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O Pioneers! (Oxford World's Classics) by…

O Pioneers! (Oxford World's Classics) (original 1913; edition 2008)

by Willa Cather, Marilee Lindemann (Editor)

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Title:O Pioneers! (Oxford World's Classics)
Authors:Willa Cather
Other authors:Marilee Lindemann (Editor)
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2008), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, historical, classic, Nebraska, farmers, pioneers, 19th C, 999 challenge

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O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913)

19th century (29) 20th century (62) America (26) American (77) American literature (143) Cather (21) classic (172) classic fiction (20) classics (131) ebook (29) farming (40) fiction (656) frontier (28) historical (20) historical fiction (70) immigrants (57) Kindle (21) literature (89) Midwest (27) Nebraska (151) novel (108) own (26) pioneers (95) prairie (37) read (45) to-read (56) unread (31) USA (24) Willa Cather (22) women (27)
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    clif_hiker: pioneer women facing hardship making a home and a life on the prairie...

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It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy’s mouth had become so bitter, because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

The prairie is almost its own character in Cather's novels. This story follows the swedish Bergson family. The main character, the girl Alexandra, is the only one who really understands the potential of the prairie to make a living. She studies and learn from the few wise people around her and her industriousness pays off.

Another beautiful prairie-story from Cather. There’s such and aching and longing for love and belonging in Alexandra as she grows up and becomes an independent land owner. You just want her to find happiness and love. You have to wait quite a bit, but it’s all worth it.

Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields. ( )
1 vote ctpress | Mar 1, 2014 |
With a title purportedly named after the Walt Whitman poem, Willa Cather takes us to the memories of her youth in the plains of Nebraska where her family moved when she was 9 in 1882. The nearly uninhabitable environment of the land combined with a harsh uprooting at a tender age left a strong mark on this author, including cutting her hair short and dressing as a boy in her youth. Selfishly, I’m glad of her past as she certainly wrote a gem in the 1913 novel of O Pioneers! Perhaps it’s my own city life surrounded by ‘first world problems’, I thoroughly enjoyed the difficult though simple life in Part I – The Wild Land. Ms. Cather’s love of the land radiates in this: “…Her face was so radiant that he felt shy about asking her. For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.”

Also in Part I, consider this sentence in our tech-flooded world - “A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.” Sometimes, it’s the journey (or design process) that brings amazement, rather than the destination (or a new gadget).

The book’s leading lady, Alexandra Bergson, is intelligent, ambitious, direct, and… lonely. Entrusted with the modest family farm upon her father’s death when she was ~20, she used her brains and a lot of guts to guide her family through the tough years, eventually building the biggest homestead in the Divide, sharing it in thirds when two of her brothers, Oscar and Lou, married. ‘Entrusted’ and ‘Burdened’ are two sides of the same coin as she cared for the land, the farm, and most importantly, her youngest brother, Emil. Like all immigrant families, she worked to give Emil the most precious gift – the gift of choice.

The book continues in 4 additional parts. Alexandra was troubled by the disagreements with Oscar and Lou over her potential love for Carl, a childhood friend, and by their accusations that her land does not belong to her and that she didn’t do any ‘work’. (I wanted so much to smack her brothers writing multiple !!! throughout the pages.) The second major story arc is Emil and his secret, growing love for Marie, also a childhood friend but now unhappily married. This love ends tragically. And I was thoroughly agitated with Alexandra, where “She blamed Marie bitterly.” What?!? Emil wooed her too!

Despite my disagreement over this element, I found the book to be moving and relatable 101 years later. Nice.

Some Quotes:

On Commanding Attention and Conflict Management – I love how these simple methods were used:
“Alexandra looked down the table from one to another. ‘Well, the only way we can find out is to try. Lou and I have different notions about feeding stock, and that’s a good thing. It’s bad if all the members of a family think alike. They never get anywhere. Lou can learn by my mistakes and I can learn by his. Isn’t that fair, Barney?’”

On Life:
“Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.”

On Freedom – I feel this way more often than I care to admit:
“Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere.”

On City Life:
“…in the cities, there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.”

On Age – argh:
From Emil: “There was trouble enough in the world, he reflected…,without people who were forty years old imagining they wanted to get married.”

On Winter:
“…The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk in the roads or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy. One could easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever.”

On Gifts – I love presents (and enjoying giving them too). I found Emil entirely charming here towards Marie:
“Emil laughed shortly. ‘People who want such little things surely ought to have them,’ he said dryly. He thrust his hand into the pocket of his velvet trousers and brought out a handful of uncut turquoises, as big as marbles. Leaning over the table he dropped them into her lap. ‘There, will those do? Be careful, don’t let any one see them. Now, I suppose you want me to go away and let you play with them?’”

