-1947), one of America's foremost novelists, is famous for her psychological acuteness and her studies of pioneer life. All her novels are published by Virago.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486424502, Paperback)

Construction engineer Bartley Alexander is a troubled, middle-aged man torn between his cold American wife and an alluring mistress in London who has helped him recapture his youth and sense of freedom. A fascinating study of a man's growing awareness of the breach in his integrity, this book is essential reading for fans of this great American novelist.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:52 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Bartley Alexander of Boston, is an engineer famous for his North American bridges. On a trip to London he meets again the Irish actress he had once loved, and is torn between love and loyalty to his wife and his affair with Hilda.

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