On First Kiss – hmmm, yum:
“… Little shrieks and currents of soft laughter ran up and down the dark hall. Marie started up, – directly into Emil’s arms. In the same instant she felt his lips. The veil that had hung uncertainly between them for so long was dissolved. Before she knew what she was doing, she had committed herself to that kiss that was at once a boy’s and a man’s, as timid as it was tender… And Emil, who had so often imagined the shock of this first kiss, was surprised at its gentleness and naturalness. It was like a sigh which they had breathed together; almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of wakening something in the other.”

On Death – my heart broke a little and yet felt touching at the same time:
“…From that spot there was another trail, heavier than the first, where she must have dragged herself back to Emil’s body. Once there, she seemed not to have struggled any more. She had lifted her head to her lover’s breast, taken his hand in both her own, and bled quietly to death. She was lying on her right side in an easy and natural position, her cheek on Emil’s shoulder. On her face there was a look of ineffable content. Her lips were parted a little; her eyes were lightly closed, as if in a day-dream or a light slumber. After she lay down there, she seem not to have moved an eyelash. The hand she held was covered with dark stains, where she had kissed it.”

On the Desire for love and for being care for – I think it’s in all of us:
Alexandra – “ As she lay with her eyes closed, she had again, more vividly than for many years, the old illusion of her girlhood, of being lifted and carried lightly by some one very strong. He was with her a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms she felt free from pain.” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Feb 11, 2014 |
Great insight into early Nebraskan pioneers. ( )
  JCBest | Feb 6, 2014 |
Great insight into early Nebraskan pioneers. ( )
  JCBest | Feb 6, 2014 |
This is a great little novel about the plight of the immigrant farmers in Nebraska toward the end of the 19th century. I liked that the main protagonist was a woman, and a strong woman of course, who was given responsibility of managing the homestead by her dying father and used this advantage to realize her vision. It's very placid going for the first half and very pleasant as such, but the dramatic elements come in during the second half and move the story along in ways one would not at all have expected from what came before. Very well done. Makes me want to read more work by Willa Cather, and while I liked this novel very much, in the end I can't say it really moved me. Perhaps this has something to do with the ending and the moralistic attitude taken by the characters of the after a tragic outcome, which I hope was not the stance taken by the author as well. ( )
  Smiler69 | Jan 23, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindemann, MarileeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Prairie Spring

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.
To the memory of
Sarah Orne Jewett
in whose beautiful and delicate work
there is the perfection
that endures
First words
One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them. The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain “elevator” at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office. The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o’clock in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well behind their frosty windows. The children were all in school, and there was nobody abroad in the streets but a few rough-looking countrymen in coarse overcoats, with their long caps pulled down to their noses. Some of them had brought their wives to town, and now and then a red or a plaid shawl flashed out of one store into the shelter of another. At the hitch-bars along the street a few heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons, shivered under their blankets. About the station everything was quiet, for there would not be another train in until night.
The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.
People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Alexandra is the eldest child of the Bergsons, a ship-building family from Norway who have come to the American Midwest to wrest their living from another kind of frontier. Alexandra is driven by two great forces:her fierce protective love for her young brother Emil, and her deep love of the land. When her father dies, worn out by disease and debt, it is she who becomes head of the family and begins the long, hard process of taming the country, forcing it to yield wheat and corn where only the grass and wildflowers had grown since time began. Through the life, hopes, successes - and failures - of this magnificent woman we learn the story of all the immigrants who came to carve out new homes for themselves, who struggled against ignorance, drought, storm, poverty and came to love and understand the earth until it rewarded them with richness beyond measure.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679743626, Paperback)

One of America’s greatest women writers, Willa Cather established her talent and her reputation with this extraordinary novel—the first of her books set on the Nebraska frontier. A tale of the prairie land encountered by America’s Swedish, Czech, Bohemian, and French immigrants, as well as a story of how the land challenged them, changed them, and, in some cases, defeated them, Cather’s novel is a uniquely American epic.

Alexandra Bergson, a young Swedish immigrant girl who inherits her father’s farm and must transform it from raw prairie into a prosperous enterprise, is the first of Cather’s great heroines—all of them women of strong will and an even stronger desire to overcome adversity and succeed. But the wild land itself is an equally important character in Cather’s books, and her descriptions of it are so evocative, lush, and moving that they provoked writer Rebecca West to say of her: “The most sensuous of writers, Willa Cather builds her imagined world almost as solidly as our five senses build the universe around us.”

Willa Cather, perhaps more than any other American writer, was able to re-create the real drama of the pioneers, capturing for later generations a time, a place, and a spirit that has become part of our national heritage.

From the Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:41 -0400)

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Swedish farmer John Bergson's daughter Alexandra encourages the family members to help keep his dream alive after his death.

(summary from another edition)

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